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Tales from the Bargain Bin

DrMM's blog about books, the universe and everything (actually, just books). I currently read mostly YA/MG fantasy, although the only thing I won't read is horror.

Ever After High 2 by Shannon Hale

The Unfairest of Them All - Shannon Hale

Mini-Review: I felt this was an improvement over the first installment in the series, although some of that may be because I had different expectations of this book going in than I did for the first one. There was a more original premise in this book than the first installment, which helped make this a more tolerable read. I am also glad to see that Apple White is continuing to be a decent (but utterly naive) character, instead of a villain the way she would be in other stories. However, I still have issues with the sexist color schemes and the way Maddie Hatter can interact with the narrator, the way I did with the first book.


Final Verdict: Better than the first and I know that there's a market for it ... but I still have reservations about the concept and execution and I still think Hale can write much better than this.

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Snow in Summer - Jane Yolen

Mini-Review: What a mediocre retelling of Snow White. The whole story plodded along tediously until the last 40 pages of the book, where the only interesting part of the story was finished in a ridiculously fast fashion


Final verdict: Skip it, unless you're obsessed with reading stories based on fairy tales. Even if you are, this one isn't worth the time. No wonder I found it in the bargain bin.

The Six Crowns series by Allan Frenwin Jones and Gary Chalk

The Six Crowns: Full Circle - Allan Jones

This is actually a review of the whole Six Crowns series.


Summary: Hedgehog lamplighter Trumble is reluctantly forced into a quest to find the legendary six badger crowns by hedgehog Romney fortune-teller Esmeralda. Along the way, they're chased by villainous pig pirates, Esmeralda's powerful Aunt Milly and meet other strange friends and enemies. 


One of the things I've noticed while shopping for books for my nieces and nephews is that there is a HUGE lack of books for beginning readers. Other than the Magic Treehouse series, there are hardly any chapter books out there. I've read books by Allan Frenwin Jones before, so I wanted to see how good his books for younger readers would be. 


Overall, I'm very impressed. If you're looking for a story to introduce younger readers to fantasy, this would be a great series to do so. It has all the elements you need to appeal to kids. It has talking animals, a quest, a reluctant hero, an impulsive heroine, fun villainous pirates and a lot of adventure. It doesn't have the depth that stories for older readers do but I still enjoyed it. Given the age group that the story is for, I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. 


Final Verdict: Highly recommend. A perfect series to introduce young readers to fantasy.



Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

Monument 14 - Emmy Laybourne

Mini-review: Bargain Bin find that was much better than I expected. I thought this was going to be a fairly typical post-disaster survival story. Instead, survival barely comes into it. The kids apparently get stuck in the world's biggest Super Wal-Mart with a practically unlimited supply of food and water which takes all the survival suspense out of it.  So, instead of a survival story, it's actually a character driven story about how they react to the extreme situation.


This was a quick, fun read for the most part. However, a few parts do drag, especially the scenes with the 13 year old girl when she's flirting with the high school boys. That actually leads to my bigger issue with the story - character development. This is (or should be) a character-driven story. However, because it is told in first-person, I don't feel like I understand the motives of the other characters as well as I should. Why is Sahalia (the 13 year old) so desperate for attention. Why does Jake feel like a failure? Braden? We know nothing about him. 


I really think this story should have been told in third-person, extensively expanded to allow for more character development or changed into a plot-driven story. As it is now, it feels like it's stuck between the two types and I'm not able to emotionally connect to it the way I wish I could. 


It's still fun and I will happily read the next (which I own) but I feel like it could have been more than it was. 

I have read 33 new-to-me books this year. Yet somehow my TBR pile has risen from 425 books to 438. 


This is scientific proof my books are breeding. 

I hate waiting

Cress - Marissa Meyer Scarlet - Marissa Meyer Cinder  - Marissa Meyer

I have a very unusual reading habit. You see, nothing annoys me more than having to wait years to read an entire series. Several years ago, I read and enjoyed the first four books of a series called "The Power of Five" by Anthony Horowitz (same author as the Alex Rider books). Alas, after I read the fourth one, I had to wait years for the last one -- so long that I honestly couldn't remember enough of what had happened in the first four for me to want to read the fifth without rereading the first four.


Given the state of my to-read pile (currently more than 430 books), I decided this was unacceptable.


