Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Book Review: ‘Olivia Twist’ by Lorie Langdon

I wanted to love Olivia Twist. The synapsis sounded right up my alley. A gender-bending variation on the Oliver Twist story. Plucky heroine in Victorian London disguising herself as a boy to save her orphan friends while falling in love with a familiar face from her past. Unfortunately, I found that the story was too much romance and not enough plot.

Olivia Brownlow is the female version of the Oliver Twist character. Born in a workhouse, she’s grown up disguised as a boy for her own safety, picking pockets in order to survive. When she’s finally caught, she discovers she has more family than she knew. Her uncle takes her in, cleans her up, and presents her to society where she’s all set to marry a friendly, but misguided and boring man to provide for her ailing uncle. However, she still steals and dresses as a boy, sneaking out of the house at night to take care of homeless orphan boys.

During her adventures, Olivia runs into the boy who protected her on the streets, also a new member of polite society. What is he up to? Can he help her stand up to her criminal bully of a brother who wants her dead? And can she resist his charms and stay true to the man who offers her family financial stability?

The story sounds exciting, but it moves slowly. The plot doesn’t even begin to thicken until about halfway through when the villain is introduced. The first half just focuses on Olivia meeting Dodger and taking care of the boys. The brooding romance is a little over the top and takes over the entire plot. Constantly agonizing over each other and denying their feelings despite the obvious attraction. Even once the plot moves on with a bit of intrigue, the romance is heavy-handed and overdone.

Don’t get me wrong, I do read romance novels, but the love story felt a bit generic and predictable. I wanted more excitement. I wanted to be wowed. Instead, I found myself bored and setting it down for long periods of time. Once it hit the halfway mark, it picked up a bit, but it wasn’t quite enough to save the story for me.

2.75 out of 5 stars

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(The Barnes and Noble site was down when I wrote this. I’ll try to remember to add their link above when it comes back up.)

Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hocking

Book Review: ‘Between the Blade and the Heart’ by Amanda Hocking

New book alert! The first book in Amanda Hocking’s new Norse mythology duology came out in January and I was given a chance to read a free ARC copy. Despite the unique subject matter and diverse characters, the book just didn’t stand out for me. Maybe you’ll have better luck.

Malin is a Valkyrie in a futuristic United States governed by the Norse Gods. It’s her job to kill immortals at the Gods’ command and return them to the Underworld to keep the planet from becoming overpopulated and unbalanced. As such, she has superior strength and reflexes. Her mother is a Valkyrie as well. When Malin finds out that her mother has let a marked immortal live despite her orders, bringing on a possible demon takeover, she’s shocked. Together with the son of the woman that immortal killed and several other friends, it’s her job to fight back and try to return the world to balance.

Something I enjoyed about this book was the variety of creatures that you don’t normally see in YA and Hocking had great imagination when it came to combining ancient mythology with futuristic technology. I just felt like the writing was too much like every other YA urban fantasy on the market. Insert love triangle, demon fighting and somewhat shallow heroine here. I did appreciate that the love triangle involved a straight guy, a bisexual woman and a lesbian. The book certainly didn’t lack diversity, but the story itself felt stale. This was actually my first experience reading Hocking’s novels so I had high hopes, but I was left disappointed. When Malin finally confronts the immortal she quested to find, it’s over in a flash and then the rest of the book simply leaves it open for the next novel. I felt like no real thought was put into the sub-conclusion after the rest of the novel centered around the search. Truly unsatisfying.

If you like traditional urban fantasy stories, you might enjoy this novel. However, if you are like me and choose extraordinary plots and prose over a quick and easy read, you might want to look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

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Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Book Review: ‘Truly Devious’ by Maureen Johnson

Maureen Johnson’s new YA novel about a true-crime loving teen is an excellent read if you don’t mind a cliffhanger ending. The book is the first in a new trilogy that I thoroughly enjoyed despite the fact that I don’t usually read mysteries without a paranormal twist.

