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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.

Keeper of the Lost Cities - Shannon Messenger

I need to write a review about this book, since I loved and adored it to pieces. But as I am discovering with my few reviews so far, I find it so much harder to write a review for a book I love than books that fall into the like, neutral or dislike categories.


After all, who wants to read "THIS WAS UTTERLY AWESOME!" for three paragraphs? It might be a great review for author ego-boosting but I don't think it would help many readers decide whether or not to read a particular book, would it?



The Vicious Deep

The Vicious Deep - Zoraida Córdova

Mini-Review here: Overall, I'm pretty meh about this book. While the idea that mythological creatures are secretly hiding among us isn't new, I haven't read a YA book that focused on mermaids before, so I really wanted to like this book. There's a lot of interesting world-building going on here that I found very appealing as were the politics not only within the mermaid court but also between other mythological creatures and the sea court. Unfortunately, none of this could really make up for the fact that the main character, Tristan, is a totally unlikeable arrogant asshole. He constantly talks about how good-looking he is and how many girls he's seduced and dumped and so on. Thing is, he knows he's a jerk and still acts like it. A jerk who admits it but continues being a jerk is still a jerk. It's a pity, since there are some really fascinating concepts in here as well as a few fairly likable secondary characters.


I don't think it's a a horrible book but I can't say I really liked it either. Not sure if I'll go on and read the rest of the series or not ... Maybe if I can find it used or get it cheap on kindle.


Final Verdict: Fascinating concept is ruined by arrogant asshole main character.

Adventurers Wanted: Sands of Nezza by M.L. Forman

The Sands of Nezza - M.L. Forman

For some reason, the Adventurers Wanted series manages to remain a series I absolutely love, even though I think that they tend to be full of flaws. Slathbog's Gold was my first official review and I had a lot of problems with it ... but I still loved reading it. The second and the third books had the same flaws ... but again, I loved reading them. However, as much as I enjoyed them, I kept feeling like there was so much unrealized potential that I was also very frustrated


Sands of Nezza finally managed to bring out some of the potential that I knew was there but hadn't seen yet.


That's not to say there weren't problems, because there were. However, enough flaws were fixed to make me a very, very happy reader.


My major complaints about Slathbog's Gold were these:


1) Unoriginal plot, including a blatant rip-off of 'The Hobbit.'

2) One dimensional, stereotypical characters

3) The writing (particularly the use of sly)

4) A very tedious amount of feasting

5) Preachy


1) While I don't think the plot of Sands of Nezza is the most original plot in the universe, it is much, much better than the plot of the first book (almost anything would be). And while the plots of the second and third books were more original than Slathbog's Gold, I think they were a bit limited by being too stuck to the traditional quest format. Since Alex was on a rescue mission rather than an adventure, he wasn't limited by the goal of the adventure. What I appreciated about most about Nezza was that the goal of Alex's quest kept changing as Alex learned more about the situation of Nezza. I don't think that this could have happened had Alex been part of an official quest.


2) I'm afraid that this is still one of the areas where I have problems with the series. I do think Alex's character has developed quite a bit from the first book, which is a significant improvement, since he was obnoxiously perfect then. At least he has flaws now -- his habit of commanding everyone (and not always politely) is a big one, although I do think he could easily become arrogant in later books. However, where this book (and the third as well) really failed was in the development of secondary characters. While the first book stuck to stereotypes to define characters on the adventure, at least we got to know them. The only one of the new adventurer's we get to know is Tom and we already knew Skeld. The others? I'm not even sure I remember their names. Honestly, Prince Rallian's relatives from the north were better developed than the other adventurers and Stonebill, the raven even better than Rallian.


3) The writing. I shall dance a little dance here because I did NOT notice the (mis)use of the word sly AT ALL. It's a minor thing but it makes me ecstatically happy since it drove me crazy in the first few books. Other than that, I think the writing has improved, although I think the faster pace and more unique plot helped. Because the pace was faster and the plot more creative, I wasn't paying as much attention to the language, so I didn't notice it the way I did in the first three books.


