Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: The Lacemaker and the Princess - Kimberly Brubacker Bradley

The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubacker Bradley
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction
Published on May 22, 2007
Published by Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 208
Read From: 9.8.12 - 9.9.12












SYNOPSIS
Eleven-year-old Isabelle is a lacemaker in the town of Versailles. One day as she delivers lace to the palace, she is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers - only to be rescued by Marie Antoinette. Before Isabelle can believe it, she has a new job - companion to the queen's daughter. Isabelle is given a fashionable name, fashionable dresses - a new identity. At home she plies her needle under her grandmother's disapproving eye. At the palace she is playmate to the princess. 
Thrown into a world of luxury, Isabelle is living a fairy-tale life. But this facade begins to crumble when rumors of starvation in the countryside lead to whispers of revolution. How can Isabelle reconcile the ugly things she hears in the town with the kind family she knows in the palace? And which side is she truly on?

Review

Cover Blurb: It isn’t anything remarkable, though for a historical fiction fan like myself, it caught my attention well enough.
  
What I Liked: Isabelle is an intelligent protagonist, who bravely struggles against her own wants when it comes to the needs of her family. She’s a very selfless girl, whose dedication to her family is admirable.

What I Disliked: I tried to feel sorry for Theresa, but she was just a little too bratty to gain my full sympathies, and I failed to see why Isabelle continued to consider Theresa as a “true friend.” She seemed intentionally blind to Theresa’s faults because Isabelle was too enamored with the life she led when in the princess’s company.
  
Believability: The contrast between Isabelle’s and Theresa’s lives is done very well. Theresa doesn’t think about the richness of a large dinner and silver spoons and expensive clothes, while Isabelle is completely awed at it all. But I’m not convinced that Isabelle would really pay all that much attention to the stench of Versailles - everywhere smelled, after all; I imagine people got used to it. The Author also never mentions Robespierre, which I found a little odd, considering his role in the French Revolution, nor does she talk about how Socialist the Revolution’s ideals were. She makes it sound like they wanted the exact same thing that the Americans did, which isn’t the case.
  
Writing Style: It was pleasing; not too modern, and not too old-fashioned. In-text translations of the French was a little sloppy at times, but for the most past wasn’t too bad.
  
Content: None.

Conclusion: The book ends right where an interesting story begins: Isabelle’s escape from France. As much as I enjoyed this book, I think this would have been a more intriguing storyline, and I’m sorry that the Author cuts the book off right then.
  
Recommended Audience: Historical fiction fans, more of a girl-read than a guy-read due to the rather copious amount of clothing descriptions and girlishness of the characters. Appropriate for any age.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Review: The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Genre: Middle Grade, animal fiction
Published on January 17, 2012
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 307
Read From: 9.7.12 - 9.8.12













SYNOPSIS
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. 
Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he's seen and about his friends Stella, and elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line. 
Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home - and his own art - through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it's up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.


Review




Cover Blurb: The elephant, Ruby, is so cute! I love how the illustrator did her, and to be honest, it was Ruby that made me pick the book up in the first place. It was just too adorable of an elephant; I had to see what the book was about.

What I Liked: Ruby was absolutely adorable. I don’t know how a Reader couldn’t fall in love with her. Ivan was a surprisingly good narrator, and I got pretty attached to him as well. But Ruby was definitely the star of the book.

What I Disliked: Nothing in particular.

Believability: I didn’t feel that the Author exaggerated conditions in the mall - places like that, I’m sure, are not well kept.

Writing Style: I actually liked the layout the Author used, telling the story in short little sections with a heading - almost like a chapter title - that indicated what was going to be discussed. The present-tense didn’t bother me, either, because it was written almost like Ivan was thinking right then and there. He wasn’t sitting down at a later point in the time, writing out of his story; it was happening right now, and for this story it worked. I also thought that given the story’s topic, the Author didn’t get preachy at any point.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I don’t normally go for these kinds of stories, and though Ruby was adorable, my reaction is still, Well, that was pleasant enough, I suppose. It was a nice short read; a good one to pick up if you don’t want an involved story. Nothing truly the phenomenal stands out about it, nor does anything just plain horrible. There are definitely far worse books to spend some time with, and Ruby really does make it worth reading.

