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Book Review: Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Title: Curtsies and Conspiracies

Author: Gail Carriger

Series: Finishing School #2

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sophronia’s first year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality has certainly been rousing! For one thing, finishing school is training her to be a spy–won’t Mumsy be surprised? Furthermore, Sophronia got mixed up in an intrigue over a stolen device and had a cheese pie thrown at her in a most horrid display of poor manners. Now, as she sneaks around the dirigible school, eavesdropping on the teachers’ quarters and making clandestine climbs to the ship’s boiler room, she learns that there may be more to a field trip to London than is apparent at first. A conspiracy is afoot–one with dire implications for both supernaturals and humans. Sophronia must rely on her training to discover who is behind the dangerous plot-and survive the London Season with a full dance card. -Goodreads

The Review:

This sequel was a lot stronger than the first book.

The plot made more sense, the characters had better dynamics, and the finishing school elements were more prominent. Overall I thought it improved things on all accounts save one: the world building.

Rather than feeling like a good blend of genres, the world creation here still feels like a random hodgepodge of components. Perhaps it’s introduced and explained better in the Parasol Protectorate (the parent series to this spinoff prequel), but within the context of this series alone, I’m not buying it yet. There are vampires and werewolves, but there’s no lore explaining how these supernatural beings came about, nor is there much explanation on how they’ve integrated into society.

Their inclusion also doesn’t fit the sophisticated, steampunk vibes of the story. Because not only are there supernatural beings, but there are also small mechanical creations and airships large enough to support thriving communities. And while I like this component, thus far it feels a bit underdeveloped. I’m told they’re on a airship, but I never get drop-in details or other atmosphere-building descriptions while reading. The characters are so focused on their dramas that there’s not much room left over for setting the physical scene.

I appreciated the intrigue in the book, and find myself latching on to some of the more interesting plot points – ones I hope to see expanded on in next books. The characters showed a bit more depth in this book and I particularly liked the interactions between them all. The MC has a lot of big ideas and strategies, and while they’re not always super believable, they do make for a decently absorbing plot.

Overall the series is definitely improving, even if the world-building hasn’t quite won me over yet. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Recommendations: pick up this series for a fun, mischief -laden YA. Particularly if you love reading about boarding schools and high-brow societies.

Other books you might like (same as for the first book):

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

Title: Etiquette and Espionage

Author: Gail Carriger

Series: Finishing School #1

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than 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. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m glad I knew before diving in that this is a prequel series to an adult urban fantasy world because otherwise I would’ve described my experience Etiquette and Espionage as totally disjointed and under-realized.

Actually, I’m still describing it that way, but at least I have context and know the why’s of the situation. I’m sure it’s hard to approach a new series with fresh eyes when you’ve already been writing in the world for years. You forget that some readers have never been here before and may brush over details and neglect building connections from scratch. As it happens, I’m quite interested in this world, and while I found the combination of werewolves and airships quite confusing, it definitely piqued my interest. While I didn’t like the brushed-over presentation here, I’m planning to stick around for a while to get the full experience.

I also didn’t care for the plot. The main character had a weird objective that felt to me a bit forced. Would someone really get involved with that even though it had absolutely nothing to do with them? Another thing that struck me odd is how unphased the character seemed after learning the purpose of this finishing school. Again, here I’m still interested to see where things go, but have a few objections to the execution of the story.

Since these are the youthful days of characters from an established series, I’m intrigued to see what sort of backgrounds are cemented here and who will eventually make it to the main series. If given my way I usually choose chronologic order when reading, even if the first books aren’t stellar. I seem to have more patience that way.

Recommendations: pick this one up for a proper finishing school atmosphere and teen shenanigans. Because this is a prequel series to the adult urban fantasy Parasol Protectorate, it reads a bit under-developed. So if you’ve already read that other series, you might have a better go if it here by bringing all of the depth established in PP over. Otherwise it’s just a basic, average YA.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [87]: January 2023

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

January 2023 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Wouldn’t you know it – I didn’t read as much as I thought I would last month, so many of the books are making a comeback in January. I keep saying how Ruin by John Gwynne is my #1 priority, and yet I keep letting other more time-sensitive books jump the line. It’s the pitfall of running a book club and signing up for so many buddy reads (actually, I’ve been instigating them, which is even funnier). In any case, come hell or high water, I will be at least cracking the spine on Ruin before the month is out.

