Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie WhippleHouse of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Published: April 15, 2014
352 pages
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
2 Stars

My biggest thought about the House of Ivy & Sorrow is that it could have been more.  The voice was there, but it didn’t come out as much as it could have.  The conflict definitely needed more to it.  Even with a twist, the conflict came with an explanation already just based on how the world works and it made it hard for me to stay connected to the story.  I almost didn’t finish this one because about a third of the way through I didn’t feel like I would learn anything new about the conflict.  To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new about the conflict at the end.  It came out like I thought it would.  But the way it was resolved was interesting.  I liked that the resolution came from the girls and their friendship.  Girl power!

I liked the magic and the characters in this book.  The idea of magic coming from places was creative.  The character Nana was one of my favorites.  She had the strongest personality in the book and I enjoyed reading about her.  The love interest seemed a little boring at first, but he came with an interesting twist of his own.  The romance was a little cheesy for my taste, but it was still cute for the most part.

I didn’t enjoy the writing.  There were a few cliche moments, but luckily it didn’t go to the extreme or I would have definitely chucked this book across the room.  The dialogue was interesting, but I found that the main character said “No” a lot, in big long strings, when things didn’t go her way.  Maybe it’s a little much to expect someone to realistically be eloquent in moments of stress.  I don’t know.

I was disappointed, to say the least, when I found out the villain’s motivation.  I think this goes along with the weak conflict.  The villain and conflict just needed to be turned up a notch and it would have been awesome! And then the villain had to go and be all tacky. He was cheesy enough to make me cringe a little.  If only he had a mustache to twirl….

Overall, the magic and characters were good but without a strong conflict or interesting villain motivation this book just didn’t keep my interest.

Content Rating: Mild, for a few brief kissing scenes and pain used for magic that is mildly disturbing (e.g. pulling out fingernails and teeth etc.)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, HarperTeen, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption.

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, Pho, and “real” ramen.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Published: 1887
108 pages
Genres: Classic, Mystery
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time and they become flat-mates at the famous 221B Baker Street. In A Study in Scarlet Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.
2 Stars

I loved the writing in A Study in Scarlet.  The dialogue was catchy and natural.  I found the book surprisingly easy to read especially considering how old it is.  The thing that really stands out in this book and the thing that has made it last for so long are the characters.  Sherlock is very cheerful, eccentric, sarcastic, loves to be flattered, and is bluntly honest.  And of course the thing that makes his character so fun to watch on TV in the modern adaptation – his cocky genius.  I couldn’t hate this guy if I tried.  I loved seeing these two iconic characters meet (Sherlock and Watson) to set the stage for the rest of the Sherlock Holmes series.

The first half of this book was a fascinating mystery.  I was glued to the story, turning pages, dying to know what happens next.  Then we get to Part 2.  The second half of the book was the longest, most drawn out and boring flashback I have ever read.  We find out the solution to the mystery at the end of Part 1.  Part 2 goes into why he did it.  Apparently Mr. Doyle doesn’t believe in recapping what happened.  We get to live it.  If we’re going to live through it, at least make it interesting.  It was not at all interesting because almost nothing happens for most of Part 2.  I skimmed a lot of it.  It also felt very disjointed to go from a mystery in London to the American West.  It felt like I was reading two different stories that had nothing to do with each other.  Part 2 is only tied in to Part 1 by the very end.

Portrayal of Mormons

I have to say as a Mormon, reading Part 2 of this story was a little difficult for me since Mormons are not painted in a good light for this part of the story.  But let’s start with this hilarious quote first.

In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert…

– Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet p. 63

Repulsive!  Arid! My home this is! Yoda and I are highly offended.  Okay not really.  But he kept describing the whole state of Utah like it was entirely covered in the Salt Flats where everything was covered in “alkali dust” and used words like “barren”, “misery”, “despair,” and my personal favorite “gloomy.”  The whole thing just made me laugh.  While it is true that the west side of the Great Salt Lake is all those things, the pioneers settled on the EAST side of the lake which was your more run-of-the-mill desert with snakes and cacti and stuff.  And regular desert dirt that almost nothing can grow in thank you very much.  I mean if you’re going to insult my state at least get it right. :)

The thing I struggled with the most was the portrayal of Mormonism as a cult.  And when I say cult I mean a group forcing people to do things by threats or brain-washing.  Mormons believe the point in life is to make choices.  There is a point in the story where Mormon pioneers find a starving, wandering man and his daughter and say they can join them only if they become Mormon.  Brigham Young (or any Mormon) would NEVER force anyone to be Mormon. Not cool Mr. Conan Doyle.  I did some research and in Mr. Doyle’s defense, he believed these things to be true at the time.  Still – forcing people to do things is against our religion and always has been.