Recommended Audience: This is one of those kids’ books that adults would probably appreciate more, though it certainly has plenty of kid-appeal (what kid isn’t going to love a baby elephant?). I would tag this one for inspirational-story fans, both guy and girl.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review: In My Father's House - Ann Rinaldi

In My Father's House by Ann Rinaldi
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on November 1, 1994
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 336
Read From: 9.5.12 - 9.7.12












Review
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: It’s very dated; I wish they would start revamping the covers of Rinaldi’s older books. Everything about it screams cheap paperback - one of the those books old ladies always read.

What I Liked: Oscie at times is a real brat, but for the most part she really is only trying to help and do what she thinks it right, and she is overall a strong protagonist. I liked McLean half of the time, and the other half I didn’t, which I actually liked, because it allowed me to better understand how Oscie felt about him.

What I Disliked: Nothing.

Believability: As always, Rinaldi has done her research, and she does a splendid job with believable accents and portraying the undoubted confusion that some people felt over the war.

Writing Style: As noted above, Rinaldi writes convincing accents, and her style flows nicely and engagingly. Though there is no definite “super-objective” in the storyline, I did rather like how the story followed Oscie’s life to the end of the war. For a “life-time” novel, it was one of the better ones I’ve read.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I tend not to like Rinaldi’s older books as much; they don’t usually have as much of a storyline as her newer ones. But I did ultimately think this one was very good, and yet another very interesting look at the Civil War.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction fans, and Ann Rinaldi fans. I would say that this would appeal to girls more than guys simply because not a whole lot happens in it. Appropriate for any age.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Review: Keeping the Castle - Patrice Kindl

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl
Genre: YA, historical fiction, comedy, romance
Published on June 14, 2012
Published by Viking Childrens Books
Pages: 261
Read From: 9.4.12 - 9.5.12










Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: It’s a pretty purple color, has a castle, and fancy writing - yep, I like it! The cover is what caught my attention when I first saw it at the library, and I continue to likes it’s simplicity. But it does hint at a far more serious story than it really is.

What I Liked: Althea at first comes across as kind of an unlikable protagonist. Her reasons for marriage are mercenary, she’s the county’s “pretty girl,” and in short shares a lot of similarities with Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse. But Althea quickly grew on me - she was all of Emma’s good qualities, her purposes for marriage were, considering her situation, born from a practical mind, and she was funny. Her shortcomings weren’t annoying - they lent to the story’s satirical aspects. Both the male leads - Lord Boring and Mr. Fredericks - were wonderful characters. Lord Boring was a lot like Bingley, while Mr. Fredericks mirrored Mr. Darcy. And while the similarities between these characters was evident, they still felt like the Author’s own original creations and managed to also be very different from their Austen counterparts. Althea’s two stepsisters were terrifically horrid and an absolute blast, and every little side-character that was introduced burst with personality. There wasn’t a moment in this book where I wasn’t laughing.

What I Disliked: Nothing.

Believability: Comments pertaining to authenticity and the like mostly belong in the writing style.

Writing Style: It fits the story and the time period so well. The Author does a stupendous job in imitating Austen’s style. It’s witty and authentic, classic and very lovely. I loved how the story was a sort of blend of Emma and Pride and Prejudice, while also having pinches of Sense and Sensibility in it. None of it felt like a rip-off, as some Austen-inspired books do; it felt like an original idea, but the nods were evident and clever.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The end itself was predictable, sweet, funny, remarkably managed to be all three without being silly. I don’t normally feel giggly over book endings - usually it is a quiet, satisfied feeling. But I did get giggly over this book’s ending, and I honestly wanted to immediately re-read it as soon as I was done. This is an absolute new favorite - I loved everything about it.

