Operation Return to Hogwarts: Year One

Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts. Like millions (billions?) of other readers around the globe, Harry Potter has my heart and has had it for years. I remember when I first discovered it – my mom bought the Sorcerer’s Stone for my 9th birthday. It had only been out a few months at this point and was starting to gain a following, but I was completely unfamiliar with it and, honestly, wasn’t too interested in opening it so I held off for a bit. When I finally did sit down to read though, it was all over for me. I was sold.

Eventually AOL created HP message boards and if anyone remembers Leah Riddle or Loki Riddle, HIIII~ I ended up meeting some of my very best friends there and a decade+ later our friendships are still going strong (take that, you naysayers that insist real friendships can’t be formed online.) In 2008 a friend and I flew to Chicago to take part in Terminus, a convention where we jammed to wizard rock, got sorted into houses, attended a ball, and even played Quidditch – our team reached the semi-finals and even went up against a professional team. We made it to the Chicago papers too! (I’ll definitely have to do some tbt photos on instagram, that week was an absolute blast.

ANYWAY, I love Harry Potter. A lot. Yet I haven’t read the series since Deathly Hallows came out eight years ago. With each release I would go back and reread the previous books in the series, but once it was all said and done a part of me was terrified of revisiting these books. Would they still hold up after all these years? Would it feel different reading them ‘alone’ instead of with millions of other people at the same time?

Over the weekend I made the decision to finally – finally – start from the beginning and I feel absolutely ridiculous for being so worried. I actually jumped into Chamber of Secrets immediately after finishing Sorcerer’s Stone and that’s something I NEVER do. I never ever EVER binge read series in one go. At least not since blogging – years ago I loved to do it and this weekend I discovered why I loved it so much.

I decided to do a mini series dubbed Operation Return to Hogwarts to jot down my thoughts/feelings/whatever else I want to discuss. These won’t be actual reviews – plenty of those exist.

I DIDN’T REALIZE THE WRITING WAS SO YOUNG. The first thing that stuck out for me when rereading SS was just how young the style was. Naturally, Harry is only 10/turning 11 in this book, but I now completely understand why adult readers who had never read the series find it a bit hard to get into. As someone who loooves Middle Grade, though, I didn’t mind, I was just a bit surprised. As he ages the writing style and voice matures as well (and as Jo became more experience, I suppose) so it would make sense that I forgot about the younger tone.

I FORGOT ABOUT A TON OF CHARACTERS. Minor ones though, I promise! Hahahaha, it’s not like I forgot about Dumbledore or anyone – but instead secondary characters like Mrs. Figg (how did I forget about Mrs. Figg??) and Norbert! ♥ Norbie I’m so sorry.

MCGONAGALL IS KIND OF A B. At least in the opening scenes/early chapters. When I think of her, I imagine a total BAMF and was shocked when I noticed her characterization here was more severe than I remembered. Also, when she and Dumbledore meet on Privet Drive (just before Hagrid drops off a baby Harry) their interactions/conversations felt really odd. As though they didn’t know one another and hadn’t been working together for years. Maybe that’s just me being overly critical these days. Either way, in the beginning of the book I felt as though McGonagall (one of my favorite characters) was set up to be a character to dislike.

I GOT THE BOOKS MIXED UP. Obviously not the Big Pictures (I know the Triwizard Tournament doesn’t take place in the second book, etc) but small things I misremembered. The zoo scene with the snake, in my mind, happened in CoS. I was shocked while reading about detention in the Forbidden Forest. Somehow I connected that to Aragog and convinced myself that happens in PoA. Having read the scene, however, I feel like an idiot. I’m discovering all sorts of details I knew at one time but had forgotten over the years.

I’M HOME. After all these years, Harry and Hogwarts hold such a large part of my heart and all weekend I was kicking myself for waiting so, so long to return to these books. Now that I have, I think I’ll have a hard time tearing myself away to read other books!

a YA take on Outlander…with Vikings!

Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
Pub. Date: September 8, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!)
Summary: It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn’t yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it’s more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart. As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Romance

When I first received this book I mentioned that, while I’m not familiar with historical romance, summer seems like the perfect time to get lost in a love story – and now that I’ve read Avelynn I still stand by my first impression. This was a ‘perfect-place-at-the-perfect-time’ kind of read for me: with temperatures in the 90s and a nice long weekend ahead of me (and a birthday!) I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy story. Enter Avelynn.

