The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Enchanter Heir, by Cinda Williams Chima, was published in 2013 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Dragon Heir.

They called it the Thorn Hill Massacre—the brutal attack on a once-thriving Weir community. Though Jonah Kinlock lived through it, he did not emerge unscathed: like the other survivors, Jonah possesses unique magical gifts that set him apart from members of the mainline guilds. At seventeen, Jonah has become the deadliest assassin in Nightshade, a network that hunts the undead. Emma Claire Greenwood grew up worlds away, an unschooled wild child raised by a grandfather who taught her music rather than magic. Her life changes forever the night she finds her grandfather dying, gripping a note warning Emma that she might be in danger. The clue he leaves behind leads Emma into Jonah’s life—and a shared legacy of secrets and lingering questions. Was Thorn Hill really a peaceful commune? Or was it, as the Wizard Guild claims, a hotbed of underguild terrorists? The Wizards’ suspicions grow when members of the mainline guilds start turning up dead. They blame Nightshade, bringing tensions between the groups to a head. Racing against time, Jonah and Emma work to uncover the truth about Thorn Hill, amid increasing concern that whoever planned the Thorn Hill Massacre might strike again.

I struggled to get through The Enchanter Heir. I found it tedious and lacking in plot and development, with more time devoted to describing how enchanting Jonah is and to music lyrics than to actually advancing the plot. That’s one of the problems I’ve had with Chima, even in her Seven Realms novels (which for the most part I adored): there are always large chunks of her books that I feel are unnecessary and should be edited out.

I did find the setting intriguing, if only because Thorn Hill reads like some tragic superhero origin story. However, I didn’t think keeping the heroes from the first three books the same age was a good move. When I started the book, I thought that this was going to be a “fastforward five or so years” and that Jack, Seph, and the rest would be older. And I was excited about that! But no, these events take place directly after the events of The Dragon Heir (maybe a year or so later), and it actually made no sense to me. If Thorn Hill was such a big deal, and the kids who came out of it are so hated/feared, then why wasn’t it mentioned earlier in the series?

(And yes, I know, it’s because obviously Chima hadn’t thought of it yet and so didn’t include it in the first three books. But that’s why I was expecting a time-jump—it would have made everything seem much more natural than just introducing “hey, new world information!” with no prior setup.)

I also hated how prominent villains of the first three books were dispatched in the prologue of this book. It was incredibly anticlimactic, not to mention that we missed out once again on a Hastings/Wylie showdown. So much for setting them up as rivals in the first book.

A few other things I didn’t like: the introduction of the undead and the poor explanation as to why they were there; the complete lack of plot development during the second half of the book, with time instead being taken up with bands and lyrics and love angst; and the darn cliffhanger ending. I used to not mind cliffhanger endings, but now I am really started to get annoyed by them.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

“Though wizards would have planned the operation, it would have been sorcerers who developed and compounded the poison,” Gabriel said.

They all stared at him.

“Why haven’t you told us that before?” Jonah said finally.

“I thought it was obvious.” Gabriel shrugged. “That’s the role of sorcerers—compounding medicinals and the like.”

“Why would sorcerers collaborate with wizards?”

Overall Review:

Unfortunately, The Enchanter Heir was just full of way too many things that annoyed me, such as the tedium of the pacing, the too-long filler and the too-short plot development, the inexplicability of the whole Thorn Hill situation (as interesting as it is), and the annoying love-angst between Jonah and Emma. I don’t even know if I want to read the last book.

You can buy this here: The Enchanter Heir

Review Copy: The Shock of Night by Patrick W. Carr

Disclaimer: The Shock of Night, by Patrick W. Carr, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

When one man is brutally murdered and the priest he works for mortally wounded, Willet Dura, reeve to the king of Bunard, is called to investigate. As he begins to question the dying priest, the man pulls Willet close and screams in a foreign tongue. Then he dies without another word. Willet returns to his task, but the clues to the crime lead to contradictions and questions without answers, and his senses are skewed. People he touches appear to have a subtle shift, as though he can divine their deepest thoughts. In a world divided between haves and have-nots, gifted and common, Willet soon learns he’s been passed the rarest gift of all—a gift that’s not supposed to exist. Now Willet must pursue the murderer still on the loose in Bunard even as he’s pulled into a dangerous conflict that threatens not only his city, but his entire world—a conflict that will force him to come to terms with his inability to remember how he escaped the Darkwater Forest—and what happened to him inside it.