Recommended Audience: Austeneers will eat this alive. More of a girl-read than a guy-read, unless you’re one of those rare guys who likes Oscar Wilde’s stories (it has similar humor). Appropriate for all ages.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Dust Girl - Sarah Zettel

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel
Series: American Fairy Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, historical fantasy
Published on June 26, 2012
Published by Random House
Pages: 304
Read From: 8.31.12 - 9.4.12












SYNOPSIS
Callie LeRoux faces harsh realities in Dust Bowl-era Slow Run, Kansas. The relentless dust storms, which have driven almost everyone from town, leave her fighting for every breath. Still, her half-mad mother insists they stay at the hotel they own, certain that the father Callie has never known will return to them. Now Callie fears she's losing her mind too. Suddenly she's hearing voices - menacing whispers that make her feel as if she's being watched. 
When her mother goes missing in a violent storm, Callie is plunged into a whole new reality. Her only hope comes from a mysterious man who holds a few clues about her destiny and the path she must take to find her parents in "the golden hills of the west." Alone for the first time in her life, confused and terrified, Callie lets her guard down and befriends Jack, a hobo boy who is more than happy to keep her company on her trek to California. 
But far more threatens Callie and Jack than the danger that comes with riding the rails. Warring fairy factions hide inside and between the creative communities of American society, and they've been looking for Callie. Now that they knew where she is, they're out to capture her and claim the unique power she possesses.

Review

Cover Blurb: Normally I don’t mind a person’s face on the cover if it’s only half of the face, but in this case, it kind of freaks me out. The girl on the front doesn’t really look how I imagine Callie, but I like her anyway. I love how if you look closer, you can see a freaky screaming face in the background. Creepy!

What I Liked: Callie is a good protagonist; resourceful, thinks well on her feet, and doesn’t waste time on emotional breakdowns. I was unsure about Jack at first, and I still don’t 100% know what to think of him, but he isn’t a bad tag-along, either.

What I Disliked: I honestly can’t say that there was anything specific that I disliked. I spent the majority of the book just trying to figure out how much weirder things could get; I didn’t really pay attention to the cons of the story.

Believability: I will address the “believability” of Faerie in America. My general opinion has always been if an Author is going to write a story involving the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, it needs to take place in the British Isles. Take the Fair Folk away from the mystery and ancient history of the Isles, and you lose what makes the Land of Faerie so captivating. Somehow, though, Sarah Zettel managed to make the Unseelie and Seelie Courts fit into Dust Bowl-era America. I never thought it would work, but this Author pulled it off. I don’t really know exactly what it is that made it convincing - maybe it was the abandoned landscapes, the feeling of isolation that the story had. I really can’t say, but it did work.

Writing Style: It wasn’t bad. Callie has a very authentic narrative voice for the time period, and the Author kept the storyline’s pace quick, which prevented me, as the Reader, from having too much time to dwell on the story’s weirdness factor. The true villain in the story is rather obvious, once you actually meet him, but the characters also figure it out shortly afterward, thus eliminating potential aggravation.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The end was maybe the weirdest part of the entire story. It definitely got a What the heck? response from me. But the Author has given herself plenty of material to work with for several sequels, and it has definitely grabbed my interest for rest of the series. I still really don’t know whether or not I liked this book, though. Like is not the word I would use, nor is dislike. So I can only rate this based on the fact that I was never bored.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction fantasy fans, and Readers looking for a new twist on the world of Faerie. This is one of those books that I would tell a friend to read simply for the weirdness factor. It’s a guy-and-girl read, and appropriate for any age.

Others in the American Fairy Trilogy:
1)Dust Girl
2)Golden Girl
3)Bad Luck Girl

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: The Flame of Olympus - Kate O'Hearn

The Flame of Olympus by Kate O'Hearn
Series: Pegasus #1
Genre: Middle Grade, fantasy
Published on May 22, 2012
Published by Aladdin
Pages: 385
Read From: 8.28.12 - 8.31.12











Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: I do like the cover; it’s well done and interesting. It caught my attention when I first saw it, and of course I picked it up, thinking, This sounds similar to Percy Jackson. Might be good.

What I Liked: Emily is a relatively good protagonist; she thinks quick on her feet and is practical. The rate at which she accepts what’s going on is a little fast, but I’m not going to complain, because a protagonist who insists on denying what’s going on just bogs a story down. Paelen was probably the best character, though - the one with the most personality. Joel was so-so; I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t particularly care for him, either.