It’s the 860s, a time of fierce religious upheaval. As the daughter of a powerful Saxon earl, Avelynn is expected to be a devout Christian…though she secretly practices the ancient pagan rituals, just as her mother did before her. With rumors spreading of a Viking invasion and the unexpected announcement of a betrothal (her father has always been extremely lenient, allowing the years to pass without marriage, allowing Avelynn to have her say when it came to suitors) Avelynn’s world is suddenly rocked to its core. A series of highly symbolic dreams sends her searching for answers. Answers that come in the form of a ship with blood-red sails and a dangerous Viking.

Caught off guard by the band of warriors, Avelynn is convinced she’ll be taken prisoner – or worse. What she doesn’t expect is to instantly fall for Alrik, and their seemingly fated meeting begins a passionate (and highly secret) romance. With the Saxons and Vikings on the brink of war (and Avelynn’s forced marriage looming overhead) could the two ever hope to find a way to be together?

I liked this one. A lot. While I can see it being hit-or-miss with other readers (this book has lots of big, strong men making all the decisions deemed too hard for Avelynn’s pretty little mind to grasp) I was completely, thoroughly, 100% along for the ride. Like I said, I wanted something I could get lost in and lost in I got! I have a feeling this review will be little more than me rambling about how much I enjoyed it, as opposed to an in-depth look at the story. Sorry!

That Avelynn is a debut is astounding! Marissa Campbell paints such a richly detailed picture that I had assumed she’s been writing for years. She clearly did her research and it shows. From the time period and tensions between the Saxons and Vikings to the religions depicted, I was instantly enchanted and if this is her first novel I cannot wait to see where she goes from here!

Perhaps this is a horribly ignorant thing for me to say seeing as how I don’t really read the genre, but I always imagined historical romance (particularly those fabulous bodice rippers) to skimp a little on the character growth, opting instead to focus solely on the swoony romance. I expected Avelynn to follow suit and I couldn’t be happier to admit just how wrong I was! Avelynn started out as a girl whose only care was whether or not she would fall in love. By the end of the novel she’s taken command of her father’s estate while he’s at war, has delivered justice in spades, carves her own identity and solidifies her faith, and goes to battle. Yep. She dons a sword and shield and leads her men to the field. I was NOT expecting that one, so thank you, Marissa Campbell for making a total fool out of me for my silly ideas and putting me in my place!

I had one minor issue with Avelynn and that was the cover. Multiple times throughout the novel it’s stated how long her hair is. A woman isn’t to cut her hair until her wedding and Avelynn’s is down to her knees. The cover features a girl with long hair, yes, but certainly not long enough. That said, she does cut her hair (or, rather, it’s cut for her by the slimy Demas) so perhaps the cover reflects that? A super tiny issue I know, but one I felt I should point out all the same. Covers are important, people!

With comparisons to Outlander, I was immediately intrigued but would have never imagined I’d end up so lost in Avelynn‘s pages. Marissa Campbell has crafted a beautifully researched world full of intrigue and power and I was SO there. While the romance was a bit too quick, I nonetheless stood in their corner cheering them on (and I should point out that the romance is extremely detailed! Definitely for older readers!) I’m absolutely impressed with Campbell’s debut and am thrilled to see what she tackles next – a sequel, perhaps??

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
Pub. Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Tor!!)
Summary: Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.

On Harrison’s first day at school, his mother, a marine biologist, disappears at sea. Harrison must attempt to solve the mystery of her accident, which puts him in conflict with a strange church, a knife­wielding killer, and the Deep Ones, fish­-human hybrids that live in the bay. It will take all his resources—and an unusual host of allies—to defeat the danger and find his mother.
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Horror
Recommended for: Lovecraft fans!

One of the very first reviews ever posted on this blog was for Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall, a zombie (!!) novel. Before we go any further, let it be known that I am not a zombie fan. At all. Yet I gave this book five stars. It was absolutely wonderful: the setting (bouncing off the back on Night of the Living Dead as a sort-of sequel), the gorgeous writing (I had SO many passages and paragraphs and phrases highlighted in that book!), the character of Stony himself – a zombie taken in by a family as a baby and raised as their own. It was lovely (or as lovely and heartwarming as a novel about the undead can be) and I’ve been eager to get my hands on another novel of his.