4) Nezza is a much faster paced book than the three previous adventures. As a result, while there is still an occasional feast, we aren't forced to read pages about them the way we were in the first few books. This is a HUGE improvement because they really started to bog things down. I understood the reasons why they were focused on in the first book -- the experiences are all new to Alex and so on -- but were still tedious.


5) This book has a much less obnoxiously preachy tone to it than the first book did. Again, this is something that I feel a faster pace helped with, as did the development of Alex's character. The concept of honor is still there and still mentioned but it's not focused on the way it was in the first few books. Obviously with a faster paced story, there wasn't room for the pages of philosophy about the concept of honor that we saw in the first book but Alex understanding the concept better is also a big reason.


Other comments not related to comparisons to the earlier books?


Well, I'm relieved to see than Alex's dragon form DIDN'T make him invincible. When I read about Alex's transformation in the third book, I totally rolled my eyes. Alex was already obnoxiously powerful -- did he really need to be made more powerful? I still think that development was a bit too much ... but I'm sure the fact that he's true silver will be important at another sage of the series.


Yay! Deaths! I probably shouldn't cheer deaths ... but I think it was important to have character deaths (even if they're minor characters) in this book. Especially after the Alex-the-dragon development in the last book, if there's going to be any sort of tension in future books, we had to have something to prove that Alex can't do everything. Character deaths, especially that of Cam, who was right in front of Alex when he died, was the best way to do this. A more major character death would add more tension, I think (I vote for Bregnest or Whalen) but since I'm not writing the story, I don't get a vote. (If you read this Mr. Foreman, I agree with your editor.)


Stonebill the raven was also pretty awesome. I do have to admit some disappointment that the Ring of Nezza didn't enable Rallian to speak to ravens like him though. It just seemed like it would have been an appropriate and fun development.


Final Verdict: Big improvement on the earlier books in the series. Morality is still simplistic and secondary characterizations are still weak but I definitely saw improvement and am looking forward to more.

The Sum of All Kisses - Julia Quinn

Oh Julia Quinn, I think you have lost some of your spark. I iz sad. It's taking me longer and longer to finish each book that you write, when I used to read them non-stop.



The Familiars #1

The Familiars - Adam Jay Epstein, Andrew Jacobson, Peter Chan, Kei Acedera

Have I ever mentioned how much I love bargain/used books? Because I do. While some of them end up being absolutely dreadful, quite a few of them turn out to be surprisingly good and/or entertaining and I found The Familiars to be one of those pleasant surprises.


In The Familiars, a street cat named Aldwyn sneaks into a magical pet shop and ends up being chosen to be to be the pet/familiar of a wizard-in-training named Jack. Of course, when Jack and his fellow trainees are kidnapped, Aldwyn and his fellow familiars, Skylar the blue-jay and tree-frog Gilbert must embark upon a dangerous journey to save their wizards.


Mini Review: A fun, entertaining read. For being a middle-grade book, I thought the characterizations of the animals were well-done and more nuanced than you sometimes see in MG books (I'm looking at you "Adventurers Wanted" series). Aldwyn is a streetwise liar, who manages to be honorable despite his lies. Skylar may be an arrogant know-it-all but she's one with good intentions, despite indications that she has a dark secret. Gilbert may have self-esteem issues and act the coward but can be surprisingly brave.


While there's nothing ground-breaking or particularly unique when it comes to plot or characterization, it's still a fun read that I can see a lot of younger readers enjoying.

Allegiant  - Veronica Roth

So, done. And I have to say, after the spoilers I'd heard, I didn't hate the ending the way I thought I would. Not sure if I like it, but I think I might understand.

Ever After High: The Book of Legends by Shannon Hale

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale

When I heard Shannon Hale had a new book out, I bought it having absolutely no clue that it was part of the Ever After High universe created by Mattel. If I had, at least I wouldn't be as disappointed by this book as I am. I suppose I expect more complexity from a Shannon Hale book than I ended up getting.


Mini-Summary: Ever After High is a boarding school for the children of fairy tale characters. Raven Queen's destiny is to give a poisoned apple to Apple White, the daughter of Snow White. Unfortunately for Raven, she wants to be nice to people, is lousy at evil magic and doesn't hate Apple White nearly enough to want to poison her. As her year progresses, Raven must decide whether to sign the Book of Legends that will ensure she follows her destiny or choose her own, very risky path.