What I Disliked: The nickname Pegs really got on my nerves. And the agents of CRU being called “Agent J” or “Agent O” just reminded me of Men in Black, therefore it came across as silly and quite difficult to take seriously. And why didn’t the Author make Pegasus telepathic? It would have made things so much easier.

Believability: Not really applicable.

Writing Style: It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it did feel very juvenile; like the Author was writing down to her Readers. The plot itself was, quite frankly, silly. It reminded me of something a 12-year-old might come up with, or a Syfy original movie. A secret government agency dissecting Olympians to see if they’re aliens? Seriously? Poor attempts at horrifying torture scenes (which were anything but horrifying), and still further poor attempts at humor. That’s the thing with Rick Riordan’s books - he has drama and serious moments, but the majority of his books are just funny, and they’re meant to be. This Author tried to write an overall serious story, with strange smatterings of humor, and a plotline that could very easily be the plot for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 candidate.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The ending could have been so much more exciting and “epic.” It wasn’t, and it was therefore kind of boring. The sequel rather looks to be dull, if it’s about Emily trying to find her dad. My overall impression of the book was that it felt like a Syfy original movie. Rick Riordan was clever with his idea; I can’t say the same in this case.

Recommended Audience: People have said that this is the next book for Percy Jackson fans. I disagree; I think it would only disappoint them. Younger kids will enjoy it - that’s definitely true, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone specifically because they like Percy Jackson. It’s a girl-and-guy read.

Others in the This Series:
1)The Flame of Olympus
2)Olympus at War
3)The New Olympians
4)The Origins of Olympus

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: Crossed - Ally Condie


Crossed by Ally Condie
Series: Matched Trilogy #2
Genre: YA, dystopian, romance
Published on November 1, 2011
Published by Dutton Childrens
Pages: 367
Read From: 8.27.12 - 8.28.12












SYNOPSIS
Chasing down an uncertain future, Cassia makes her way to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his sure death - only to find that he has escaped into the majestic, but treacherous, canyons. On this wild frontier are glimmers of a different life and the enthralling promise of a rebellion. But even as Cassia sacrifices everything to reunite with Ky, ingenious surprises from Xander may change the game once again.

Review

Cover Blurb: I do like how each cover follows a specific theme; Matched had Cassia stuck in a green bubble; now she’s breaking out of a blue one, and Reached has her emerging from a red one. It’s neat.

What I Liked: Characters are all good still. The romantic aspect is upped a bit more in this installment, and Ky and Cassia experience a bit of tension in their relationship. This would bother me, except Ky and Cassia resolve their problems pretty quickly and get on with their mission.

What I Disliked: Most of the problems reside with believability, the plot’s pace, and the ending.

Believability: I said in my review of Matched that the totalitarian government was one of the more convincing ones I’ve read about in today’s dystopian novels. I take back my words after reading Crossed. The labor camps were completely unrealistic. Conditions were not nearly harsh enough, they were allowed to receive letters, and they got hot water and soap, real food, nice living conditions, and visitors. Has the Author ever read about labor camps? And then there was the group of rebels - the Rising. They accept Cassia and her group into their fold very quickly, with only one cautionary screening and questioning session, and then they send them off on missions! They have to be history’s easiest rebellion to infiltrate if that’s all the screening they do.

Writing Style: I liked how each chapter alternated between Cassia and Ky’s narration. I still don’t like the present-tense, but it fits this story well enough. The plot, I thought, moved along way too slowly. As a second book in a planned trilogy, Crossed should have had a faster pace than Matched. More should have happened, there should have been a sense of urgency. There just should have been more. But instead it felt like the same relaxed pace of Book One, and I got a little bored.

Content: None.

Conclusion: It really felt rushed. The Author spends the majority of the book with Cassia trying to find Ky. Couldn’t she have hurried that part up a bit, and spent more time on their journey to find the Rising (who were remarkably easy to get to, by the way) - and then a few more chapters on when they meet the rebels? It seriously felt like the Author was running up against a deadline, didn’t have time to cover all that she wanted to, and so just kind of wrapped it up as orderly and quickly as she could. I hope Reached offers a better plot.