Enter Harrison Squared. Harrison Harrison, known as H2, was just three when he lost his leg in a boating accident. Whenever questioned, he would mention it was a piece of shrapnel that tore his flesh, but if he’s honest with himself, the way he remembers it involved tentacles. And teeth. The same accident took the life of his father. Now his mother, a marine biologist, wants to head back to Dunnsmouth, the town that changed their lives thirteen years ago.

For Harrison it means a new school…and this school is like none other. The teachers are beyond bizarre, no one is allowed to enter the library, and the students have developed a sign language-esque way of communicating. The school is the least of his worries though: there’s a fishboy roaming around his house and the boat his mother took out? It was attacked and she’s missing. As H2 races against time to find his mother, he discovers there is definitely something weird going on in Dunnsmouth…and his childhood nightmares of sea monsters might not be in his mind after all.

This seems painfully obvious now (hindsight is always 20/20!), but I hadn’t realized Harrison Squared was YA. Sure the main character is 16, but so what? Plenty of adult novels feature teenage main characters and Raising Stony Mayhall was about a child (who eventually grows to an adult, but still), so I mistakenly assumed this was one of those novels. Nope. I don’t mind at all that Daryl Gregory decided to try his hand at Young Adult, I just wished he wouldn’t have watered down the voice so much. Harrison, a junior in high school, reads more like a 13- or 14-year-old. Not too much of a stretch, I suppose, but there you have it.

The story itself definitely pays homage to Lovecraft and his works as well as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Each chapter features a line or two from the poem and essentially summarizes that chapter in a way that made me giddy with delight. Something strange is going on in Dunnsmouth and no one’s talking, especially not to an outsider like Harrison. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say there’s a old diary, a ghost, and lots of sea monsters involved.

The characters were fine, though nothing particularly special. Harrison’s disability gets him into some hairy situations more than once. The majority of the teachers are big ol’ slimeballs. Lydia, a fellow classmate, initially gives Harrison the cold shoulder (as does the rest of the school – and town, for that matter), but she eventually comes around and invites Harrison to ‘study groups’ where he discovers his classmates aren’t exactly the sheep he pegged them for. Harrison’s Aunt Sel lives for silky clothing and wine – so NOT a person you would want watching your child but oh-so-fun to read about!

A creepy religion, a wicked fun plot, and sea monsters all made Harrison Squared a pretty great read. Bravo to Mr. Gregory for not turning this one into a romance (not so much as a hint of it here, guys), though the ending was severely disappointing. I certainly hope this is going to be a series, because the way it ended was more than a cliffhanger – it felt like it ended halfway through a chapter and that’s just not fair! That said, I think Daryl Gregory is a fantastic writer and his books are a ton of fun. Harrison Squared is actually a prequel to We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison as a Monster Hunter – um why isn’t this one in my hands already??

7 reasons YOU should be reading Seraphina & Shadow Scale

Seraphina | Shadow Scale (Seraphina #1 & 2) by Rachel Hartman

If you follow me on goodreads, instagram, or twitter, you probably noticed that for the past two weeks I’ve been on a huge dragon kick. I had a review copy of Shadow Scale and a copy of Seraphina on my shelves that had been gathering dust for the past year. For once I decided to get my butt in gear and find out what this series is all about and OH MY GOSH WHY DIDN’T ANY OF YOU FORCE THIS ON ME EARLIER?! I fell hard for these two books and with Shadow Scale‘s release, I wanted to do something a little differently. Instead of my usual review, I’m going to give you seven awesome things you’re missing out on by not reading this series!

Throughout high school I lived and breathed Fantasy. When it’s good, it’s great, and when it’s not, the problem comes down to one thing: the world-building. Contemporary fiction and Mysteries need world-building, yes, but because those genres tend to be firmly rooted in the Real World, it’s really not too difficult to make the setting sound convincing. Fantasy doesn’t work without a solid foundation. When I first started reading Seraphina and saw mentions of places like Goredd, Ninys, Samsam, and Porphyry, I was a little concerned. Would this debut author really have the chops to craft, not just a believable city, but an entire universe? …turns out that, yes, yes she can.