I was excited to read a fantasy book for Bethany House this month, as normally the books I get are historical or modern Christian romance. The Shock of Night was a pleasant change of pace. As fantasy goes, it’s pretty decent. It has its flaws—I felt as if Carr was going too over-the-top at the beginning with his descriptions, as if he was shouting “This is a fantasy world! Fantasy! Fantasy!”—but overall I rather enjoyed the book as a whole. It’s expansive, and although the world outside the city is not explored, it does feel inhabited and fleshed out. I thought the combination of the murder mystery and “secrets of the past” plot was good, as just one would have bogged down the book and made it seem more mediocre. As it stands, the one plot compelled me to pay attention to the other in case something revealing happened, so it kept me on my toes and engaged with the characters.

However, I did find towards the end of the book that the plot became much more muddled and confusing. My engagement with the book drifted into bewilderment at what the characters were saying and doing, which was disappointing. Besides over-describing at the beginning, Carr also had a tendency throughout to not fully explain what his characters had just learned, so at one point (the point where it all started to fall apart for me) the main character realizes something and hints at it to the other characters, but it’s never fully explained what it is he discovered. I don’t like having to guess what plot points are when they’re revealed.

After that fumble, the book went downhill for me. As I said, things got very confusing, there wasn’t much explanation as to what was going on or what was happening and the terminology suddenly seemed too inhibiting to be useful. If you can forgive a confusing last ¼, the first ¾ of The Shock of Night are pretty good. It’s perhaps too confusing for me to fully appreciate or like it, but I enjoyed my time spent reading the novel—mostly.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Christian

You can buy this here: The Shock of Night

Review Copy: Every Girl Gets Confused by Janice Thompson

Disclaimer: Every Girl Gets Confused, by Janice Thompson, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

51jhfwwzukl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Katie Fisher and Brady James may be a match made in heaven, but that doesn’t seem to guarantee them a happily ever after accompanied by angelic choirs. Katie’s almost-fiancé Casey is back in Fairfield, ready to rekindle their relationship. And there’s nothing Katie’s parents want more than for their small-town girl to leave Dallas and come home for good. But can she really leave Brady behind? And will she ever be able to wear that gorgeous wedding dress she won?

I didn’t love Every Bride Needs a Groom, but I did decide to give the sequel a try. Unfortunately, I liked Every Girl Gets Confused even less. The main problem with this book is that it has no depth to it. The title isn’t even really all that accurate, since Katie never thinks about getting back together with Casey nor do she and Brady have any major problems. The book is funny, sure, and I guess sweet, but I fail to see any underlying purpose to this book besides “let’s describe more small-town shenanigans and denominational rivalry and occasionally throw in some conversations about God and prayer.”

I also didn’t see the point for the chapter epigraphs. None of the quotes connected to what happened in the chapters, and the whole Doris Day theme didn’t fit with the book. I had absolutely no clue why Doris Day was being quoted, and the attempt to make it cohesive with the random dress shop customer who likes Doris Day didn’t make it any clearer.

Every Girl Gets Confused really wasn’t my type of book at all. I like comedy and I like romance, but I didn’t like this. Katie is too limpid of a character, the book doesn’t flow smoothly from shenanigan to romance to serious moment, and too many things were disjointed for me to be anything but glad when the book was over. This Texas-style book was just not my cup of tea.

My rating: 1/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: Every Girl Gets Confused

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger, was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than in proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, young ladies learn to finish…everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year’s education.

So, I took one look at the cover for this book and expected some sort of gritty, steampunk fantasy mixed with some The Agency vibes. But then I started reading it, and I was completely thrown off, and then intrigued, by the droll, almost absurdist tone that the book has. This is definitely a case where the cover almost misleads you as to what the book is about, especially since the girl on the cover looks about 10 years older than Sophronia, who is only 14.

This book is so steampunk; it’s delightful. There’s also some supernatural/paranormal thrown in as well with the inclusion of werewolves and vampires, and before you roll your eyes and groan, picture the werewolf with a top hat tied securely around his ears so it doesn’t fall off, and then picture the vampire saying “whot, whot?” all the time. Yes, it is that awesomely silly.