Now, for books I'm pretty sure I'll like, I'll just wait until the entire series is out before I read it. And for books I'm not sure about, I'll read the first and then wait until the rest are out. That way, if I DO have to reread the book, I'll only have one. This philosopy has worked well for me so far. It certainly kept me from going crazy between Catching Fire and Mockingjay and I am more than happy I was able to read all three Beyonders books at the same time. Plus, come October, I'll have FIVE Rick Riordan books to read (yay!).


Well, it was working well until today. Today, I made the mistake of starting a series I THOUGHT was over at three books (the Lunar Chronicles) only to discover at the end of Cress that IT HAS ANOTHER BOOK.




I hate waiting.


That is all.

A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

A Night to Surrender - Tessa Dare

Mini-Review: It's usually pretty easy to tell how much I like a book based on how long it takes me to read it. I'm pretty sure I started this one in 2013 and have been slowly forcing myself through it until tonight -- when I felt it finally got somewhat interesting.


The thing is, I can't really say this is a bad book. The writing isn't bad and I thought the plot had a lot of potential (spinster turns town into a retreat for misunderstood women and has to deal with the unexpected invasion of her town by an army officer who needs to form a militia in this female-dominated town). Where it failed in my world was the chemistry. Romance thrives on the instant attraction between hero and heroine and somehow this physical attraction helps overcome the emotional conflict between the characters. Alas, I couldn't see any physical OR emotional attraction in this book, until, perhaps the last few chapters. This meant that I was yawning during the physical AND emotional parts of this book. Not a good sign.


Plus, I really thought that the whole "men must take back the town to prove they are MEN" bits obnoxious. In other words, very little of this story worked for me, which is why I didn't enjoy it until those parts stopped.


I was more interested by the two page scene featuring Minerva and Lord Payne than in the rest of the book (there is a book featuring them, I have discovered, and one chapter in I am much more interested in them than I ever was in Bram and Susannah).


So, anyway, not a book for me.

Across a Star-Swept Sea - Diana Peterfreund

Wow. This book was awesome. Loved it so much -- better than For Darkness Shows the Stars, IMO. Of course, I'm a huge fan of The Scarlet Pimpernel, so that may have something to do with it. 

Of Poseiden by Anna Banks

Of Poseidon - Anna Banks

Mini-Review: This is the third mermaid-centric series that I've read recently and my favorite of the lot, though it still does some things that annoy me. The things that annoy me?


1) Instalove! While it avoids the "soul-bond with the first kiss" cliche, it has "the pull" which basically is instalove with the first touch.


2) Dueling POV's. Part of the story is told from Galen's POV and part is told from Emma's POV. While I can handle POV changes when there's consistency to it (although I'm not fond of it in any situation) there was none in this story. Three chapters get told from Emma's POV, two from Galen's, one more from Emma, then three from Galen -- and, wait -- now they're even switching in the midst of the same chapter! The way it's done is very disconcerting, since there are times when it takes a page to realize that the POV has changed and then times when it is far, far too abrupt.


3) The "twist" at the end? Saw it coming in about the second or third chapter. Kinda annoyed it took that long to come out, actually.


The things that I liked?


1) Quick, fun read.


2) Characters are enjoyable. Emma and Galen are okay as main characters but it's the side characters that are much more enjoyable -- Rachel is utterly awesome and Reyna, Galen's little sister, makes me giggle.


3) There's actually a plot that doesn't solely focus on the romance! And since I've now read the second book in the series, I'm quite happy to note that the political intrigue that briefly shows up in this book continues and ends up being a much larger focus.


Final Verdict: Fun read and while it has some cliche things going on, I thought it was one of the better books in the YA paranormal romance genre that I've read.

Forgive My Fins by Tera Lynn Childs

Forgive My Fins  - Tera Lynn Childs

Mini-Review: Typical teenage romance drama -- only with mermaids! Lily is a princess of the mermaid kingdom who is half-human. She decides to live with her Aunt Rachel on land and go to a human high school where she develops an insanely huge crush on some boy. Only when she's about to confess her feelings to said crush, her nemesis Quince kisses her. And the typical soul-bond nonsense ensues. The plot basically revolves around Lily trying to get her father to revoke the bond while Quince tries to convince Lily that she should love him instead of boy-crush. But, of course, Lily just might have feelings for Quince.


While I didn't dislike this book the way I did The Vicious Deep (mainly because Lily and Quince aren't quite as annoying as Tristan), it's missing the plot,action and politics that made The Vicious Deep tolerable.