Recommended Audience: Readers who are looking for a less-gritty, more wholesome dystopian novel. Girl-read, any age.

Others in This Trilogy:
1)Matched
2)Crossed
3)Reached

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Long Lankin - Lindsey Barraclough

Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, supernatural
Published on July 10, 2012
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 455
Read From: 8.24.12 - 8.27.12













SYNOPSIS
When Cora and her little sister, Mimi, are sent to stay with their great-aunt in the isolated village of Bryers Guerdon, they receive a less than warm welcome and are desperate to go back to London. But Auntie Ida's life was devastated the last time two young girls were at Guerdon Hall, and how her nieces' arrival has reawakened an evil that has lain in wait for years. 
A haunting voice in an empty room; a strange, scarred man lurking in the graveyard; mysterious words scrawled on the walls of an abandoned church. . . .all point to a horrifying truth that has held Bryers Guerdon in its dark grip for centuries, a truth that Cora, along with Roger and Peter, two young village boys, must uncover - before it's too late for Mimi.


Review

Cover Blurb: It did catch my attention, and is largely why I read the book in the first place. It’s creepy and I love that if you look very closely on the left-hand side, you can actually see Long Lankin himself. I like the small references to the story on the cover - the red shoes, the doll, etc.

What I Liked: Roger. Roger was a pretty good protagonist; he was funny and a proper boy who focused on the adventure and not the girls, and treated his siblings remarkably well. I did like the family dynamics the Author explored (though she could have spent a little less time on that and more time on the actual story), and I liked the ballad the Author chose to base her story off of, and I liked the era.

What I Disliked: Cora was, quite frankly, really mean to her little sister Mimi, and she complained far too much. It never crossed her mind to maybe listen Auntie Ida not even once. I can understand Cora wanting to find answers, but she could have gone about it in a better fashion, and listened to her aunt’s warnings.

Believability: Not entirely applicable.

Writing Style: I liked how each chapter switched narrators, but I didn’t like that none of the narrators chose a tense. Cora would be narrating in present-tense one moment, and then she would suddenly switch to past-tense. It was choppy and confusing and annoying. The Author also included lots of unnecessary day-to-day details, and things like dried snot, dried vomit, dried whatever, and described everything in disgusting detail. The story is a very, very slow-moving one, and it isn’t pulled off very well. It would have been OK if there had been an eerie, dark, and mysterious undercurrent, but there wasn’t. And when something interesting happened, the Author somehow managed to make it dull. It was just, quite frankly, boring.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I’ll agree that it was exciting, and even a little scary, but it was very dragged out and movie-ish, and the solution to Lankin’s defeat bordered on soliciting a That’s it?! Why didn’t they do it before? Why didn’t they figure it out sooner? reaction from me.

Recommended Audience: Girl-and-guy read. Readers who like a more relaxed spooky story might enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Insurgent - Veronica Roth

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent Trilogy #2
Genre: YA, dystopian
Published on May 1, 2012
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 525
Read From: 8.20.12 - 8.24.12











Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: I like the colors better than Divergent, but the cover honestly doesn’t do all that much for me either way. It’s cryptic, it’s kind of pretty while ominous at the same time, it’s . . . a cover.

What I Liked: The premise was interesting enough, and I liked some of the twists. Tris remains a relatively OK protagonist, and I do still like Four, for the most part.

What I Disliked: I really, really don’t like Four’s real name. I didn’t mind it so much in Divergent, but then I had to put up with it for an entire 525-page book, and that solidified my dislike for his name. The little episode with Tris and the “peace serum” was just silly, and I got so sick of all the emotional breakdowns. It’s like every single character decided that Insurgent would be a perfect time to be emotionally compromised. Yes, the events they go through would be traumatizing, but emotional breakdowns get in the way of a good adventure. That’s the beauty of fiction - you don’t have to have all of that annoying stuff get in the way. And as for Tris’s emotions . . . Couples do argue and disagree, but her and Four’s suddenly tense relationship just causes problems that would be avoidable if they just talked about things. And it would be traumatizing to shoot your friend, but it seemed to me a poorly veiled excuse for Tris to never have a gun, and when she did manage to have a weapon of some sort, she always lost it before she could use it.