I did think some of what happened in the book was a little vague; I didn’t really get an accurate picture of what the Picklemen were like or why they wanted the prototype, or why exactly the prototype was important. But since there were so many unfinished threads in this book, I expect a clearer picture to come about in the next.

I also admit that I’m not a huge fan of the Action Girl trope, at least in some of its iterations—but I absolutely adore the type used in this book, which is the “don’t get rid of your corset/dress/knitting/feminine accessory—use it to your advantage!” type. Women should still get to be awesome when wearing dresses.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult

“When defending yourself against a vampire,” said Professor Braithwope at the start of the lesson, “it is important to remember three things, whot? He is a good deal faster and stronger than you will ever be. He is immortal, so debilitating pain is more useful than attempted disanimation. He is most likely to go for your neck in a frontal assault. And he is easily distracted by damage to his clothing or personal toilette.”

“That’s four things, Professor,” corrected Monique.

“Don’t be pert, whot,” replied the vampire.

“Are you saying,” Sophronia ventured, “that it’s best to go for the waistcoat? Say, douse it with tea? Or possibly wipe sticky hands on his coat sleeve?”

“Exactly! Very good, Miss Temminnick. Nothing is more distressing to a vampire than a stain. Why do you think containing blood is so important to us? One of the tragedies of any vampire’s life is that in order to survive we must continually handle such an embarrassingly sticky fluid.”

Overall Review:

Etiquette & Espionage’s tone and overall feel was not at all what I was expecting, thanks to the dramatic cover art. It was a fun, droll, rollicking good old time through an awesome steampunk world. I found a few things unclear and confusing, but for the most part it was good fun through and through.

You can buy this here: Etiquette & Espionage

The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

The Whispering Skull, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2014 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Screaming Staircase.

In the six months since Anthony, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England, Lockwood & Co. hasn’t made much progress. Quill Kipps and his team of Fittes agents keep swooping in on Lockwood’s investigations, which is creating a bit of tension back home at Portland Row. Things look up when a new client, Mr. Saunders, hires Lockwood & Co. to be present at the exhumation of Edmund Bickerstaff, a doctor who, in Victorian times, purportedly tried to communicate with the dead. Saunders needs the coffin sealed with silver to prevent any supernatural trouble. All goes well—until George’s curiosity attracts a horrible phantom. That isn’t the only chaos that follows the phantom’s release. Inspector Barnes of DEPRAC informs Lockwood and Kipps that Bickerstaff’s coffin has been raided and a strange glass object has been stolen. He believes the relic to be highly dangerous, and he wants it found. Meanwhile, Lucy is distracted by urgent whispers coming from the skull in the ghost jar…

The Whispering Skull has great suspense and creepiness to it; it’s basically a really good ghost story. There’s some more development for the characters, which I liked; I liked that Lockwood & Co.’s relationship was tested and that they had to work out some things. It made them seem less two-dimensional.

I also really enjoyed the writing; there are several moments in the book where Stroud does situational humor through his writing, through his descriptions of things. Like when someone mentions the name of the rumored killer “Jack Carver” and a flock of crows bursts from the trees. There’s also a lot of humorous dialogue, and not all of it comes from George, the designated Wise Cracker. And the book as a whole is really entertaining.

However, I’m still less than impressed by the characters. None of them have really done anything to make them stand out very much. I don’t like the “tantalizing mystery” surrounding Lockwood, George doesn’t do much besides be the comic relief, and as a viewpoint character Lucy is really flat. She gets a little development with her interactions with the skull, but still. I don’t understand her character. Both she and George completely revolve around Lockwood and it’s annoying. What I hope will happen is that Lockwood & Co. gets a new team member (preferably female) in the next book, because right now they really need it. (Note from the future: They totally are! Yes! Thank you, Stroud!)

Four more little things bothered me: 1.) it was too unbelievable that the skull in the jar that George happened to pick up just happened to be connected to the case. 2.) The “villain” was really obvious due to Stroud’s almost over-description of him every time he appeared 3.) The ending was a cliffhanger and I hated it. 4.) I didn’t like how almost every character besides the Main Trio were described in unflattering terms.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Ghosts and ghouls, scary situations and imagery.

Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)

“Can you describe them?”

“One, not so much,” the kid said. “Plump bloke, blond hair, scritty mustache. Young, wears black. Name of Duane Neddles.”

George made a skeptical noise that sounded like gas escaping from a rhino. “Duane Neddles? Oh, he sounds scary. Sure you’re not making this up?”

