Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review: Vanished - Sheela Chari

Vanished by Sheela Chari
Genre: Middle Grade, mystery
Published on July 26, 2011
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Pages: 336
Read From: 4.22.12 - 4.27.12

Eleven-year-old Neela dreams of being a famous musician, performing for admiring crowds on her traditional Indian stringed instrument. Her particular instrument was a gift from her grandmother - intricately carved with a mysterious-looking dragon. 
When this special family heirloom vanishes from a local church, strange clues surface: a teakettle ornamented with a familiar pointy-faced dragon, a threatening note, a connection to a famous dead musician, and even a legendary curse. The clues point all the way to India, where it turns out that Neela's instrument has a long history of vanishing and reappearing. Even if Neela does track it down, will she be able to stop it from disappearing again?


This was not quite as strange as I was expecting, though don't get me wrong - it was still strange. My expectations were just high in that area. But the lack of epic weirdness did not disappoint me at all, and I fully enjoyed this book. More than I was really expecting, actually. Neela is an agreeable young heroine; she's not at all bratty or unnecessarily belligerent, like most heroines her age. The Author also keeps her Readers guessing at every turn, and she deftly weaves Indian history and tradition into the narration, bringing life and flavor to it.

While the resolution to the mystery is rather unsinister and the people connections average and unthreatening, for a story like this it worked. While the Author leads her Readers on, the story really didn't beg for a sinister twist, like a lot of mysteries do, and the believable explanations kept the story from becoming just downright strange.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: Chains - Laurie Halse Anderson

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Series: Seeds of America #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on October 21, 2008
Published by Atheneum
Pages: 316
Read From: 4.20.12 - 4.22.12

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight. . . .for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.


It has been so long since I have read a fairly recently written book set during the Revolutionary War this good. I had my doubts about this book at first - indeed, it took me a long time to actually get around to reading it. Books written in recent years that have to do with slaves always seem to get preachy and smear the names of the Founding Fathers. I didn't expect anything different from this one.

I was dead wrong. Chains isn't a book solely written to teach kids to hate the Founding Fathers, and it isn't a book written to teach kids that slavery was somehow unique to the United States. It's an exciting adventure set during the War for Independence with a strong and intelligent protagonist. The Author does, of course, mention the horrors of slavery - it's pretty hard not to when one's main character is a slave, - but it doesn't go into a rampage. The Author's slave characters all also have a very balanced view on the war. It's true that slaves were caught in the middle during the Revolution. On one side, they had the English promising them freedom if they ran away from their masters, but very few slaves actually got the English to keep their promise. And on the other side, they had the Patriots who weren't openly promising them freedom, but many slaves knew that the Patriots' ideals would eventually lead to freedom - which it did. And the Author has slave characters that express both viewpoints. She also successfully portrays that while Tories did horrible things to the Patriots, the Patriots also did some horrible things to the Tories. In short, I saw no one-sidedness in this story. Isabel meets white people who are cruel and white people who are kind.

Isabel, as the protagonist, is a very good character. Strong, resourceful, and protective of her little sister. Isabel loses her temper at times, but the Reader can hardly blame her, and in truth when she did lose her temper, I was relieved. Lady Lockton is one of the cruelest female villains I've read about, so when Isabel got back at her for something Lady Lockton did, I was more than satisfied, even though I knew it wouldn't go well for Isabel. It was just satisfying reading about Lady Lockton getting some of her own medicine. And while Isabel has indecision about which side of the war to be on, it's entirely understandable why she's unsure who to trust, and in the end she does make a decision.

Chains is a perfect choice for those Readers who are looking for a recently-written story set during the Revolutionary War that is just a good adventure and not a preach against the Founding Fathers and trying to say that the Revolution wasn't about what we think.

Others in the Seeds of America Series:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: The Scribes from Alexandria - Caroline Lawrence

The Scribes from Alexandria
by Caroline Lawrence
Middle Grade
Read From: Apr. 22, 2012 - Apr. 22, 2012

Compared to the last one, this one was more exciting. It had more purpose to the things that happened, more mystery, and I was very curious to see how things turned out. But it also had tons of flaws. For one thing, no book intended for this age bracket should go into such detail about how a male is turned into a eunuch. It came pretty darn close to being graphic. And I also don't think that kids from that time period - even girls - would not know about what makes a male a eunuch.

I also found it more than a little annoying that the character who was serious about his Jewish faith, Seth, was also the character with the pompous and self-righteous attitude and was always making derogatory comments about pagans and eunuchs. And when Seth asks another character to marry him, the Author managed to make him sound arrogant and pompous when he tells her that if they are to marry, she'll have to convert to Judaism. Maybe it wasn't the Author's intention, but nonetheless it still seemed like she was saying people who take their religion seriously are judgmental and unpleasant to be around and arrogant, which is entirely untrue.