Believability: Factions going to war with each other is believable, and the reason the factions were formed at all (as is revealed in the end) was interesting, but the one thing that makes it unbelievable is: totalitarian regimes are never formed through good intentions.

Writing Style: I don’t like present-tense, I don’t like present-tense, I don’t like present-tense. Every once in a while, it kind of, sort of works for a story, but not this one. It’s just annoying and super movie-ish. It also struck me that the majority of Insurgent takes place in one cafeteria or another. The characters are always getting lunch or dinner or breakfast, and they’re always meeting up in the cafeteria to talk or to brood, or the enemies hold them prisoner in the cafeteria.

Content: Four and Tris almost sleep together (pg. 48-49), but Tris stops herself in time.

Conclusion: This is what caused me to be so generous with my rating, because I did like the ending. It’s exciting and has lots of good revelations. As a whole, though, I didn’t like Insurgent as much as the first book. Too many emotions getting in the way of the story. I’m being generous with the rating, and I’m not entirely certain why.

Recommended Audience: Dystopian fans, girl read, older audience.

Others in This Trilogy:
1)Divergent
2)Insurgent
3)Allegiant

Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: Changeling - Philippa Gregory

Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Series: Order of Darkness #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on May 24, 2012
Published by Simon Pulse
Pages: 256
Read From: 8.13.12 - 8.19.12











Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: Quite honestly, I don’t care for it much - the only reason it caught my attention was because of the obvious era. Not only does the cover leer at me, but neither of the people look how I imagined Luca and Isolde, and the cover looks a little cheap; a amateur PhotoShop job.

What I Liked: Isolde and Ishraq are both strong female protagonists. Ishraq can defend herself without appearing macho, and she can be a bit sarcastic without having an Attitude. Isolde is practical and strong-willed, while being proper and feminine at the same time. They are women appropriate for the era. It took me a couple of chapters before I grew to like Freize, but I soon decided I liked his humor, and he was amazingly even funny when he tried to flirt with Ishraq.

What I Disliked: I liked Luca, and despite the fact that the majority of the story was told from his third-person perspective, I kind of felt like I didn’t know him. I really can’t say what it was about him that made Luca feel distant as a character; there was just something.

Believability: I spent a good portion of this book thoroughly unsure about what was going to happen next, because I kept expecting something weird to happen. But Luca discovers logical, believable, and plausible explanations for every weird, supernatural occurrence. I still wouldn’t be surprised if the series actually takes a supernatural turn - for some reason, I just keep detecting this underlying aura about it, - but for this one, the things that happen, and their explanations, are believable.

Writing Style: I liked it well enough; it fit the story, it wasn’t movie-ish, and was very neat and tidy.

Content: 2 s-words. Prince Roberto tries to rape Isolde (pg. 28-29), but he doesn’t even get himself undressed before Isolde knocks him out.

Conclusion: While this ends with a promising sequel, I did find myself, at the end of Changeling, thinking, That was it? While the events in the book are interesting enough, they are also rather anticlimactic - almost like if someone took a TV series like Merlin and strung two or three episodes together without connecting the quests. Luca would travel to one place, solve what was happening, and then continue on. There appeared to be no super-objective.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction mystery fans, and Readers who like Philippa Gregory’s writing. This is a guy-and-girl read, and better for an older audience.

Others in the Order of Darkness Series:
1)Changeling
2)Stormbringers

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review: The Man from Pomegranate Street - Caroline Lawrence


The Man from Pomegranate Street by Caroline Lawrence
Series: The Roman Mysteries #17
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction, mystery
Published on July 1, 2009
Published by Orion
Pages: 262
Read From: 8.11.12 - 8.13.12











Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: The wolf on the cover doesn’t make much sense until you start reading the story itself. I like the color backdrop, but out of the many covers, it’s just not my favorite. No particular reason; it just isn’t.

What I Liked: As always, I love Nubia’s character, and I liked how twisty-turny the mystery was. At times, I exclaimed in dismay when something was “revealed” because it, at first, seemed like a lame explanation. But then it turned out that that isn’t what happened at all, and this worked rather well.

