Image

Book Review: Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

Title: Manners and Mutiny

Author: Gail Carriger

Series: Finishing School #4

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster–in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course. What will become of our proper young heroine when she puts her years of training to the test? -Goodreads

The Review:

I finally figured out what has been missing in this series.

It wasn’t until I got to this final book and found out where the story has been culminating to this whole time that I realized what the previous books were lacking: a plot arc.

Instead of having every book be self-contained with a satisfying mini arc, each one only served to progress one overall arc of the four book series. In every aspect, from the love interest to the external conflict, and even down to the big reveals of the story, nothing showed significant progress until the finale. Everything that came before was just set up. It’s a small wonder I finished each book feeling slightly unsatisfied. I’m glad I broke tradition and actually read all of these books back to back.

Another thing that was missing was any sort of meaningful character growth. The main character ended up exactly where she started and had very little internal conflicts to work through in the series. This is probably one of the reasons I feel the characters and the series as a whole lacked depth. Heck, half the time I didn’t even understand her motive for the things she did, let alone a complex character exploration. While the culmination of the whole series was decent, the character development still left me wanting.

This is petty, but I found myself annoyed at the name choices for the characters. Sophronia just seems like a stupid name to me. Like something you’d name a posh little white dog. And for whatever reason, one of the love interests was called “Soap.” Stupid.

Overall the series was just meh – middle of the road for me. I loved the classroom stuff (espionage training!) even though there wasn’t much of it. I also really enjoyed the dynamics between Sophronia and her friends. This final book had some decent moments and kept my interest more than the previous books, but all the things I’ve detailed kept it from being memorable. That said, even with my issues, I find myself leaning slightly more positive than negative, so it’ll be a negotiable 3 stars for the series as a whole. Oddly I still have the same enthusiasm to continue with the next set of three books (Delightfully Deadly) and then onto the adult Parasol Protectorate series, as I’m eager to see how they compare and find out where everyone ends up now that I have all of this background story.

Recommendations; I’ll know more how to recommend this once I read the PP series, but for the moment, while this was a fun middle-of-the-road jaunt, it didn’t blow my skirt up. Had I read it without promise of the adult UF series, I probably would be dogging on it a little more, but right now it’s getting a pass until I can see if it amounts to anything. Stay tuned…

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

Image

Book Review: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

Title: Waistcoats and Weaponry

Author: Gail Carriger

Series: Finishing School #3

Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Overview: Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style—with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what—or who—they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all. –Goodreads

The Review:

Though this one was the best yet, I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed about the series.

I can’t seem to find a reason to care about the conflicts in these books or the overarching plot. They’re not bad necessarily, but they lack substance. They also seem a bit random. Halfway through this book, when it suddenly took a different direction, I found myself totally disengaged even though I’d been enjoying it up to that point. I think because it shifted focus to the external plot and left behind the stuff I liked.

The stuff I liked: the espionage finishing school, where the ladies learn the finer points of intrigue. And really the selling point of the series for me. This installment had more learning sequences than previous books, which is probably why I liked it a tad more. I also like the side characters and the banter between them all. The love interests are just okay (I have a clear preference), and the passages where she’s trying to navigate her relationship with both boys are probably the most engaging parts of the series so far. For the record, love triangles don’t bother me at all. I like having options.

While there are some things I like and overall the basic writing is easy flowing and fun, I still think the series is pretty mediocre. There just wasn’t enough time spent showing the reader the development of the external conflicts, so each book so far has just felt like everyone going through the motions but no one really invested in what’s happening.

Recommendations: pick this veritable hodgepodge of genres up for a light YA read. Although it’s not blowing me away, it’s still an entertaining romp.

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

by Niki Hawkes

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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

Image

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