Final Verdict: If you're looking for a fluffy romance read with no substantial characterizations or plot or are obsessed with mermaid books, read it. Otherwise, it's pretty forgettable.


My only question is if I should read the next book, since the teaser for it implied there might actually be a plot in it.

The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil - Soman Chainani

Mini-Review here: Yet another story where fairy tale characters exist and go to boarding school to teach them to be a hero/heroine or villain. Much overused trope lately, methinks. In this one, Sophie and Agatha are kidnapped from their village and forced to go to the "School of Good" or the "School of Evil." Sophie has always thought of herself as a good, beautiful princess and is astonished that she's sent to the School of Evil. Grumpy Agatha has always thought of herself as ugly but ends up in the School of Good. Chaos ensues.


Actually, I thought this was a reasonably decent book. It wasn't brilliant but I didn't think it was horrible either. I wouldn't have bothered to write this if I hadn't been so disgruntled by some of the the negative reviews of this book I've read.




The main complaint that I have an issue with is that people keep saying that the characterizations of Sophie and Agatha are inconsistent. Me? I rather thought that was the main point to the book.


Sophie is shallow, selfish and vain. All the good things she does is to help herself, not because she really wants to help someone else. Eventually she realizes that she's actually in the right school. Yet even after this, she ends up doing something good.


Agatha is supposed to be pure and self-sacrificing but she helps her friend cheat so that they can go home -- not because she really wants to help Sophie get the prince. It's so she can have Sophie to herself again. She also has a moment of glee when the prince chooses her instead of Sophie. Yet Agatha also has an immense amount of sympathy for the downtrodden characters in the story and does some things that are really, truly good.


So, yes, the characters are inconsistent. Sophie isn't always evil and Agatha isn't always good. But that was the point of the story -- Sophie and Agatha are human, not caricatures of good and evil. Ultimately, this book is about choice. Sophie wants to be good -- she wants to love and be loved. So, if the characterizations are inconsistent, it's because people are inconsistent.


Er, yeah.


Oh, I loved the subversive "who needs a prince?" bit at the end, btw.


Final Verdict: Good, not brilliant. Worth a read, even if only to make up your own mind.

Books read in 2013

My goal this year was to read 100 "new to me" books, which I achieved earlier this month. So, just for fun, I think I'm going to do a year-end round up.


Next year's goal: 150 "new to me" books to try and clear some of my giant book backlog. I didn't start this year's challenge until March, so I'm hoping that I'll be able to achieve it.


Favorite books: 


Keeper of the Lost Cities and its sequel Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger. I could write on and on about my love for this series but I did review it, so read it instead.


Honorary mentions go to: The two Ash Mistry books by Sarwat Chadda, Above World by Jennifer Reese, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Mass, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz.


Least favorite books: Pulse by Patrick Carman (so dreadful I actually reviewed it) and The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova (which would have been better if the main character wasn't so utterly despicable).


Biggest Disappointment: Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale. I've rethought my review a few times and my opinion is generally the same. My initial review was colored by disappointment that it didn't have the depth that Hale's work usually does. I should admit that if a parent is looking for something easy for a young girl to read, this is probably an okay choice (even though I loathe the blatant marketing sexism involved). However, as an adult who reads mostly MG and YA, this isn't a book I would recommend to my fellow adults.


Best Bargain Bin Surprise: I buy a lot of my books from bargain bins. The thing about books from there is that you never know quite what you're going to get. Most of them are pretty average (or dreadful) but every now and them I come across one or two that I fall in love with.


This year's winner: Keeper of the Lost City by Shannon Messenger. Love almost everything about it. But again, see the review. I even bought a copy for my niece and a copy for my kindle, so even though it was a bargain bin find, I definitely supported the author.


Honorable Mention: The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz. Really fun book set in a world where superheros and supervillains are real. Third generation villain Alex must try and decide just how far he's willing to go to defeat the Rangers of Justice . . . Given its subject matter and the current popularity of superhero movies, I'm very, very surprised I hadn't heard about it before I stumbled upon it in the bargain bin. I bought the sequel and can't wait for book three to come out.




1. Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

2. Beyonders #1: A World Without Heros by Brandon Mull

3. Beyonders #2: Seeds of Rebellion by Brandon Mull

4. Beyonders #3: Chasing the Prophesy by Brandon Mull

5. The Drowned Vault (Ashtown Buriels #2) by N.D. Wilson

6. Far World #1: Water Keep by J. Scott Savage

7. And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens




8. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

9. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George

10. The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After by Julia Quinn

11. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass

12. Pulse by Patrick Carman

13. The Paladin Prophesy by Mark Frost




14. Summerkin by Sarah Prineas

15. Enclave by Ann Aguirre

16. Gods and Warriors by Michelle Paver

17. Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George

18. The Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders #1) by Peter Lerangis

19. Land Keep (Far World #2) by J. Scott Savage

20. Air Keep (Farworld #3) by J. Scott Savage

21. Snuff by Terry Pratchett




22. The Mystery (Troubletwisters #3) by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

23. The Reluctant Assassin: W.A.R.P. #1 by Eoin Colfer

24. The Cabinet of Earths by Anne Nesbet

25. The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

26. The Flame of Olympus (Pegasus #1) by Kate O'Hearn

27. Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

28. The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

29. Knightly Academy by Violet Haberdasher




30. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling

31. The Billionaire's Curse by Richard Newsome

32. The Emerald Casket (Billionaire #2) by Richard Newsome

33. The Secret Prince (Knightly Academy #2) by Violet Haberdasher

34. Olympus at War (Pegasus #2) by Kate O'Hearn

35. The Mask of Destiny (Billionaire #3) by Richard Newsome

36. Savvy by Ingrid Law

37. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey

38. Above World by Jenn Reese

39. Mirage (Above World #2) by Jenn Reese

40. Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

41. The Extraordinary Education of Nicolas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stuart

42. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

43. The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

44. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima




45. The Six Crowns: Sargasso Skies by Allan Frenwin Jones

46. Bone Quill (Hollow Earth #2) by Carole E. Barrowman and John Barrowman

47. The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

48. Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

49. Storybound by Melissa Burt

50. Story's End by Melissa Burt

51. Cloudy Jewel by Grace Livingston Hill

52. The Cloak Society by Jeremy Kraatz

53. 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

54. Curse of the Broomstaff (Janitors #3) by Tyler Whitesides




55. One Piece volume 68 by Eiichiro Oda

56. Duskin by Grace Livingston Hill

57. Redshirts by John Scalzi

58. Wild Born (Spirit Animals #1) by Brandon Mull

59. The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

60. Dandelion Fire (100 Cupboards #2) by N.D. Wilson

61. Dodger by Terry Pratchett




62. Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce

63. The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith

64. Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier.

65. Deadweather and Sunrise (Chronicles of Egg #1) by Geoff Rodkey

66. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

67. Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs #2) by Jacqueline Winspear

68. An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5) by Jacqueline Winspear

69. A Dash of Magic (Bliss Bakery #2) by Kathryn Littlewood

70. Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends by Shannon Hale

71. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

72. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh

73. Crewel by Gennifer Albin

74. Pardonable Lies (Masie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear

75. Messenger of Truth (Masie Dobbs #4) by Jacqueline Winspear

76. Among the Mad (Masie Dobbs #6) by Jacqueline Winspear

77. Allegient by Veronica Roth

78. The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein

79. Secrets of the Crown (Familiars #2) by Adam Jay Epstein

80. Circle of Heroes (Familiars #3) by Adam Jay Epstein

81. The Sum of all Kisses by Julia Quinn

82. Empire of Bones (Ashtown Burials #3) by N.D. Wilson




83. The Sands of Nezza (Adventurers Wanted #4) by M.L. Foreman

84. Hero by Alethea Kontis

85. New Lands (Chronicles of Egg #2) by Geoff Rodkey

86. The Wicked Wallflower by Maya Rodale

87. Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

88. Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

89. The Tattooed Duke by Maya Rodale

90. Keeper of the Lost Cities: Exile by Shannon Messenger

91. A Groom of Ones Own by Maya Rodale

92. A Tale of Two Lovers by Maya Rodale

93. The Apprentices by Maile Meloy

94. The Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos

95. The Ring of Five by Eoin McNamee

96. The Unknown Spy (Ring of Five #2) by Eoin McNamee

97. The Vicious Deep by Zoraida Cordova




98. The Ghost Roads (Ring of Five #3) by Eoin McNamee

99. Let The Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger

100. The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda

101. The City of Death (Ash Mistry #2) by Sarwat Chaddaj

102. The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

103. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

104. The Friday Society by Adrienne Kess

105. The Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan (novella)

106. The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities - Shannon Messenger

I've been meaning to write this review for a very long time because I love and adore this book (and its sequel even more!). However, after rereading it several times, I'm not quite sure I can articulate why. However, I shall do my best.