While the names might take some getting used to in the beginning, halfway through Seraphina they’re so ingrained in your mind that you think nothing of it. While reading, these countries became real, and that is the mark of a truly gifted writer. Although Seraphina takes place in Phina’s native country of Goredd, Shadow Scale introduces us to the other countries and I couldn’t wait to go exploring! Each land has a distinct voice, a distinct culture and I’m completely in awe of Rachel Hartman. Bravo, madam!

Just like any self-respecting Fantasy, this series comes with a massive multi-page glossary in both books – trust me, you’ll need it. Ard, quig, saar (a shortened form of saarantras), ityasaari, these words all have very specific meanings and you do not want to get them mixed up (I think a Son of St. Ogdo would have your head if you called him a saar). Again, initially I was a little confused (it took a while for me to figure out Ardmagar was a title and not a separate character!), but once I got the hang of it, I was golden.

As if the glossaries didn’t make my heart swell already, Shadow Scale features a map! If a book has a map in it, there’s a good chance I’ll read it; I’m a total map girl.

Rachel Hartman created a mind-boggling amount of characters here. Don’t worry though, because there’s another glossary just for the characters! (seriously, it’s like Hartman peeked into my heart and found everything that makes me happydance) There are characters that exist in the world and then an entirely separate set that exists in Seraphina’s ‘garden’ in her head. I could seriously go on for days about these fantastic people – including my little love Abdo ♥ Instead I’m going to tell you a little story: last weekend I had a nightmare. In this dream I was in a house inside a bedroom, but I couldn’t sleep because the house across the street had an evil ghost inside who could see through the walls and would stare at me. At one point I left that bedroom, ready to run downstairs in an attempt to flee and when I did, I left the bedroom door wide open. When I got downstairs, there was a voice asking me if I had remembered to shut and lock the bedroom door because if I hadn’t it meant the ghost could come through. When I woke up I was completely baffled and chalked it up to a movie or something…only to later realize that HOLY CRAP my dream was about Jannoula, an evil character who tried to slip into Phina’s mind and control her until Phina was able to trick her into being locked up inside a cottage. What I’m trying to get at here is that these characters are so expertly written that I’m constantly thinking about them – whether I’m awake or asleep.

The real kicker here. In Seraphina’s world, being half-dragon is seen as dirty, something to be ashamed of. Phina herself is half-dragon and she goes to great lengths to conceal her scales (a band around her waist and forearm). Phina’s condition really isn’t too bad – one character has to hide a tail and another (my dear, sweet Abdo) has never been able to speak because his mouth and throat are coated in scales. A treaty had been signed to make peace between the dragons and humans, but the hard feelings still remain decades later. There are groups who fiercely oppose the treaty and take it upon themselves to brutally attack anyone they suspect of being a dragon (hence Phina’s constant veil of secrecy).

That said, dragons are amazing teachers although they lack emotion to allow them to convincingly pass in their human form. This is actually pretty funny – there are multiple scenes where a dragon tries to joke or show affection and I giggled like crazy. In their dragon form, though, I wouldn’t dare dream of giggling – they’re all business.

So I might be getting a little ahead of myself, but not since Harry Potter have I come across such detailed dragons. This race has a history, they have their own customs and politics and more than a few blemishes in their past.

Oh, Lucien. The romance between Phina and Lucien has a BIG red flag all over it: he’s the Prince and engaged to the Princess…who happens to be Phina’s closet friend and student (Phina teaches music). Yeah, it’s messy and they both know it. I honestly wasn’t even sure if I should include their relationship here: it’s slow to the point of nonexistence (particularly after EVENTS in Shadow Scale)

SORRY GUYS, that’s all you’re getting from me here! I honestly was caught off-guard a few times.

Not just in terms of subject matter (philosophy, politics, and religion all play HUGE roles), but in the way threads weave together. I can’t even begin to imagine what Hartman’s outline or notes must have looked liked! Minor characters mentioned in a chapter in the very beginning of the story play vital roles, there’s so much depth to the characters, and Hartman has seriously created centuries worth of history for these people. When I read Seraphina, I kept thinking about how it was trying so hard to be a Serious Story with its new language and constant talk of treaties and documents and pacts that happened decades (if not centuries) ago. But, no. This series wasn’t trying to be anything other than what it is: a damn good story with a wealth of secrets and hidden nooks and crannies. Check your pre-conceived notions at the door, folks, Seraphina is about to take you on the ride of your life.