“And the other?” Lockwood called.

The kid hesitated. “He’s got a reputation. A killer. They say he bumped off a rival during a job last year. Maybe I shouldn’t…”

Lockwood stopped short. “It was a team of two last night that bashed your colleague,” he said. “Let’s say one was Neddles. Who was the other?”

The kid leaned close, spoke softly. “They call him Jack Carver.”

A group of crows rose squalling from the gravestones. Wings cracking, they circled against the sky and flew off over the trees.

Overall Review:

The Whispering Skull was deliciously spooky and wonderfully entertaining—but that’s about all it was. I still think the characters are flat and generic, and Lucy particularly, being a first-person narrator, needs some work. There were a number of other small things in the book that bothered me, to the extent where I enjoyed the book, but was annoyed with it at the same time.

You can buy this here:The Whispering Skull

Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee

Gates of Thread and Stone, by Lori M. Lee, was published in 2014 by Skyscape.

In a city of walls and secrets, where only one man is supposed to possess magic, seventeen-year-old Kai struggles to keep hidden her own secret—she can manipulate the threads of time. When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reeve stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home, away from the metal walls of the Labyrinth. Kai’s only friend is Avan, the shopkeeper’s son with the scandalous reputation that both frightens and intrigues her. Then Reeve disappears. When keeping silent and safe means losing him forever, Kai vows to do whatever it takes to find him. She will leave the only home she’s ever known and risk getting caught up in a revolution centuries in the making. But to save Reeve, Kai must unravel the threads of her past and face shocking truths about her brother, her friendship with Avan, and her unique power.

To be completely honest right off the bat, I only skimmed the last thirty or so pages of Gates of Thread and Stone. At that point I was so fed up with the characters, the world, the plot, and the writing that it was either skim the rest of the book or stop reading altogether.

First, the worldbuilding is terribly expositional. I prefer my fantasy novels to place me in a world and give me little to no explanation about the things in it. I suppose Lee was trying to go for a more dystopian feel, or at least that’s what I felt since dystopian novels usually have the sort of exposition that Lee has (telling you why things are the way they are and how things work, etc.), but the book is definitely fantasy, not dystopian. I don’t want to be told every last thing about how the money system works or how Everything Changed When The Fire Nation Attacked. I want to see it.

Another thing I didn’t like about the worldbuilding was the completely made-up swear word that Kai uses copiously throughout the book. It smacks of “This made-up world is made-up and so to prove it I made up a swear word. Worldbuilding!” There’s no explanation at all what the word “drek” even implies. We don’t know what it represents in this world. The only thing we get is this vague sense of “oh, this is a bad word.” Is it supposed to be some sort of shortened form of “dreck” or what? Without any sort of idea what the word is or what it implies, Kai might as well be saying “gihigglefresh” for all the sense it made to me. I’m not asking for some sort of definition or description. I just think that if you make up a swear word, you need to connect it to the world you created so that it doesn’t seem self-indulgent and/or downright silly.

As for the rest of the book (plot, characters), it’s generic, predictable, and boring. I think it would have been more interesting for Kai to be with Mason rather than the boring, predictable choice of Avan. Also, Kai was an irritating protagonist. I don’t think she ever fully listened to what anyone was telling her, which led to a lot of stupid decisions on her part.

Apparently there’s a sequel, but I have no interest in reading it.

Rating: 1/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Should I put down swearing? I suppose I’ll put down swearing. “Drek” is certainly meant as a swear word. Also, sensual situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

I hadn’t wanted the weekend to end. I wanted another day. I wanted it so badly that when I woke up the next morning to find Reeve still home, I thought I’d gotten my wish.

The thing was—I had. It was Sunday again.

Reeve had gone to work only to discover that no one else realized it was supposed to be Monday.

Overall Review:

Gates of Thread and Stone had too many worldbuilding problems for me. It was too much tell and not enough show, and the made-up swear actually irritated me, as did Kai. The rest of the characters were generic and boring, and I ended up only skimming the last couple of chapters.

You can buy this here: Gates of Thread and Stone

A Reason To Stay by Kellie Coates Gilbert

Yet another review that was supposed to be up in October/early November. Work has me busy.

Disclaimer: A Reason to Stay, by Kellie Coates Gilbert, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.