Johnson introduces us to a cast of characters attending Ellingham Academy – a free private school in Vermont that caters to exceptional students who think outside the box. Shortly after Albert Ellingham started the school in the 1930s, his wife and daughter were kidnapped, the only clue being a twisted poem about various forms of murder that was sent prior to the crime. Now in present day, Stevie Bell has been accepted to the academy as a true crime aficionado. She knows the case front to back and plans on solving it during her time at the school. Little does she know that a new murder is about to happen, casting new light on the case. Can she trust the friends she’s made or is one of them involved in the killing?

This story was intelligent and held my interest even though I don’t read a lot of contemporary mysteries. Because the author plans on making it into a trilogy, she really fleshed out the background story, only diving into the second mystery halfway through the book, and she left it glaringly open for the next one. I really enjoyed Stevie as a character and appreciated the truthful look at anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Stevie was awkward, but smart and her friends were eclectic and diverse. I loved Janelle, but didn’t fully trust David or Ellie. I was kind of surprised that David entered as a love interest as I found him a bit creepy, but I guess we’ll see in future tomes whether he can be trusted or not. The book was written in two POV – one being the story of the Ellinghams from the 1930s and the other being Stevie’s modern day investigation. I thought neither overpowered the other and they both kept me guessing and interested.

Overall, I thought this book was worth almost 4 stars. I was left a bit unsatisfied by the cliffhanger ending, but I’m looking forward to reading the next two volumes to continue the story. It was well-written and had a lot of charm. If you love YA or mysteries, this is a fun read that you shouldn’t miss.

3.75 out of 5 stars

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VNYL January 2018 shipping box

Unboxing: VNYL January 2018 subscription box

Hello! One move and one emergency surgery later, I’m back to spread my views across the internet. We’re starting with an unboxing and will hopefully move on to some book reviews later in the week. Today we’re taking a look at VNYL, a subscription company that mails out music on vinyl records. These days, this is how I collect the music I love. It’s nostalgic and fun and today’s LPs sound better than their predecessors. You won’t find much hissing and popping on 180 gram vinyl.

VNYL sends you three curated records based on your own personal likes and dislikes. You can link your account to your Discogs list so they know what you already own and you can also link to your Spotify account so they know what you listen to on a regular basis. If you don’t have either of those, no worries. There’s a page where you can write down your favorite and least favorite bands and genres and you can adjust it as the subscription moves forward if you find that you’re not getting what you enjoy. After all of that is logged in, you choose from a list of “vibes” so they know what mood you’re in for music that month.

VNYL January 2018 note

So, up top you’ll see the protective box the records shipped in. Inside, as always, were a sheet of paper advertising other vinyl you can buy from them, a note from my curator, and a sticker based on the vibe I chose. The note explains what they chose for you and sometimes why.

VNYL January 2018 records

This month I received the following three records: Love’s Crushing Diamond by Mutual Benefit, The Heart Speaks in Whispers by Corinne Bailey Rae and The Prince and the Duke by Republican Hair. Two of these bands were new to me, which is great. I purposely asked the company to send me music I haven’t heard of so I can expand my horizons a bit. I love discovering new tunes.

The Mutual Benefit album is relaxing and pretty. Definitely something I could work to. Republican Hair’s record is actually a special print where one side is songs from the album High and Tight and the other is songs influenced by Prince and David Bowie. It was a fun mix with a good beat. Corinne Bailey Rae was the one artist in this shipment that I’d heard of previously. I enjoyed her first album, so I was excited to try this one out. It’s a bit jazzy, a bit mellow and full of beautiful vocals.

Overall, I’d give this box 5 stars. VNYL always does an excellent job picking music I’ll like. They really take care to read through your interests and pick something along the same lines. If you don’t like to experiment with your music, you can choose to have them only send you music from artists you specifically mention or have on your Spotify list. I find it more fun to get a few surprises though.