First complaints first: I hate, loathe and despise the interior decoration theme of this book. Every page has a large and garish pink and purple border that is insanely distracting. Even worse, there are text messages between characters written in pink and purple. There are also conversations between the narrator of the story and Maddie Hatter and THOSE conversations are black and purple. Ugh. After reading the story, I realize it's written for younger girls but I happen to think that the pink and purple theme is incredibly sexist. If I'd opened this in a bookstore, I would never have touched it. Never.


The Positive: I have to admit that I love retold fairy tales, so this did manage to be a quick, entertaining read. And, you know, a story about fighting destiny is almost always compelling. I was also relieved that even though Apple White is beautiful and beloved and fits the book mold of a spoiled brat quite well, she was never purposely cruel and nasty. Clueless, yes, because she can't grasp what it's like for someone to have a less than happy destiny, but she wasn't a mean person.


I loved the character of Maddie Hatter. Every scene with her in it was entertaining on many levels and the idea of Wonderland having a language called Riddlish makes me smile.


The Negative: This book may have been a fun, quick read but part of that is because there is so little depth to the characters or the plot. Raven is the only character we know much about and I still don't feel connected to her. All of the others are just ... decoration. Even though Maddie is a fun character to read, we really know very little about her.


And as for other annoyances, I really didn't like that Maddie could converse with the narrator. Every time it happened, I disconnected from the story and characters. Since I wasn't very connected to them to begin with, this made it worse. Plus, it was such a deus ex machina. Maddie needs to know something? Let's have her talk to the narrator!


However, I think the biggest reason why I'm dissapointed in this book is because in August I read two books with a very similar plot that is vastly superior to Ever After High. These books are called Storybound and Story's End by Marissa Burt. In Storybound, a girl named Una Fairchild is transported to the Land of Story, where children go to school to learn to be villains, heroes or ladies from already existing stories. Meanwhile, there's a secret rebellion featuring characters who want to be able to create their own stories. These books have a much more complex plot and the characters are much more two-dimensional than in Ever After High. In comparison, Ever After High seems so ... shallow. Yes, they're aimed at a slightly older age group -- but not by much.


Final Verdict: Cute but not particularly unique. I'll read the rest out of curiosity and the hope that it will gain depth as the story continues but this series is nowhere near the quality of Hale's other books. I hate being so negative about it since I love every other book I've read of Shannon Hale's ... I just can't love this one.


Disclaimer: For the record, I'm a 35 year-old former English major. As a result, I'm quite sure my perspective on these books are going to be different from that of a 7 or 8 year-old girl. While I have no intention of giving this book to either of my nieces since I see a certain sexism inherent in the concept of Ever After High, I have no doubt that this is a book that a ton of 7 or 8 year old girls will love.

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale

Dear God, it's getting even worse. This world apparently has text messaging. Well, the texts are written in pink and purple!

Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends - Shannon Hale

WTF is with the pink and purple border on every single page? I don't know what marketing idiot came up with this but not only it sexist, it's really obnoxious and distracting.  If I didn't love Shannon Hale's books, I wouldn't even give this a try. 

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

Bliss (The Bliss Bakery #1) - Kathryn Littlewood

The Bliss family runs a magical bakery in their small hometown. 11 year old Rosemary wants nothing more to follow in her parents footsteps but they won't let her near the Bliss Cookery Booke that contains the family's secret recipes. Of course, when her parents leave town and her cool Aunt Lily shows up, everything changes. But Aunt Lily has plans of her own ...


Mini Review here: I wasn't sure what to expect when I bought this from the bargain bin. Fortunately, I found it surprisingly good. There's a lot of fun mayhem when Rosemary and her brothers (all of them who are named after spices) go about attempting to make sweets from the Booke -- and even more when they attempt to fix their mistakes. What I didn't particularly enjoy was Rosemary's predictable self-esteem and family issues. Fortunately, the mayhem created was entertaining enough to make that part bearable.