What I Disliked: The romantic mix-ups between Flaccus and Flavia are way, way, way, way, way overdone at this point. I always found their misunderstandings tedious, but it is downright aggravating in this installment.

Believability: Caroline Lawrence always does her research, and she tied in the actual facts of Titus’s death very well into this mystery. I don’t go for “maybe it happened this way; maybe it didn’t” endings for mysteries, but I was okay with it in this instance.

Writing Style: It’s the same quality as usual; the dialogue is generally good, though sometimes the Author uses the “character asks convenient question so Reader can understand what’s going on” ploy way too much. It’s a very movie-ish style, all in all, but it works well enough for the series.

Content: Nothing actually happens, but molestation in a sexual sense and rape are quite often mentioned.

Conclusion: For the ending of a 17-book series, it felt kind of cobbled together, unsatisfying, and downright depressing. Everyone’s lives are wrapped up and shoved away, and poor Jonathan’s family doesn’t even ever know happiness. As a mystery, it was pretty good.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction and mystery fans. This is one of the girly reads out of the series, and though this is intended for a younger audience, some of the content would keep me from recommending it to them.

Others in The Roman Mysteries:
1)The Thieves of Ostia
2)The Secrets of Vesuvius
3)The Pirates of Pompeii
4)The Assassins of Rome
5)The Dolphins of Laurentum
6)The Twelve Tasks of Flavia Gemina
7)The Enemies of Jupiter
8)The Gladiators from Capua
9)The Colossus of Rhodes
10)The Fugitive from Corinth
11)The Sirens of Surrentum
12)The Charioteer of Delphi
13)The Slave-Girl from Jerusalem
14)The Beggar of Volubilis
15)The Scribes from Alexandria
16)The Prophet from Ephesus
17)The Man from Pomegranate Street

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Review: The Poisoned House - Michael Ford

The Poisoned House by Michael Ford
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, supernatural
Published on August 1, 2011
Published by Albert Whitman & Company
Pages: 319
Read From: 8.9.12 - 8.10.12











SYNOPSIS
Life can be cruel for a servant girl in 1850s London. Fifteen-year-old Abi is a scullery maid in Greave Hall, an elegant but troubled household. As an otherworldly presence makes itself known, a deadly secret is revealed - a secret that will shatter everything Abi knows.

Review

Cover Blurb: It is definitely far creepier than the story is. I like the cover; the hand grasping out from the dark is very attention-grabbing. But it is somewhat misleading, in the sense that the story isn’t that scary.

What I Liked: The era, obviously, and the premise of the story. Abi was a fine protagonist, though I confess that there was nothing especially memorable about her.

What I Disliked: Abi and other characters kept commenting on how cruel and horribly mean Mrs. Cotton was, but I failed to see much of her cruelty. She did a few mean things, like drowning the kittens, but not enough to warrant the reactions the rest of the staff gave her - not enough to warrant Abi running away and then protesting so loudly when she’s caught. If you have a cruel, mean, heartless character, you need to show it, not just say it.

Believability: At so early a time in the Victorian era, the likelihood of a housekeeper’s sister marrying a lord is not high. As for the ghostly aspect, I found it less “believable” than The Dead of Winter because it took place in the middle of London, and not some isolated country estate virtually cut off from the rest of the world. The setting did not seem suitable for a ghost.

Writing Style: The style lacked a strong Victorian tone, which is what made me love The Dead of Winter so much. And the story just wasn’t all that scary. The séance is about as creepy as it gets, and then it just kind of turns into an average ghost story. It lacked the cold, isolated, dead feel that a truly good ghost story needs, and the plot twists were extremely obvious.

Content: None.