If you’d like to order VNYL for yourself or someone you love, click here to visit their website.

5 out of 5 stars

Nocturnal Reader's Box Hell Shipping Box

Unboxing: Nocturnal Reader’s Box November 2017 ‘Hell’ Theme Subscription

With my temporary living arrangements and saving up to get a new apartment by the first of the year, I’ve had to decrease my subscription shipments to one box per month. This month, I chose Nocturnal Reader’s Box – a horror novel subscription that sends two books and assorted terrifying goodies for $35 plus shipping. The November theme was Hell and it was a lot of fun.

Nocturnal Reader's Box Hell paper padding

Above this article, you’ll see Persephone anxiously awaiting my opening of the box. She just had to get in on the pic. The box itself is printed with the company logo on top and packed with paper padding. Everything got here just fine. The paper kept it from shuffling too much.

Nocturnal Reader's Box Hell items

The first items I pulled from the box were a wall pennant, a sliding pin, a bookmark and an art print. The wall pennant is horror themed where spooky scenes abound from skeletons and an old church to a UFO and torn horror novel. It’s good sized and I plan on hanging it in my living room once we move. The pin features the bucket of pig’s blood from Stephen King’s Carrie. It slides from the bucket and spells out the name of the novel in the drips. Very cool. Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery inspired this month’s bookmark. It has a photo of a hand with stones on the front and a quote from the book on the back. Lastly, the art print presents Chris Galen’s version of Cenobite (Butterball) from Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart and the Hellraiser films, neither of which I’ve viewed, but the print is an interesting piece of art.

Nocturnal Reader's Box Hell books

The goodies don’t stop there! Next in the box were this month’s books, a pillow cover, a beanie cap and a sample pouch of coffee. The books were The Wilderness Within by John Claude Smith – a twisty, hallucinatory journey of a story – and a book of short stories by Ronald Malfi called We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone that the company warns you not to read in the dark. Both are new releases. I read Smith’s novel the same day I got the box and will be posting the review here soon.

The pillow cover includes a quote by Shirley Jackson. I’m not real fond of the face silhouette on the front, so I’m not sure if I’ll be using it even though I like the quote. I’m still pondering. The beanie cap features the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones. It’s double-thick, so it should be nice and warm. I admit, I’m only on season 2 of GoT, but I’m very much enjoying it. The coffee in this box was created by Coffee Shop of Horrors and it’s based on Hell House by Richard Matheson. It’s apple strudel flavor and very tasty.

I like this box. I love horror novels, but never think to pick them up for myself. This gave me two new books I hadn’t heard of to try out new authors. The items included with the books were all useable and fun.

If you’d like to try Nocturnal Reader’s Box out for yourself, click here to find their website. December’s theme is Predator and Prey and will include items or books from the following authors: William Peter Blatty, Josh Malerman, Peter Benchley, Stephen King, Joe Hill and more. The December box will also provide a t-shirt or tote bag, based on your subscription choice.

4 out of 5 stars

A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Book Review: ‘A Perilous Undertaking’ by Deanna Raybourn

On September 19, the newest Veronica Speedwell mystery was released in paperback and I just recently got around to reading it. It’s the second in a series that I love and while I think I enjoyed the first novel better than A Perilous Undertaking it was still a lot of fun with twists and turns that you don’t see coming.

Veronica once again teams up with her attractive natural-historian pal Stoker to solve a mystery. This time, her estranged aunt has hired her to solve a murder blamed on art patron Miles Ramsforth, who is due to hang in a week’s time. His mistress, Artemisia, was brutally killed and Miles cannot produce an alibi. Veronica and Stoker will search everywhere for clues, from an artists’ colony to a subterranean grotto. Can they prove Ramsforth innocent before the killer gets to them?