The murderer’s motive was based on their hatred of  the practice of plural marriage (or polygamy).  While Mormons did practice it, it was portrayed in the book that if you didn’t get married to more than one person you were kicked out (and then hunted down by a secret band of murderers.  Say what??  That most definitely didn’t happen).  Not everyone practiced plural marriage.  Many early Mormons were monogamous and were in fine standing with the church.  I won’t go into tons of detail in this review, but if you’re interested the official Mormon (also known as Latter-Day Saints or LDS) website has more information on plural marriage and Mormonism.  It’s an interesting article that talks about the trials the people who lived it faced, how long it was practiced and more.  And just to be thorough Mormons don’t practice polygamy today and haven’t since 1890.

Overall, I adored the first half of the novel and meeting the most iconic characters in literature, but I found the second half to be boring and the anti-Mormonism made me uncomfortable.  I would give the first half of the novel 4 stars and the second half like 1/2 a star.

Content Rating: None.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle was born the third of ten siblings on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was born in England of Irish descent, and his mother, born Mary Foley, was Irish. They were married in 1855.

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgeCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published: January 28, 2014
352 pages
Genres: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
2 Stars

Cruel Beauty was a very dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast that had an unexpected mix of Greek Mythology.  The story opens on a very stiff and formal life for the main character Nyx like a dark version of Downton Abbey.  Then we get a nice, long lecture on How This World Works that I found hard to get through.

I was entertained by the story but I really didn’t like the cop-out device of Nyx having “no choice” to create these dramatic situations.  Nyx is engaged to a demon since birth because her father made a bargain and now she has no choice but to marry him.  This bothers me for two reason. 1. It takes away the self-sacrifice element of Beauty and the Beast that I love but, more importantly, think was the main point of the fairy tale.  2. Her dad is an idiot.  And 3 — okay apparently there are more than reasons why this bothers me — she doesn’t “have” to do anything.  It made the main character seem very passive about her life.  She was very negative and spiteful all the time.  I didn’t like her all that much, which is fine, but if she’s going to be unlikable then at least make me understand why she did things.  I never understood why she did things.

I did like the quest of trying to find the demon’s name which was one of the few elements remaining from the original fairy tale.  The castle was a wonderful adventure full of strange rooms like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I didn’t like it.  I felt like the ending did not have anything to do with what they had been doing for almost the whole novel.  I felt like we spent the whole novel doing one thing and she suddenly decides to change course and last minute do something very drastic.  And as the books comes to a close, I felt like the characters were so completely different that they weren’t even the same characters anymore.  They felt like strangers and I didn’t care all that much what happened to them.

Overall, it was too dark of a fairy tale retelling with poor world building and unlikable characters that just wasn’t for me even though I did like the Greek Mythology element of the story.

Content Rating: Medium, for quite a bit of dark innuendo (that is thankfully not very graphic) about a girl trying to seduce a demon which I found mildly disturbing.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, Harper Collins,  in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Rosamund Hodge

Rosamond Hodge

I love mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. My debut novel, CRUEL BEAUTY (a YA fantasy where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast), is due out on January 28, 2014.

Book Review: The Golden Spiral by Lisa Mangum

Book Review: The Golden Spiral by Lisa MangumThe Golden Spiral by Lisa Mangum
Series: Hourglass Door #2
Published: May 10, 2010
365 pages
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: Gift

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

With each new change that ripples into her present, Abby's life continues to spiral out of control. Her relationships with Jason, Natalie, and even her family are threatened to the breaking point—and beyond. Zo’s power is greater than Abby ever imagined, but as she struggles, she receives help from an unexpected—and unlikely—ally.
2 Stars

Spoiler free even if you haven’t read the first book in this series. 

The best thing about The Golden Spiral was that it was realistic.  Time travel had huge consequences in Abby’s (the main character) life.  But I think it crossed the line into being way too realistic. I felt like the plot focused on what would really happen to the point that it stopped being interesting to read about.  I didn’t think the story was bad but it was not riveting, either.

The thing that really slowed this novel down was the villain, Zo.  I really just did not get why Zo was that bad guy.  He seems to have no motivation whatsoever.  He was so cliche.  When the world literally starts falling apart and the consequences start having major effects on even the villain’s life, the explanation was because he wants to take over the world.  Yeah, so did Pinky and the Brain.  At least they were funny. The lame villain motivation made for a weak conflict.