Final Verdict: Fun and entertaining but nothing especially innovative or creative. Younger readers will probably enjoy. Older ones -- YMMV.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Redshirts - John Scalzi

Redshirts is the first book I’ve read by John Scalzi. In fact, it’s the first SF/Fantasy book for adults that I’ve read in a very long time. For various reasons, I tend to stick with YA for my SF/Fantasy reads. However, when I heard about the premise of Redshirts, I thought it sounded like a lot of fun.


It was.


That does not mean I think it is the most brilliant book ever. While Redshirts was a fun, entertaining read that I thoroughly enjoyed, it was very light on substance. There was little in the way of character development and the plot shared the flaws of every single Star Trek episode, in that a miraculous and unrealistic solution was found at the last possible minute that left everyone safe and (mostly) happy.


While I’m sure this was intentional, since so much of Redshirts is a parody of this habit in Star Trek, it left me feeling unsatisfied. The only part of Redshirts that had any depth to it were the codas, but those weren’t a main part of the story.


Redshirts is also an idea that’s been done before (and I don’t just mean the concept of the redshirts who are doomed to die).  I don’t know that it’s been done professionally before, but having an outside agent writing the story is one that is very common in fanfic. In fact, I even remember reading a story like that in a writing class I took in college more than ten years ago. If I remember correctly, my review wasn’t very kind to that classmate, although Redshirts is a MUCH better story than the one my classmate came up with.


And if you’re thinking that this review so far doesn’t make it seem like I liked Redshirts, that’s not true.


I loved Redshirts. Redshirts is a brilliant parody of Star Trek, although I don’t think it’s quite as good as Galaxy Quest. It’s certainly the best written parody of Star Trek I’ve seen (and I’ve read quite a few parodies on the internet). I adored the fact that it’s the redshirts who are the ones that need to find a solution rather than any of the major characters on the ship.


That doesn’t mean I can’t see flaws. I may think that they’re intentional, since Scalzi was writing a parody and not a deep exploration of the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Intentional flaws are still flaws.


My ultimate opinion: Redshirts is fluff. It’s a fun story, but light on substance.

I decided to go to an author event in about a month that has Ann Aguirre as one of the (four) authors. While I have Aguirre's YA series, I'm thinking I should at least buy one of her adult books as well. So, any suggestions for a good series to start with?

The problem with finally getting around to reading books on my to-read pile is that all of them seem to have multiple sequels that I must purchase and read. Thus, my to-read pile gets bigger instead of smaller. Books only know how to multiply. 

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger - Terry Pratchett

I have very mixed feelings about this book. Dodger is technically not a Discworld book. In fact, it's set in 19th Century London. On one hand, Pratchett managed to infuse the satire and fun that are a part of his Discworld series in a non-Discworld book. On the other hand, this made it seem so much like a Discworld book that I was disappointed it WASN'T a Discworld book.


I think the biggest problem I have with the similarities is that it really doesn't show as much breadth as a writer as I think Pratchett is capable of. While I seem to be one of the few people who didn't like Nation, it was quite a departure from Discworld. With Dodger, even the characters introduced have their Discworld counterparts.


Of course, being a history geek, what I enjoyed most about this book were the parts of the story that used actual people from historical London. Not Charles Dickens, who is a fairly major character. No, I would say that I enjoyed the inclusion of Henry Mayhew (wrote a major survey on London's poor) and Joseph Bazalgette (redesigned London's sewers much more). Of course, Bazalgette probably amuses me most because I remember watching a documentary focusing on the redesign of the sewer system on the History Channel once.


Anyway, my overall impression is that it's a decently fun read but I would have been much happier with a Discworld book.

23 of my books didn't make it over to booklikes from goodreads and I have no idea which ones. *sigh*


Also, books I haven't reviewed and haven't even rated ended up on my reviewed shelf.

Obviously import isn't perfect.


In other random news, I went to town to buy a bow so I could take up archery again ... ended up with 10 books from the used bookstore instead. 415 in my to-read pile.

And now I am waiting for my goodreads import to finish . . . 18 hours left.


Currently reading: Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Verdict so far (1/4 of the way in) -- I like the Discworld books better. But I felt that way about Nation too, which everyone except me seemed to love and adore.


Just finished: Dandelion Fire by N.D. Wilson. Better by far than the first book (100 cupboards) but it was following too many story lines and got very confusing in the middle.