The Veronica Speedwell mysteries are always funny and entertaining. Things between Veronica and Stoker tend to get a bit steamy, but never quite get past the bonds of friendship, and their repartee is witty and intelligent. While I figured out the killer at the beginning of the novel, there were a few red herrings thrown in that made me question whether I was right. The characters are all multi-faceted, making it easy to heavily invest yourself in the tale. I can’t wait to read the next book.

Overall, I think the first novel was a better mystery, but this one didn’t lack for entertainment. I’m still rooting for Veronica and Stoker to get over their pasts and become an item, though their obvious love for each other creates a friendship to be envied. If you love Victorian mysteries with spunk, this series is a must-read.

4 out of 5 stars

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Unboxing: PageHabit YA Quarterly Box October 2017 Julie Dao Subscription

Hello. I know I’ve been slow in coming back, but I’m hoping to remedy that this month. I’ve been reading more and I have two subscription reviews to show you, including this one for the PageHabit YA Quarterly box. Every quarterly book box is hosted by a different author who puts in a copy of their new release with post-it notes spread throughout, 2 other books that mean something to them plus several bookish goodies. October’s edition was put together by Julie Dao.

PageHabit Quarterly YA Box Julie Dao padding

Up top, you’ll see the box everything was shipped in. It’s just a plain brown box with their return address on the label. It doesn’t even have the company name, but it’s always padded well for shipping, as you’ll see above.

PageHabit Quarterly YA Box Julie Dao papers

On top of the cardboard shreds is a letter from the author as well as a card that gives you information on the country PageHabit is donating part of their portions to. This month it was the Democratic Republic of Congo. I love that they give back towards education and reading.

PageHabit Quarterly YA Box Julie Dao goodies

The first things I pulled out of the box were the bookish goods. There was an Albert Einstein glossy bookmark that reads, “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the way to the library,” which is awesome. I also got a human heart keychain, a moon-shaped night light, and a morphing mug that grows cherry blossoms when you add a hot beverage. The pocket mirror you see has the cover photo from this month’s book. The other goodies tie into the story, except the bookmark.

PageHabit Quarterly YA Box Julie Dao morphing mug

Everything is excellent quality. Nothing feels cheap and it’s all useful. I put the nightlight and mug to immediate use and broke in the bookmark yesterday. The mirror will be handy for touching up makeup. The only item I probably won’t use is the keychain. I have no real interest in human anatomy. I’m currently wracking my brain to think of someone to give it to.

PageHabit Quarterly YA Box Julie Dao books

Under this month’s book-related items were the three novels Dao included. One is her new release, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns which has annotations stuck to the pages throughout the story. This is my favorite part of every box. I enjoy getting a deeper look into the author’s mind, and the signed bookplate is icing on the cake. The other two novels this month were popular YA reads. One is Legend by Marie Lu and the other is The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh. Unfortunately, I already own these two novels since they are so mainstream. I’m happier when PageHabit throws in books I haven’t heard of yet. On the plus side, I haven’t read them and my other copies are both packed away in storage until my next move. Having copies I can easily get to is good and when I’m finished, I can pass them along to my niece.

Have any of you read Dao’s novel yet? It’s a re-telling of the story of Snow White’s evil queen. I’m really looking forward to it. I just need to finish a couple of books ahead of it. You can post how you feel about it down below, but no spoilers, please!

If you’re interested in joining PageHabit, there’s a few things you should know. One, they have two levels of subscriptions – monthly and quarterly. Monthly has just one book and a couple of unrelated goodies. Quarterly always has 3 books and more thoughtfully chosen gifts, but it, of course, costs more and ships less often. Both options are available for a variety of genres. Quarterly includes literary fiction, YA, and cookbooks while the monthly option adds mystery, fantasy, romance, horror, historical fiction, and science fiction to the list on top of YA and literary fiction.

Monthly boxes start at $29.99 per box plus shipping. Quarterly boxes run at $49.99 plus shipping. Both choices will give you annotated post-its and a nice bookmark and their items don’t overlap, so if you wanted both the quarterly and monthly shipment, you’d get two different books even if you pick the same genre.