Mobile Library by David Whitehouse

Mobile Library by David Whitehouse
Pub. Date: January 20, 2015
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Scribner!!)
Summary: An archivist of his mother, Bobby Nusku spends his nights meticulously cataloging her hair, clothing, and other traces of the life she left behind. By day, Bobby and his best friend Sunny hatch a plan to transform Sunny, limb-by-limb, into a cyborg who could keep Bobby safe from schoolyard torment and from Bobby’s abusive father and his bleach-blonde girlfriend. When Sunny is injured in a freak accident, Bobby is forced to face the world alone.

Out in the neighborhood, Bobby encounters Rosa, a peculiar girl whose disability invites the scorn of bullies. When Bobby takes Rosa home, he meets her mother, Val, a lonely divorcee, whose job is cleaning a mobile library. Bobby and Val come to fill the emotional void in each other’s lives, but their bond also draws unwanted attention. After Val loses her job and Bobby is beaten by his father, they abscond in the sixteen-wheel bookmobile. On the road they are joined by Joe, a mysterious but kindhearted ex-soldier. This puzzle of people will travel across England, a picaresque adventure that comes to rival those in the classic books that fill their library-on-wheels.
Genre: Fiction, YA, Contemporary
Recommended for: Readers of realistic fiction that’ll tug at the heartstrings, those who don’t mind the term ‘tragicomedy’

Mobile Library came out of nowhere, catching me off guard at every turn. The very beginning of the novel (actually the conclusion, aptly titled “The End”) led me to believe the absolute worst of one of the characters. I was completely, entirely, 100% convinced this was going to be a novel about sexual abuse and a relationship that takes place between a child and an adult. I don’t want to spoil anything, though I’ll say I couldn’t have been happier to be so thoroughly wrong – and I’m wondering if that was Whitehouse’s intention all along. The story itself deals with judgement and preconceived notions so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the author would blindly lead the reader down a certain path. Bravo for that, Mr. Whitehouse. I wasn’t expecting it one bit.

Bobby Nusku spends his days being tormented by bullies at school and his nights holed up in his room in an attempt to stay away from his alcoholic, abusive father and bottle-blonde girlfriend. See, Bobby is on a mission: he meticulously catalogs everything about his mother’s life – strands of her hair, old perfume bottles – and jots down every visitor, every conservation had since the day she left so that Bobby can bring her up to speed the moment she returns. When Sunny comes into Bobby’s life, everything changes. Sunny announces his plan to stop the bullies and protect Bobby by becoming a cyborg. In order to achieve his goal, however, he gets himself into a horrific set of accidents (starting with a broken arm – reset with a metal rod), only to ultimately go too far.

While Rosa’s disabilities keep her from understanding the world, her heart is bursting with an incredible amount of love and affection and the moment she meets Bobby, she instantly takes a liking to him. Val, Rosa’s mother, understands the world perfectly thank you very much, and she prefers to keep things private. In order to better care for her daughter, Val takes a position as cleaner for the town’s Mobile Library, a large truck packed full of books. It’s this Mobile Library that will come to the rescue, whisking Bobby, Val, and Rosa far away from their town and lead them on a grand storybook-esque adventure full of heroes and villains.

Mobile Library didn’t stick with me nearly as much as I had hoped. I pegged this one as a hidden gem and, yes, it was definitely enjoyable while reading, but now that it’s said and done, I’m having a hard time remembering just what was so special. Don’t get me wrong: this book is truly lovely and packed multiple punches, but it’s not one I would revisit. The stay was great, but I’m not saddened to move on to the next book.

Steampunk + Teen Assassins? YES PLEASE.

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger
Pub. Date: February 5, 2013
Source: Library
Summary: It’s one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It’s quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

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 the 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.
Genre: YA, Steampunk, Humor
Recommended for: Readers looking for a fun, fast-paced story with great characters, a fascinating world, and a witty running commentary

Sophronia Temminnick is nothing like her older sisters. Rather than swooning over dashing young men and building wardrobes full of the latest fashions, Sophronia prefers to spend her time playing with gadgets, dismantling the pieces to see how the mechanicals work. In a last-ditch attempt to transform her daughter into a proper lady, Mrs. Temminnick enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. There she will learn to curtsy, faint and blush on cue, and all the ins-and-outs of flirting.