With the exception of the Warrior, which technically isn’t slated to get read until the first of February, I actually think I’m going to be able to read everything on this list (famous last words). Sweep of the Heart by Andrews was a last-minute addition, as I was planning to read it ASAP anyway but dropped everything to snag it when NetGalley flashed it across my radar as available as an audio ARC. Sold.

Blade of Dreams, the new Kithimar novel that comes out next summer, is every bit as amazing as I hoped it would be. I’m devouring pages from it every time I have a free moment. Superb.

Even at a glance, I can tell I’m focusing my attentions on the best books first. We’re starting off the year with a bang!


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Justice of Kings by Richard Swan

Title: Justice of Kings

Author: Richard Swan

Series: Empire of the Wolf #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: As an Emperor’s Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt always has the last word. His duty is to uphold the law of the empire using whatever tools he has at his disposal: whether it’s his blade, the arcane secrets passed down from Justice to Justice, or his wealth of knowledge of the laws of the empire. But usually his reputation as one of the most revered—and hated—Justices is enough to get most any job done. When Vonvalt investigates the murder of a noblewoman, he finds his authority being challenged like never before. As the simple case becomes more complex and convoluted, he begins to pull at the threads that unravel a conspiracy that could see an end to all Justices, and a beginning to lawless chaos across the empire. -Goodreads

The Review:

I knew nothing about this book before diving in, save that it had an unconventional narrative. And really, that’s all I needed to know. I generally love it when authors get creative and break a few rules. In this case, the person who would be considered the main character (as his story is the most compelling), is not the perspective the story is written from. Instead we see him through the eyes of his assistant as she retroactively documents their journey together. It was a risky strategy, as we’re missing the parts where we get to see WHY the character makes certain decisions, but it also makes for some surprising moments, so it’s a good trade-off.

That said, I didn’t really care for some of the behaviors of the main character. She read very immature to the point where I was wondering why her companions put up with her. I couldn’t tell if she was written that way on purpose to evoke those emotions or if my personal biases made me more sensitive to it. Overall it didn’t lessen the experience, as I’d much prefer an unlikable character to a boring one, but I can see her bothering some readers.

The story didn’t have as much magic or fantasy components as I thought it would. It was more a legal mystery set in a fairly typical fantasy world. Kind of in the same vein as Locke Lamora. I didn’t mind the lack of magic while reading, but after finishing the book wished the mystery component had been a bit stronger, as that was the main highlight of the book. I enjoyed the legal component and the overall theme and moral debate of following the letter of the law vs. the spirit. It was good food for thought.

I’ve never read anything quite like this and find myself interested to see where it goes next. I can see why a lot of people are loving this one.

Recommendations: pick this up for a low-magic fantasy with legal and mystery components. The unconventional perspective approach is unique and interesting enough to make it stand out a bit from the crowd.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire

Title: An Artificial Night

Author: Seanan McGuire

Series: October Daye #3

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Changeling knight in the court of the Duke of Shadowed Hills, October “Toby” Daye has survived numerous challenges that would destroy fae and mortal alike. Now Toby must take on a nightmarish new assignment. Someone is stealing both fae and mortal children—and all signs point to Blind Michael. When the young son of Toby’s closest friends is snatched from their Northern California home, Toby has no choice but to track the villains down, even when there are only three magical roads by which to reach Blind Michael’s realm—home of the legendary Wild Hunt—and no road may be taken more than once. If she cannot escape with all the children before the candle that guides and protects her burns away, Toby herself will fall prey to Blind Michael’s inescapable power. And it doesn’t bode well for the success of her mission that her own personal Fetch, May Daye—the harbinger of Toby’s own death—has suddenly turned up on her doorstep… -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m starting to think this series may not be my jam.