The Quarterly YA box is one of my favorite subscriptions. I hope you like it too.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Harlequin Reader Service box

Unboxing: August 2017 Harlequin Reader Service Paranormal shipment

Okay. I’ve decided to post some of the subscription boxes I got back at the end of August before I took my break. They still give you a good idea of what specific subscriptions offer so you can choose whether or not to sign up. I’ll also be adding some October boxes soon.

My first August box I want to review was from Harlequin Reader Service. Did you know that Harlequin has a long-standing subscription book service for various types of romance genres? Most of their subscriptions offer just two books, but the paranormal romance box provides you with four novels. Two are always from the Nocturne imprint and the other two vary, usually from Avon, Mira or Carina Press. Most boxes also include some type of gift. When I subscribed years ago, I got a set of plastic flowered dessert dishes (one dish in each box). They’ve come in very handy time and again. This time around it was jewelry (more on that below).

Above, you’ll see how the shipment was packaged. Harlequin always ships in a plain brown box with your invoice in an envelope on top. They used to include Bonus Bucks with your bill in each shipment that you could use towards free books and merchandise. I didn’t receive any in this shipment, so I’m not sure if that’s still a thing. They did include a dollar off my bill this time, but only if I paid by mail, which I never do. I would’ve liked to have seen an option for paying online.

Harlequin Reader Service packaging materials

Inside the box, the books were packed in paper for safe travels. They got here without bending or creasing.

Harlequin Reader Service August 2017 Paranormal books

As I said before, there were four books in my shipment. The two Nocturne titles were The Witch’s Quest by Michele Hauf and Brimstone Prince by Barbara J. Hancock. I’m not always a fan of Michele Hauf, so I’m not sure how I’ll like that one. The other author is new to me, but the story involves a daemon prince who abandons Hell for his music. I love a good paranormal rock star story, so I’m more than willing to give this one a try.

The other two novels in my box were Wolves’ Triad by Lauren Dane and Wildfire by Ilona Andrews. I think Wildfire is the third in a series and it looks like a continuation of a previous story, so I may need to read the other two first. Dane’s novel is actually the second book in the Cascadia Wolves series from 2006 and it’s been renamed. This one looks like it can be read as a standalone, so I’ll probably read it before going back to the beginning novel. All four of these novels were published in 2017. The Nocturne Novels are always brand new while the other two tend to be a few months old.

Also in my shipment was a leather bracelet with one glass bead charm. With each shipment, I’ll receive a new charm for it. It fit my big wrists, but is difficult to put on without help. The bead is pretty though. I look forward to seeing what else they send.

If you’re a fan of romance novels, Harlequin is always in the running for top publisher. The fact that they break their subscriptions into genre is great. That way you don’t receive any story types that you won’t read. However, I did have an issue with them this time.

They recently changed their website and for some reason during the change, it wouldn’t let me pay online. Correction, it would look like I paid and the preauthorization would come off my credit card, but 5 days later it would fall off and I’d be left owing them again. I tried this a few times before I gave up and called them to pay. In the meantime, I missed a shipment because my payment was late. I wasn’t happy about that and customer service did nothing about it when I called. They just said it was weird my online payment didn’t work and left it at that. I was not a happy camper. I considered cancelling, but ultimately ended up keeping my subscription.

Harlequin seems to send out books once a month or so. If you’re looking for a romance subscription, they’re an affordable one. I pay around $6.50 for each book plus 50 cents shipping on each one for a grand total of $27.99. That breaks about even or comes in a bit under most other romance book subscriptions on the market. If you’d like to sign up, click here for their website. Many readers can get their first box (2 books) for free before deciding if they want to continue.