Summary: 12 year-old Sophie Foster is a child genius with a big secret -- she's a telepath. However, when Sophie meets a boy named Fitz, she learns that her abilities are because she's not human. She's actually an elf with a mysterious connection to an Elvish secret society called the Black Swan. As Sophie learns more about her connection to the Black Swan, this connection will eventually threaten her life.


What I liked: I have to admit that a lot of things that would usually annoy me don't. For example, Sophie is a fairly stereotypical fantasy heroine -- the mysterious, perfect new girl with amazing powers. Those type of characters usually have an unrealistic character flaw that's actually not much of a flaw. But while Sophie does have her flaws, I never felt that they were unrealistic. In fact, they make perfect sense given her human background which makes her a fairly likable main character. Also, I think it would usually drive me crazy that there are three potential love interests for Sophie but since it's pretty incidental (thankfully), I don't mind it. Besides, it's pretty obvious early on that one is a red herring. Besides, I actually like all three of them as characters, which is pretty unusual (I vote Team Dex, btw).


As for the plot, even though the whole concept of secret societies and underground terrorist groups aren't new ones, I still found it very intriguing. I can't wait to find out who Mr. Forkle is (although I suspect we meet him for the first time in Exile) and why the Black Swan really created Sophie.


The other thing I like about this book is the presence of adult characters who do more than just exist. Far too many children's books reduce adult characters to nothing more than villains or useless caricatures. Sophie actually talks to the adults in her life -- Alden, Tiergan, Grady and Edaline. And unlike other children's fantasy books, when she goes off and does something on her own, she doesn't do it because she doesn't think about them or trust them.


What I loved: I think what that stood out most to me about this book was how well the concept of grief was explored. Far too many books that deal with grief end up being so focused on the grief that they end up being too depressing for words. Keeper takes a much more nuanced approach: while grief never goes away, it's still possible to find happiness after tragedy.


What I didn't like: As someone who was somewhat of a misfit at school, the major thing that made me uncomfortable was the treatment of Valin and his friends by Keefe, Sophie and pretty much everyone else. Valin and his friends are Firefox's version of geeky losers. Keefe makes fun of Valin's crush on Sophie and there are frequent comments about drooling that I really thought was mean-spirited. I suppose that it's pretty realistic but ... Sophie was that kid in her human life. I really wish she would have done more to at least stop the mean comments rather than let them slide. And frankly, unless Valin or one of the other kids turns out to have some sort of Super-Special Power, I'm not sure what the point of those characters is.


Final verdict: THIS BOOK IS AWESOME! Seriously, one of my favorite reads this year and my favorite MG series since I read Fablehaven. I like the characters, the plot and thought it had one of the most nuanced approaches to grief I've seen in a YA book. If it hadn't been for the horrible treatment of "geeks" I would have given it five stars.

Anyone else suffering from this??
Anyone else suffering from this??

Let the Sky Fall by Shannon Messenger

Let the Sky Fall - Shannon Messenger

I have to start this review off by saying that I am not a huge fan of the recent supernatural/paranormal romance trend in YA. It's never really been my thing (in the first place, most of the romance makes me roll my eyes). I very much doubt I would have bought this book if I hadn't read and completely fallen in love with the Keeper of the Lost Cities books by the same author (I know I should review them -- but I'm not quite sure what to say).


My Mini-Review:


While I didn't fall in love with this book, I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. While there were things that made me roll my eyes, there were also things that I liked a lot.


What I didn't like: Some of the will-they-won't-they romance moments grew quite tedious and the whole "soul-bond with the first kiss" thing was extremely derivative and really did make me roll my eyes,


What I liked: I had fun with the whole concept of sylphs/Windtalkers and while the plot also had it's derivative moments, it was still quite enjoyable. I also thought the characters were mostly likable (Vane is so much more awesome of a character than Tristan from The Vicious Deep which I reviewed recently). However, the best part was the ending; there were some very unexpected developments that I really loved.


Final Verdict: Enjoyable book that got much better the further the story developed. I'm hoping that a lot of the tedious bits are out of the way because I am totally planning on buying the next books in series.


But Keeper of the Lost Cities is better. :)

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Err, about 1/4 of the way into this book. Kinda bored so far, which I wasn't expecting given the high praise this book gets. Hopefully it gets more exciting.