What Mrs. Temminnick doesn’t know, however, is that this finishing school takes their role literally. While the girls are indeed trained on which fork to use for which meal, they also learn all there is to know about poisons, weaponry, and intelligence-gathering. Throw in a few professors who aren’t exactly human and passing marks for evildoing and you’ve got the makings of one very interesting school year. And did I mention the school is actually a floating dirigible? Before you can learn the proper way to poison your enemy’s tea, you first have to find the school.

You know those books that take you by surprise? The books that suck you in and you’re halfway through the story before you realize what has happened? Etiquette & Espionage was one of those books. While I went in expecting a fun and entertaining read, I was totally caught off guard by how much I was enjoying it! Queen Victoria’s Steampunk empire, mechanical servants and household staff (AND animals!), vampires, a school for spies. Yeah I was NOT prepared for that one bit and I fell hard.

Sophronia’s snide remarks actually made me laugh out loud numerous times (scaring my poor pooch – sorry pup!). The best part though? She wasn’t the only fantastic character! Every single character in this novel, from the resident Mean Girl Monique to Professor Braithwope (a vampire with impeccable facial hair) to Vieve (a charming 10-year-old who is a genius with mechanics and prefers to dress as a boy), was deliciously crafted and fleshed-out. Everyone was given a distinct personality and voice rather than stock traits. Even Bumbersnoot, an illegally-obtained mechanical dog, worked his way into my heart.

Etiquette & Espionage had a very first-in-a-series feel; the actual plot took a backseat to world building and character introduction, but if that meant more time with Soap (a devilishly smooth boy who works down in the boiler room shoveling coal) I was totally okay with it! Really though, this was my introduction to Carriger’s works (finally, after years of customers asking about her Parasol Protectorate series!) and I’m a little disappointed nobody pushed this book (or any of her novels) on me already! While reading I had wondered if, given what little I know of her other series, if the two were possibly set in the same world. After reading some summaries on GoodReads it appears they are and I’m even more interested in reading her work! Etiquette & Espionage was an insanely fun start to a fantastic series – you better believe I’m reading the rest!

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2) by Gail Carriger
Pub. Date: November 5, 2013
Source: Library
Summary: Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests? Or is it six foxgloves to kill four fully grown guests?

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.
Genre: YA, Steampunk, Humor
Recommended for: Fans of Etiquette & Espionage, readers who are looking for an interesting new spin on the boarding school trope

Guys, let’s be real here – I never binge on series. Oh sure, I might be inclined to pick up a sequel a few months down the road, but immediately after? Never. Until Gail Carriger came along. I loved Etiquette & Espionage so much I needed to jump right into Curtsies & Conspiracies – and I was NOT disappointed!

Curtsies & Conspiracies takes place shortly after Etiquette & Espionage ended. Sophronia is now fifteen and well on her way to becoming a master intelligencer. In fact, her marks imply she’s doing too well and she’s convinced she’s being set up. Unfortunately, with all of her friends snubbing her, Sophronia has no one to discuss this with. When it’s announced Bunson’s, the boys’ school, will be sending their best students aboard AND the school will be departing for London, Sophronia’s convinced something’s going on and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.

All my favorites (and not-so-favorites) from the first novel are back as well as some new characters I’m loving! Felix Mersey, a viscount who’s too charming for his own good, has his heart set on Sophronia and their interactions were an absolute delight! Although I’m still rooting for my boy Soap (I’m a total sucker for the rich/poor romance trope), Felix isn’t too shabby either. As for Sophronia, she’s completely clueless when it comes to advances (my dear Soap) or too confused (Lord Mersey) to make heads or tails of the situation. Clearly this love triangle is going to be in it for the long haul and I have to admit I’m enjoying both boys immensely!

In the first novel there was talk of a top secret valve that was stolen and that plot point has return, but I’ll be honest – I still have no idea what any of it means. I didn’t quite understand it in Etiquette & Espionage and I’m still not getting it now. Exactly what makes this valve so special?? Does it have something to do with the vampire/werewolf war? Did I completely skip a paragraph somewhere?