3.75 out of 5 stars (0.25 stars deducted for the customer service fiasco)

Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller feature

Book Review: ‘Mask of Shadows’ by Linsey Miller

Today I’m reviewing a book that came out on August 29. Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller was released by Sourcebooks Fire Publishing and is a variation on epic fantasy full of assassins and political intrigue. While I enjoyed the diversity of the characters, I felt like the story moved slowly and was at times confusing.

The story follows Sallot Leon, a gender-fluid highway robber, as they (the author refers to Sal as they) try to escape that life and take revenge on the nobles who destroyed their family and countrymen. When Sal finds a flyer to audition as a member of the Queen’s Left Hand (an elite team of assassins), they jump at the chance of furthering their plan and working for the Queen they admire. However, the competition is fierce. Sal will have to fight to the death against capable circus performers, poison specialists and trained ex-soldiers. Can they win the competition and the heart of the noble girl they meet during the trials? Can they accomplish their revenge with no one being the wiser?

While I understand the character was gender-fluid, the term they still grated at me for a singular person. The character liked to be referred to as he when dressed as a man and she when dressed as a woman, which was simpler. Since the book was told in first person perspective, they wasn’t used much in the story itself. It’s just troubling for the write-up.

The story itself moved slowly. The first 5% of the book showed us Sal as a thief, then the next 75% covered the auditions for the Queen’s Left Hand. There was some action here and there as auditioners died off, but I felt like less of the story could have been dedicated to the trials and more towards the plot of revenge. The big skirmish at the end of the book was mostly predictable and only took up around one chapter. While I understood why it happened, the book really felt like it was just a backstory for the next novel in the series, not a true story of its own.

Another problem I had with the book was that the villain characters were confusing. I consistently got some of the names mixed up throughout most of the book. Without meeting the characters right away, they were just random names that Sal had a problem with. Maybe they shouldn’t have been introduced until Sal came across them in their journey.

Overall, the story was enjoyable. I liked the romance aspect and want to know more about the nation’s queen. Sal was an interesting character and while the story was definitely slow, I enjoyed the history of it. The action seems to just be getting started, so I expect the next book will have more conflict and engagement. I’ll definitely be picking it up when it comes out.

3.75 out of 5 stars

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Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic

Book Review: ‘Wicked Like a Wildfire’ by Lana Popovic

Hello! I’m back. Hoping to get a few book reviews in over the next few weeks as well as one subscription box review towards the end of the month. I’m starting off with the YA novel, Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic which was released on August 15. I actually read it before taking my break, but didn’t have the time to write it up until now. I hope you found other fun things to occupy your time while I was gone and that you’re now ready to leap back into some great reads. This one was full of dark magic, impossible choices and a murder mystery. Intrigued? Read on.

Iris and Malina are twin sisters who can ‘gleam’ beauty into magical art. Iris turns flowers into incredible fractals which she turns into blown glass masterpieces and Malina can sing moods as music in multiple parts. They live with their harsh mother who wants them to hide their gifts and forbids them from falling in love. When she is attacked by an unknown assailant, her daughters must dig for the truth behind her rules and their magic. A curse plagues their family. Will it tear the girls apart forever?

I loved the world of magic that Popovic created. The girls’ powers and those of their family are unique and awe-inspiring and the ending devastated me and left me yearning for the next (and final) book in the series. The villain is both lovely and evil. I love that the girls feel a pull towards her that influences their decisions, even as they want to save their mother and themselves. It gave the story depth and excitement, especially towards the end.

The coming-of-age love stories were done beautifully. There is some non-graphic sex, so you may want to reserve this book for ages 15 and above. I like that the insta-lust couple has justification and ramifications rather than just being an instant couple. I enjoyed who the sisters fell in love with once both their eyes are opened to what’s going on.

Overall, I thought this book was very well written. The story had darkness and light, mystery and magic. If you enjoy modern-day fantasy and witches, this novel is for you. You can buy it or read about it on Goodreads at the links below.

4 out of 5 stars

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