Stretching the truth on the recent part, five more books I really enjoyed but had a bit of an issue with the end.

5.  Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

What it’s about:  Cat is happy being the unremarkable younger brother of Gwendolen, the most promising witch of her generation.  But when the duo are brought to the Chrestomanchi Castle, the witches there seem to want little to do with Gwendolen, leaving her outraged and determined to show them the error of their ways.  Her plan results in a

What I Thought:  A light hearted, fun book.  Cat is an endearing lead, repeatedly taken advantage of by the sister he looks up to, who must learn to stand up for herself.  He gets caught up in Gwendolen’s latest scheme when he realizes that she has been replaced by a different (much nicer) alternate version of herself).  This is the first in a series, and I haven’t read any of the others, though from what I’ve heard my issues with the ending are not addressed in any of the other books.

4.  Seeker of the Crown by Ruth Lauren

What it’s about:  The sequel to Prisoner of Ice and Snow.  I noted in my review of that book that it seemed to end on a sequel hook, but back then there was no information about any more books in the series.  The villainous Princess Anastasia, who framed Sasha and sent her to jail, has disappeared.  The queen recruits Sasha and her sister Valor to track her, but then the queen disappears as well.  Can the sisters once again uncover the truth about this new conspiracy?

What I Thought:  As noted, I was quite happy that this did turn out to be a series.  No info yet on any more books, though there is again a sequel hook.  I don’t think this is going to become a classic or anything, but if you enjoy sibling stories in fantasy worlds, this is a fun option to consider.  It’s perhaps a bit odd that a story that could be called Prison break meets king Lear is told as a relatively light middle grade, but it still works.  I was a bit disappointed that certain things were told instead of shown in the climax, but we’ll go into that later.

3.  In Her Skin by Kim Savage

What it’s About:  Con artist Jo decides to pose as the long missing Vivienne Weir, and since Vivienne’s parents are dead, she is taken in by the wealthy Lovecraft family, who’s daughter Temple was Vivienne’s best friend.  Things seem to go smoothly, but Jo soon realizes that her new family has some secrets, which could cause her plans, and life to go up in flames.

What I Thought:  Okay, first off, for some reason this book is written in second person, with Jo telling the story and using you to refer to Temple.  Personally, I think this was just a distraction from the story, but then, I’m a stick in the mud when it comes to unique narrative styles.  Otherwise, this is an engagingly creepy novel, though it goes to a very dark place, fair warning.  I liked it, but the end felt like it was missing something.  More on that later.

2.  Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

What it’s About:  Okay, I’m actually looking at the entire four book series, here, but this title really sums things up more than Finishing School series.  The series sees young Sophronia shipped off to a Finishing School, which secretly trains the girls to be spies.

What I Thought:  This is a very enjoyable steampunk world, told with some humor.  Apparently a prequel to an adult series from Carriger, but I read it without reading the original books, and didn’t feel like I was missing anything.  Silly but enjoyable, though the ending did frustrate me a bit.

  1.  Sanctuary by Caryn Nix

What it’s About:  Kenzie was raised by parents who were completely devoted to Omnistellar Corporation, and is proud to work with them as a guard on the space prison Sanctuary, of which her mother is the commanding officer.  The prisoners of Sanctuary are teens “gifted” with superpowers due to a mysterious set of probes that appeared over Earth shortly before they were born, though no one knows where the probes came from, or what purpose they were meant to serve.  When the prisoners riot, Kenzie is taken prisoner.  She plans her escape, but when Sanctuary comes under attack from strange creatures, she must work with the prisoners to fight off the new threat.

What I Thought:  This was a great book, that has left me desperate for the next book in the series, though there is no info on when we can expect that to hit shelves.  I have seen some reviews which, while praising the book, say that the first part is a bit slow, but I would have to disagree with that.  I was sucked in right from the start, and thought Lix did a great job setting up the world.

 The one issue I did have is that there were a couple of moments where Kenzie’s interior thoughts seemed a bit inconsistent. According to the synopsis, when Kenzie is captured by the prisoners, she expects her mother to do whatever it takes to rescue her, but I actually got the opposite impression from the novel, where she generally seems to recognize that her mother will put duty above her own life and her families lives.  So it seems a bit off when she acts completely shocked and betrayed when her mother does just that.  And when she aligns with the prisoners she immediately recognizes that the Corporation will see her as one of them now, regardless of the circumstances.  But then when one of the prisoners makes this exact comment to her later, she is all like “This is brand new information!”  It is a bit strange to see her have intense emotional reactions to things that she seemed to already know, or be expecting to happen.  But that’s a small complaint, this is still an excellent book!

Okay, now to get to the endings.  Don’t read if you don’t want spoilers!

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In Charmed Life, Gwendolen escapes to an alternate universe where is treated as a queen, as she thinks she deserves.  The climax comes when Chrestomanchi is ambushed by his enemies and Gwen returns to gloat at his downfall, though with Cat’s help the tables are turned.   Oddly, the horrible Gwendolen is able to escape back to the other world and continue to live a life of luxury, facing no real consequences for her actions.  Her being gone does make everyone else happy, but I was disappointed to see her get away scot free.   That said, I have seen other reviewers say they liked it, so YMMV.  She does get some comeuppance earlier in the story, when she gets spanked as a punishment.  Seriously.

As noted, my one problem with Seeker of the Crown is that the story comes to an end with some telling rather than showing.  Basically, one character is told that onbe of the two main villains escaped, while the other is locked up.  And we don’t get to see any of it.  This particularly stands out to me since earlier in the book one of the heroes is thinking about how she wants to take down one of the villains, and see the look on her face when her plan fails.  And that villain does get captured, but it is all glossed over.

Moving to In Her Skin, Temple ultimately tells Jo that she actually murdered the real Vivienne, so the Lovecraft’s have been on to Jo’s con from the start.  At first Jo is willing to continue living the lie, but when she realizes that either Temple or her parents will one day make the new Vivienne disappear as well and takes off, stealing Vivienne’s bones to serve as her ace in the hole against the Lovecrafts.  And that’s it.  Jo is back on the run, and the Lovecrafts continue hiding their secret.  Which is okay, but I really needed a final showdown with Jo and Temple.  Temple had been so pleased to have Jo as pretty much a new toy to play with, I just wanted Jo to get one over on her before getting out of there.

My issue with Gail Carriger’s series lies with the queen bee of the Finishing School, Monique.  Carriger has been on record as saying that the character was inspired by someone or someone’s that she knew in real life, and also that Monique serves to highlight that you sometimes need to work with someone you don’t like, as she shows up as a surprising ally in the last book.  The problem here is that these two things seem to work against each other.  I think Carriger has some fun putting Monique through the wringer in the earlier books, as the character suffers two rather epic comeuppances.  She ends up looking like a bit of a joke, which makes her showing up as the cavalry in the last book hard to buy into.  It’s a bit like if C3PO showed up to save the day in Star Wars.  Er, if he’d been evil.  But the point is, she didn’t seem like someone to be taken seriously, and then suddenly she’s there to help ther heroes come out on top.

Published by Andrew Clendening