As an investigative reporter and the host of her own TV talk show, Faith Marin works to expose the truth for her viewers. But in her personal life, she’s anchored her world with firm boundaries in order to hide a family history she’d like to forget. By contrast, her husband Geary’s life is an open book. An easygoing pro bass fisherman, Geary is the ultimate family man—and his overbearing relatives don’t know the meaning of boundaries. Faith and Geary haven’t been married long when their differences start to derail their tender relationship. Surely love shouldn’t be this hard. While Faith considers whether divorce is the only answer to their issues, tragedy strikes. With her life in the balance, she finds that the one she has been shutting out may be the very one she cannot bear to lose.

Despite the presence of a writing style that I cannot stand, A Reason to Stay gripped me almost immediately and carried me along for an interesting, and at times slightly emotional, ride. Writing about a marriage that’s off-kilter from the start is difficult, and it’s especially difficult to make it seem realistic, yet Gilbert does it well, making sure to show that despite her faults, Faith is not all to blame for the troublesome marriage. Gilbert shows Geary’s faults as well, as difficult as it is when the book is taking place from Faith’s point of view.

The way their marriage is resolved is a tad melodramatic in my opinion—I would have preferred a less injurious route, but at least Faith’s change and desire to keep her marriage together is developed well. And although most failing marriages aren’t likely to resolve quite the same way, it does show some insight into how a crumbling relationship can be made whole again.

Also, I enjoyed the fact that the novel takes place in Houston, which is where I am currently living. I recognized many of the landmarks in the novel, which was pretty cool.

The main problem I had with A Reason to Stay was the writing, but its content is well-done and engaging and has a lot of good things to say about compromise, giving-and-taking in a relationship, and the determination that’s behind a solid marriage. I’d read more by Kellie Coates Gilbert.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: Some sexual implications. This is about a married couple, you know.

Genre: Realistic, Christian

You can buy this here: A Reason to Stay

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo, was published in 2012 by Henry Holt. It is the first book in the Grisha Trilogy.

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal—and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked ad Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed. Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart—and her country—in two.

Shadow and Bone is, impressively, one of those fantasy books that I could barely put down. I say “impressively” because it’s actually not an incredible stand-out in the genre, relying a bit too much on overused fantasy and romance tropes. But the plot is interesting and compelling and Alina is a good protagonist.

I actually think the book is better without the romance, because while I’m positive the Darkling attraction is going to come back, as a whole the romance is generic, predictable and not overly important to the plot. It also doesn’t help that Mal is very poorly developed in this first book, and I didn’t care for or about him at all. I hesitate to toss around the words “interesting” or “boring,” but let’s face it—Mal is boring, and the Darkling is interesting. That’s why I’m positive the Darkling attraction/romance is going to come back (not just because the Darkling is an interesting character, but also because I have a feeling I know in what direction the second book will go). I do prefer the longer-standing, built-on-a-relationship romance of Alina and Mal than the purely attraction-based, lusty relationship of the Darkling and Alina, though.

Speaking of Alina and Mal, I was very confused as to their childhood and why they seemed so hesitant about telling people where they were from. I assume this is going to be a plot point later on? And why did they say they were from the same village when they’re not? Or are they? I’m hoping that this is just something to be further developed in later books and not just confusion on the part of the world or author.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: One or two sensual scenes, violence.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Overall Review:

It was hard for me to put Shadow and Bone down due to its interesting and compelling plot, world, and characters (most of them, anyway). The romance was the generic, predictable, love-triangle nonsense that’s a dime-a-dozen in YA, with an almost Beauty-and-the-Beast feel to it at first. I’m looking forward to the next one and I hope that a.) Mal and Alina’s confusing backstory is cleared up and b.) Mal gets development.

You can buy this here: Shadow and Bone

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, was published in 2008 by Candlewick Press. It is the first book in the Lumatere Chronicles.

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere. But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace, an impostor seizes the throne, a curse blinds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps. Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she’ll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

Finnikin of the Rock is an incredibly gritty and dark fantasy novel, definitely a more mature YA than most. But it’s also very well-crafted, with a well-developed world, an intense “we must take back our kingdom” plot, and a romance that’s a bit obvious but endearing all the same. For me, it evoked a little bit of Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series (another well-crafted YA fantasy series), but much more intense in terms of content.