While the first book was a decent introduction, I actively despised the second book and almost didn’t continue from there. But with comments from Goodreads buddies telling me An Artificial Night was where the series starts to get good, I begrudgingly continued.

Is it possible that I went into it cranky and prepared to be a bit overly critical? Entirely. But for the most part I just found myself comparing the story elements to other favorite Urban Fantasy series like Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson, and still found this one lacking.

My issues seem to change with each book, which in a way is a good thing because it means that eventually the stars may line up. While book two had horrendous pacing and a plot riddled with issues, with this one I only had trouble with the main character. She doesn’t feel like a real person yet. When something awful happens to her, she thinks “well, that’s awful” and then moves on with her day. Her complete lack of emotional depth kept me at an arm’s distance the entire book. After all, if she’s not particularly concerned with the awful things happening, then why should I be? If it weren’t for the profound depth of character exploration I’ve read within her Wayward Children series (I know she can dazzle me!), I may have thrown in the towel already. But the promise of what she CAN do continues to keep me reading… that and the fact that I already forked out good cash for the entire series on audio ::facepalm::. But that’s what I did with Dresden, continuing to work my way through that series because I already had them, until one day around book five it suddenly won me over. I’m hoping for a similar experience here.

The world-building and pacing were actually pretty good in this book. If nothing else, McGuire is wildly creative, unique, and off the beaten path when it comes to her stories and this series is no exception. It’s another reason I’m still sticking around to see where it goes. She knows how to set a hell of an atmosphere in her books, and I love that component.

Recommendations: while many love this series as much as the other heavy-hitters in the urban fantasy genre, I’m still not a believer (…yet). I’d say save this one until after you’ve read my other recs. It’s solid B-list so far.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Magic Kingdom for Sale / Sold by Terry Brooks

Title: Magic Kingdom for Sale / Sold

Author: Terry Brooks

Series: Magic Kingdom of Landover #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention. Such as the fact that the kingdom was falling into ruin. The barons refused to recognize a king and taxes hadn’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, was laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, was plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learned that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal could hope to win. But Ben Holiday had one human trait that even magic couldn’t overcome. Ben Holiday was stubborn. -Goodreads

The Review:

I admittedly don’t have a lot of patience for classic fantasy stories. Ones of the simple variety with a straight-forward plot, typical magical creatures, and slews of trophy themes riddled throughout. It feels like once you’ve read one, you’ve basically read them all.

Magic Kingdom was entirely part of that same mold.

If you’re going to pick up a classic fantasy, however, you could do much worse than this series by Terry Brooks. The book was written well and even though I’ve seen all of the story elements before, they were deftly presented. I was particularly engaged at the beginning (which takes place in our world), following a character who’s trying to decide if he’s going to take a leap of faith. It was a strong start, and basically my enjoyment hinged on whether or not eventually making it to Landover and seeing what it had to offer was worth the buildup. It wasn’t… but I still oddly enjoyed my time reading it, regardless. Truthfully, had it not been reading the book for my Read/Burn/Hoard challenge, I may have abandoned it within 100 pages of making it to Landover and not discovering anything compelling. That and the general flow of the writing kept me going, but it was a close thing.

One thing I learned after reading the back cover flap is that Brooks has a graduate degree in law and practiced for several years before becoming a writer. The main character in this book is also a lawyer, and I could totally see the extra connection Brooks had to the him and how his knowledge of legal matters enhanced the story. I love it when writers bring additional expertise to their works.

The plot in this first book was pretty basic, but I still find myself interested in seeing where it will go next. Perhaps now that we’ve taken an entire novel to get acclimated to this new world, we can start exploring it and getting a little more creative in the subsequent ones. I’m at least committed to reading book two, then deciding from there.

Recommendations: pick this one up for a typical classic fantasy experience. Of the portal variety.

Other book you might like (a basic playlist of classic fantasy):

by Niki Hawkes