Let’s talk about what else made this novel slow (I wrote the word “slow” at least five times in my notes while reading this).  I mean, a slow plot doesn’t always ruin a story for me if the characters are interesting, but all the characters felt very flat to me.  We know almost nothing about their past or what makes them tick and it was frustrating to me.  It takes forever for things to happen in this novel.  There was one major quest that Abby was trying to accomplish and the solution was completely obvious.  I hate it when solutions are obvious.

The romance was okay for me.  It had some cute moments, but Dante was very cheesy.  (I like cheese on my tacos, not in my romance.  I like chocolate in my romance).  Dante doesn’t seem to act like a real guy in my opinion.  He seemed more like an unrealistic fantasy.  Which isn’t bad.  It’s fun to read about fantasy.  But I did roll my eyes at him a couple of times.

Overall, this story felt bland and slow with a villain that had no good reason to try and take over the world.

Content Rating: Mild, for some kissing.

About Lisa Mangum

Lisa Mangum

Lisa Mangum has loved and worked with books ever since elementary school, when she volunteered at the school library during recess. Her first paying job was shelving books at the Sandy Library. She worked for five years at Waldenbooks while she attended the University of Utah, graduating with honors with a degree in English. An avid reader of all genres, she has worked in the publishing department for Deseret Book since 1997.
Besides books, Lisa loves movies, sunsets, spending time with her family, trips to Disneyland, and vanilla ice cream topped with fresh raspberries. She lives in Taylorsville, Utah, with her husband, Tracy. She is the author of The Hourglass Door (which was named the 2009 YA Book of the Year by ForeWord Reviews) and The Golden Spiral.

Book Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

Book Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. WellsThe Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
Published: 1897
192 pages
Genres: Classic, Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.
2 Stars

I really liked the writing in The Invisible Man, but I thought the storytelling was awful.  H. G. Wells has a way with words and I really enjoyed his turn of phrase.  Phrases like “the inhuman bludgeoning of all tentative advances of curiosity (p. 19),”violently firing out its humanity (p. 33)” and “The Anglo-Saxon genius for parliamentary government asserted itself; there was a great deal of talk and no decisive action (p. 28).”  And he uses the word “hobbledehoy” which had the Downton Abbey fangirl in me grinning.  But the story itself moved at a snail pace.  It took me a week to read 30 pages.  I thought it was told from the least interesting perspective possible –from the outside observers instead of the invisible man’s view and what he was struggling with.  These outsiders noticed something was not quite right (“Look how much time he spends alone!”) but not to the point that I found it very interesting. When the plot finally picked up, instead of some much needed action the cool stuff  was recapped in a conversation where he just describes all the action in the most dull way imaginable.  I had to make myself finish this book and keep pencils far, far away from my eyes.

The science behind the invisibility was pretty interesting.  It was based on the idea that our world is an illusion of light.  I thought that was a fascinating way to look at the world.  (See I didn’t hate everything about it).

I found the main character interesting if not likable. He’s an anti-hero. I’m pretty sure his antagonist was all the stupid people in the whole world. He was kind of arrogant.  Obviously he learns the bad things about invisibility.  I was surprised about the little things that he struggles with, though.  I could tell a lot of thought went into what it would really be like.  For example, the fact that he can’t sleep because his eyelids are invisible.  The crappy thing about being invisible is that it’s easy to get things, but hard to enjoy them.  And you get kind of lonely.  H. G. Wells did have a good point that the only really good use for invisibility is murder.

I’m not sure if I was supposed to get something out of this book.  At the end I felt like the moral was “Mean people suck but it’s better than being alone.”

Overall, I found it tedious but the writing was good.  I enjoyed War of the Worlds so much more.

Content Rating: None.

About H. G. Wells

HG Wells

Herbert George Wells, better known as H. G. Wells, was the third son of a shopkeeper. After two years' apprenticeship in a draper's shop, he became a pupil-teacher at Midhurst Grammar School and won a scholarship to study under T. H. Huxley at the Normal School of Science, South Kensington. He taught biology before becoming a professional writer and journalist.

Wells is most famous today for his science fiction novels, of which the best known are: The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The First Men in the Moon and The Island of Dr. Moreau. He was a prolific writer, writing more than a hundred books of both fiction and non-fiction, and works in many different genres, including contemporary novels, essays, histories, programmes for world regeneration, and social commentary. He was also an outspoken socialist. His later works become increasingly political and didactic, and only his early science fiction novels are still widely read today. Wells and Jules Verne are each sometimes referred to as "The Fathers of Science Fiction".