Size Doesn’t Matter (55): The Gilded Cage, Sorcerer to the Crown, & The Smaller Evil

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (55): The Gilded Cage, Sorcerer to the Crown, & The Smaller EvilThe Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray
Published by Henry Holt BFYR on August 2, 2016
Genres: Historical, Romance, Mystery
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book Depository

After growing up on a farm in Virginia, Walthingham Hall in England seems like another world to sixteen-year-old Katherine Randolph. Her new life, filled with the splendor of upper-class England in the 1820s, is shattered when her brother mysteriously drowns. Katherine is expected to observe the mourning customs and get on with her life, but she can't accept that her brother's death was an accident.

A bitter poacher prowls the estate, and strange visitors threaten the occupants of the house. There's a rumor, too, that a wild animal stalks the woods of Walthingham. Can Katherine retain her sanity long enough to find out the truth? Or will her brother's killer claim her life, too?

My expectations for The Gilded Cage were fairly low, mostly because I hadn’t heard anything about it. Then again, I read it a month before publication. I’m suddenly ahead, and I’m not really sure how that happened. The Gilded Cage proved a fun historical read, though more for the fast pace than the cleverness of the mystery.

The plot passes pleasantly, with many a dark turn. While the direction the plot headed was obvious from the beginning, the path Gray took to get there proved surprising at several points. The fast pace kept me engaged in the outcome, as did the enjoyableness of Katherine’s voice.

Obviously, I’m a sucker for historical novels with balls and dresses and all of that. Katherine’s a farm girl who inherited a British estate, and that adds a slightly original something to this tale, which is a variation on things I’ve read before. She’s determined and strong, though not the brightest at figuring out what’s going on.

Much as I enjoyed it, the characterization of anyone who isn’t Katherine lacks. The romance is like quarter-assed, at best. I don’t dislike it, but everything comes so abruptly. Her friendship with Jane starts well, but then only appears at plot points. The Gilded Cage would have been better with a bit more length that could have been devoted to developing those relationships. Also, warning: animal death.

Though not a stand-out novel, The Gilded Cage entertained me quite well. Historical fiction fans may enjoy this one, especially given that it takes but a few hours to read.

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (55): The Gilded Cage, Sorcerer to the Crown, & The Smaller EvilSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Series: Sorcerer Royal #1
Published by Ace on July 12, 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Sorcerer to the Crown took me a fairly long time to read, which, in general, spells disaster for a book. In this case, though, it’s because Sorcerer to the Crown is one of those books best savored slowly. It’s lovely, complex, dense, and a series fantasy aficionados definitely will not want to miss.

My favorite thing about Sorcerer to the Crown is that, though it’s set in Britain like most fantasy, the leads do not fit the stereotypical mold whatsoever. Basically, the whole book is about women and people of color triumphing over the harrumphing voices of the old white patriarchy. It’s a thing of beauty.

The hero is a black man, who, due to the maneuvering of his predecessor, managed to reach the top magical office in Britain. Zacharias is classy as fuck, and adorably awkward at social interaction. The heroine, Prunella, is of mixed race and of immense magical powers. Like Zacharias, she’s awkward, but, unlike him, she gives zero fucks. Prunella resembles most a steamroller, and I love that about her so much. Her character arc throughout Sorcerer to the Crown pretty much boils down to her releasing the last fuck she had to give.

gif there it goes the last fuck

The writing is gorgeous and in old-fashioned style. Cho’s been compared to Jane Austen, which I don’t think is quite right, frankly, because romance very much does not go to the forefront of the story. Still, the Austen comparison does capture the light, easily missed humor of Cho’s writing. The plot and world building of Sorcerer to the Crown evolve slowly, but they’re incredibly well done.

The only disappointment this book had to offer me was that there’s still no news of the sequel, even though Sorcerer to the Crown is already out in paperback. Very rude to make me wait for more of Zacharias and Prunella!

Size Doesn’t Matter (55): The Gilded Cage, Sorcerer to the Crown, & The Smaller EvilThe Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn
Published by Dutton Juvenile on August 2, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 256
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
AmazonThe Book Depository

Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to "evolve," as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman's not sure, but more than anyone he's ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he's failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can't believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he's always trusted the least: himself.

The Smaller Evil joins my mental list of YA to shove at people who are dismissive of YA novels. Kuehn’s definitely a talent, and her works are in no way derivative or pedestrian in the way a Literary snob could turn their nose up at.

That said, Kuehn’s novels are too smart for me. Like, I actually do not understand what happened at the end. Well, actually, that’s not quite true. I think I mostly understand the ending, but I don’t really get what I’m supposed to take away from it. Basically, I closed the book and went “what. the. fuck.” and scratched my head.

Up until that point, though, I was actually pretty into this book. Kuehn’s strengths lie in plotting and creepiness more than character though, something I noticed in her debut as well. Arman, for all his quirks and issues, felt almost a non-entity, and everyone else could easily have been the creation of his mind for how real they felt. The disturbing cult setting and completely unpredictable plot had me reading almost the whole book in one setting, though.

I’m not really sure what to say about a book I didn’t really get. It was a good read, but I wish I’d read it as part of a group of smart people so I could figure out more of what it means. I’m curious how teens will react to it, because wow.





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