I knew from the first chapter where the plot was going to go in terms of Evanjalin, but even knowing early on in the novel, I still enjoyed seeing the plot get there. And there were numerous other reveals that weren’t as “common fantasy trope” as that one, so I couldn’t say it was an obvious plot (I’m just very familiar with the tropes that fantasy uses). In fact, the book dragged me into the world and kept me turning the pages, eager to know what happened next—my absolute favorite thing to happen in a book.

As I said, though, Finnikin is a pretty gritty fantasy novel for YA. Sexual situations are no stranger in YA, but they are less common in fantasy than in realistic—and even among contemporary YA fantasy novels, Marchetta still stands out in her inclusion of sexual thoughts and situations (at least among the books I’ve read). It’s never explicit (it’s YA, not “New Adult” or whatever they’re calling the newest genre rage that’s basically an excuse to write explicit sex for teenagers to read), but it’s more intense than what you usually find. And as befitting a gritty fantasy novel, nothing turns out all sunshine and roses in the end, even if the ending of this book is a happy one (well, for Finnikin at least).

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Sexual situations and thoughts, violence, mentions of rape and torture, death.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Overall Review:

Finnikin of the Rock is a page-turner fantasy novel, with an intense and intriguing plot, interesting characters, and a well-developed and –explained world. Marchetta also does an excellent job of showing how war, trauma, and suffering affect people’s decisions. However, the book is pretty dark and gritty, not to mention a little more focused on sexual situations (which also includes rape) than I’ve found in other YA fantasy, so be warned. I also knew one of the character arcs from the first chapter, but it didn’t take away anything but the surprise—I still enjoyed it.

You can buy this here: Finnikin of the Rock

A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer

A Tailor-Made Bride, by Karen Witemeyer, was published in 2010 by Bethany House.

Jericho “J. T.” Tucker wants nothing to do with the new dressmaker in Coventry, Texas. He’s all too familiar with her kind—shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothes, this seamstress is not at all what he expected. Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner, while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man? When Hannah decides to help Jericho’s sister catch a beau—leading to consequences neither could have foreseen—will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?

Thank goodness the content of the book doesn’t reflect the absolute awfulness of the title. A Tailor-Made Bride is a title that is trying so hard to be witty and punny, but fails miserably and ends up being embarrassingly cheesy and the reason why you would want to hide the cover of this book if you carried it around in public.

But bad title aside, the content of the book actually does manage to be witty in places (of the historical romance I’ve read and reviewed on this blog so far, this one probably has the best humor) and the Christian aspect of it goes beyond vague prayers and occasional thoughts directed towards God as with most. The love interests actually debate theology and Scripture and although the whole “fashion=vanity” is laid on slightly too thick, especially at the beginning, Witemeyer does manage to strike a fine balance at the end without making anything seem overly preachy.

Although I liked how Witemeyer handled the Christian content, I was less impressed with the plot and characters. The plot is predictable, as these types of plots usually are, and although I understand the reason to generate tension and conflict, I found the more dramatic parts of the book, well, overly dramatic and just a thinly veiled reason to have Jericho and Hannah make eyes at each other and/or admire each other’s bodies and/or think longingly about their feelings for the other person and/or think about how their love was never meant to be. Hannah and Jericho did have some decent moments together, and some of their conversations were quite witty and humorous, but as characters they weren’t very original or very interesting.

Also, I absolutely hate it when books that take place in towns and cities feel so empty because they only revolve around two or three characters. For the first three-quarters of this book, you would think that Jericho, Hannah, and Cordelia are the only three people who live in Coventry, with occasional visitors Tom and Ezra. It’s only when the festival arrives that more people show up. I wanted to see more interactions with the people so that the town felt like a town and not just a setting for a romance.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian

“You must vow never to name any of our sons after Canaanite cities. I may have developed a new appreciation for Jericho in recent months, but no boy should be saddled with a name like Gezer or Eglon.” His body convulsed in an exaggerated shudder.

Hannah’s lip protruded in a delicious little mock pout. “Oh. But I had my heart set on naming our firstborn Megiddo.”

Overall Review:

A Tailor-Made Bride does some things (humor, portrayal of Christianity) better than other books of the genre, but it’s still far from an impressive historical romance. The title is awful, the town of Coventry feels empty which actually makes Hannah and Jericho seem self-centered, and the romance bit is overly dramatic and way too obviously intended to make readers react/squeal/sigh/whatever.

You can buy this here: A Tailor-Made Bride