Conclusion: The ending came perilously close to being one of those typical horror movie endings. The monster is dead. Oh no! It’s coming back for a final go at revenge! I’m going to hurl blunt objects at it and scream uselessly when it doesn’t kill it! I mean, did Abi really think the villain was just going to give up and leave her alone? After all that the villain went through to get what said evil person wanted? But I will say this - for all of the predictableness of the plot and the not-very-memorable characters, I still was rather entertained by The Poisoned House; it was good choice to occupy just a couple of hours.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction fans who like a supernatural twist. A guy-and-girl read, appropriate for most ages.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Review: The Dead of Winter - Chris Priestley

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery, supernatural
Published on January 31, 2012
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 218
Read From: 8.5.12 - 8.6.12












Review
~~~~~~~~~~~
Cover Blurb: It’s properly creepy, with the skull buried in the snow and the bold title font.

What I Liked: I have nothing negative to say about this story. It scared me, I love the writing style, and the characters, and the time period, and how isolated it feels. It reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. I kept picturing Michael’s guardian, Sir Stephen, looking like Vincent Price.

What I Disliked: Nothing.

Believability: Not really applicable. The time period is ideal, and the dialogue feels authentic, as well as the narration voice.

Writing Style: This books is getting a 5-star rating largely because of the writing style and the fact that it actually scared me to the point that I slept with my light on. The writing style fits the time period exact; it very much echoes Edgar Allen Poe and the classic Gothic novel. The minimum dialogue lent to the feel of a Poe-esque short story. The story has the perfect isolated tone, the chilling “what’s around the corner” feel, and I could clearly hear Michael narrating the story as a young man, looking back on his childhood.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I absolutely loved the ending; it’s very Poe-esque. I was pleased that the story’s twist involved the psychological instability of one of the characters, and the supernatural element was merely the “messenger” that warns Michael of what’s going on.


Recommended Audience: Edgar Allen Poe fans will eat this up. It’s a guy-and-girl read, and though there’s nothing in it, I would definitely say that this is for an older audience simply because of the scariness factor. It will make you afraid to sleep without a light on, and the slightest noise in the middle of the night will wake you up.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
Series: Seraphina #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on July 10, 2012
Published by Random House
Pages: 467
Read From: 8.1.2012 - 8.4.12










SYNOPSIS
Four decades of peace have done little toe ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend the court as ambassadors and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high. 
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift - one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.


Review

Cover Blurb: I really like it. The dragon, of course, grabbed my attention, since I love dragons, but there was also something about the simple pencil-drawing style that interested me as well. It’s different from a lot of covers.

What I Liked: Seraphina is a really good protagonist; she’s sensible, practical, and quick to realize her mistakes and fix them. I was able to really appreciate her personal struggle over being half-dragon because one of my own characters struggles with being half-blooded. Seraphina, though, doesn’t give in to self-pity, and strives to overcome the obstacles she faces. I loved Lucian Kiggs; he’s a very good “leading male.” The romantic attachment between them is predictable, but it didn’t bother me because they both handle it with great maturity and patience.

What I Disliked: What problems I had have to do with a few plot holes.

Believability: The dislike humans express towards dragons, and dragons express towards humans, is very believable and realistic - there would be dislike between the two races after long hostilities; there would always be someone looking to stir up trouble and break the peace. The political struggles were easy to follow and also believable.

Writing Style: I admit, it surprised me. It isn’t hair-raisingly good, but it’s definitely more than “just pleasant and entertaining.” This Author shows a lot of promise with her style. There are number of surprising twists, and she does a very good job in providing in-text translation of a lot of the dragon-words - though I wish she had provided a pronunciation guide in the back. Her dragons and dragonlore are original, and that’s a hard thing to say nowadays, and the dragon society even echoes a dystopian world ever so slightly. They are a bit more like Vulcans in their “suppress all emotion” practice than I would like, but the similarity is easy to ignore. The mystery of the Prince’s death is exciting, but I was disappointed in the fact that it more or less sinks into the background of the story. No one really seemed to be reacting the way a country would if their crown prince died, especially under such suspicious circumstances. They have the funeral, every once in a while the Prince's death with crop up in conversation, but other than that, everyone carries on with their life. Hello?! Your crown prince was just murdered!

Content: 1 s-word.

Conclusion: It promises a very exciting sequel and further character development; I believe that this is a series which could go on for a quite a while and not lose its originality and interesting factors.

Recommended Audience: Fans of dragons stories - especially ones who are looking for an original dragon story - and fantasy mysteries. This is both a guy-and-girl-read.

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