There’s a big to-do in London. Half of the school will be attending Monique’s coming out ball (does this mean she won’t be back in the third book now that she’s done with school?) while the other half – aka the teachers – are concocting their own schemes. My sweet Professor Braithwope is a rove vampire and this novel delves deeper into what exactly that means. Depending on a vampire’s rank they’re able to roam so far (interestingly enough, the higher the rank, the shorter their tether). Professor Braithwope is tethered to the school and, since it’s a dirigible, he’s able to move much farther than other vampires. That said, there’s a new technology that’s still in its testing phases that could potentially render tethers obsolete? (Unless I completely misunderstood the schematics.)

While I’m still not entirely sure just what’s going on here, I’m having an absolute blast with these books. The humor is brilliant (and the names! Professor Shrimpdittle! Lord Dingleproops!) and I’ve found myself giggling like crazy over entire passages. I’m a tiny bit worried I’ll continue to be lost with the plot in the third book (I have a feeling that if I’ve not gotten it already there’s a good chance I won’t), but I’m looking forward to getting back to these characters and their late-night snooping.

Dangerous Deceptions by Sarah Zettel

Dangerous Deceptions (Palace of Spies #2) by Sarah Zettel
Pub. Date: November 4, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, HMH Books for Young Readers!!)
Summary: As a lady in waiting in King George’s London court, Peggy has survived a forced betrothal, royal scandals, and an attempt or two on her life. And now she has a new problem: her horrible fiancé has returned to claim her! To save her neck, or at least her hand in marriage, Peggy joins forces with her cousin Olivia and her sweetheart, Matthew. But if she doesn’t play her cards right, her career as courtier and spy might come to an end at the bottom of the river Thames.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Recommended for: Fans of historicals looking for a break from the Regency- and Victorian-era novels


In Palace of Spies, we were introduced to Margaret Fitzoy – Peggy, thank you. Begrudgingly raised by an uncle who cares not one bit for her, Peggy is surprised when she receives a marriage proposal instead of her beloved, highborn cousin Olivia. A rather disastrous first encounter leaves Peggy wanting nothing but a way out of the arrangement and she readily accepts a position at court posing as another girl. Court life doesn’t turn out to be as glamorous as she thought however, and soon she’s thrown into a world of murder, spies, and secrets.

Picking up right where Palace of Spies left off, Dangerous Deceptions hits the ground running. Now that her true identity has been revealed, Peggy’s dealing with the repercussions while trying to start a relationship with Matthew, end her betrothal to Sebastian, and find out if her father is really still alive. When Sebastian appears at court and starts to become overly friendly with Sophie Howe, another lady in waiting and an equally vile person, Peggy realizes she must act – and quickly.

As Peggy finds herself deeper into the depths of the Jacobites’ inner circle, she uncovers some pretty major family secrets involving not only her parents (court spies themselves) but also her Uncle Pierpont and she learns the real meaning behind her betrothal.

The year-long wait between these books is a killer, but the moment I began reading I had no trouble jumping back into the story. All of my favorite characters have returned (including a very pregnant royal pup!) and I got to meet some new faces, both good and bad. I will say that I was a bit frustrated that the majority of the reveals were discovered by little more than a stroke of good luck on Peggy’s part.

Again, just as in Palace of Spies, there are some very mature – and even triggering – themes. Dangerous Deceptions expands upon those themes and once more I’m a little surprised by the targeted audience. On HMH’s website, Dangerous Deceptions is listed as 7th grade/12-years-old and up. Sexual assault and multiple f-bombs (no matter how cleverly disguised) abound in this novel and it’s Sebastian’s attempted rape that provides the entire basis for Peggy’s repulsion and desire to find a way out of the marriage. While things with Matthew have yet to go beyond a few kisses, their relationship is definitely becoming more serious and while I’m sure there are some 12-year-olds who are mature enough to understand, I’m not convinced that this series should be targeted to such young readers.

While the young demographic has me raising my eyebrows once again, I still thoroughly enjoyed Dangerous Deceptions. It doesn’t leave the reader hanging from the events that happened in Palace of Spies (though it’s entirely possible the year-long wait in between these novels will do that on its own!) and Peggy’s uncovering answers for her questions. This series provides a refreshing change from my usual 1800s-era Historical Fiction and I’m loving the closer look at the Jacobites! Although I’d be hesitant to recommend this series to a younger reader, older teens and adults are sure to be pleased!