The other flaw lie with the ending. A great deal of mystery and intrigue is built up throughout the story, and it ends up to where the Reader really doesn't know which character is going to end up being the "villain." But the end reveals that there really is no villain, and this whole "cat and mouse" game was simply an elaborate treasure hunt to capture a husband - and there isn't even anything sinister in that, either. There's no fortune the person is trying to get ahold of or anything like that. The one redeeming thing that happens is long-term Readers of this series discover more about Nubia's family, and a few questions about where she'll eventually end up are answered. As a long-term Reader myself, I was satisfied with that, but everything else about the end was disappointing.

Others in The Roman Mysteries Series:
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 Surrentom
12)The Charioteer of Delphi
13)The Slave-Girl from Jerusalem
14)The Beggar of Volubilis
15)The Scribes from Alexandria
16)The Prophet of Ephesus
17)The Man from Pomegranate Street

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Review: Death Comes to Pemberley - P. D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P. D. James
Read From: Apr. 15, 2012 - Apr. 20, 2012

What I liked first: the Author did an incredible job in imitating Jane Austen's writing style. While there certainly were times that I could tell the difference, the imitation was just amazing. P. D. James has certainly earned the right to be called a good writer. As far as Miss Austen's characters go, the Author also did justice in portraying them as closely to their original personalities as any person who isn't the original Author can. They conducted themselves in the exact manner that I imagine Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy and all the others would in a murder case. And any "Austeneer" will appreciate to cunning ways P. D. James makes little alludements to some of Austen's other books, like Persuasion and Emma.

What I didn't like: as the story progressed, it began to feel less like a murder mystery and more like the Author had written the book because she had been unsatisfied with how things were between Darcy and Wickham by the end of Pride and Prejudice. She sets up a really good mystery and has lots of elements that keep the Reader wondering. But then the trial scene comes and a big climax is built up, and then shot down. All of the little mysterious pieces are connected, but in a very humdrum, boring manner. The explanations lack any sort of excitement that is supposed to come with a murder mystery, and the web of intrigue the Reader is constantly hoping will appear doesn't. While the end of the book definitely has resolution, it still manages to feel anticlimactic as far as the murder goes.

As far as Pride and Prejudice "retellings" go, Death Comes to Pemberley is one of the more interesting ones I've read, and one of the better written ones, too. But as far as a murder mystery goes, it's pretty disappointing. The Author leads the Reader on, then more or less drops the ball on an expectant audience. If you're reading it for writing style, it's a good book. Just don't expect a good mystery.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: The Solstice Cup - Rachel Dunstan Muller

The Solstice Cup
by Rachel Dunstan Muller
Young Adult
Read From: Apr. 18, 2012 - Apr. 20, 2012

This is essentially a retelling of the Tamlin ballad, only it's with sisters - and no, I am not counting that against the book, because it actually worked really well. And for being such a short book, the Author was able to capture a lot of suspense and depth. Mackenzie is a heroine easy to sympathize with  and like. Meanwhile, her twin sister Breanne is positively horrid. The Reader is not supposed to like her, naturally; Breanne is an absolute jerk. I so badly wanted something bad and irreversible happen to her, and I must admit that if I had been Mackenzie, I might not have even bothered to rescue Breanne from the Fair Folk. Especially when by the end of their trials and tribulations, Breanne doesn't seemed to have altered at all.

The Author's rendition of the Fair Folk is one of the better ones that I have read, though I have to admit that I wasn't a big fan of how she portrayed the Wild Hunt. Rather than Faerie horses and Faerie dogs, the Author the Fair Folks' mounts into mish-mosh creatures. For me, there has always been something incredibly eerie about the Wild Hunt mounts being beautiful, but deadly, horses that can never be tamed. It plays with our thoughts of we think we know something, but then we're presented with a darker side of it. There was just nothing scary about the Hunt at all in the way the Author portrayed it.

That is my only complaint, though, and as a whole I liked The Solstice Cup. It was a good, quick read dealing with one of my favorite subjects: Celtic lore.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Belladonna - Mary Finn

Belladonna by Mary Finn
Genre: YA, historical fiction, romance
Published on June 14, 2011
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 384
Read From: 4.13.12 - 4.18.12

When Thomas Rose first spots the girl concealed in a ditch outside his rural village, she looks as drab as a large, blending with the English countryside. Only her bright-red kerchief gives her away. Yet French Helene, who goes by "Ling" - for the year is 1757, and England and France are at war - is no ordinary bird. She is tiny and agile, with huge dark eyes and hair as black

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: Juliet's Moon - Ann Rinaldi

Juliet's Moon
by Ann Rinaldi
Young Adult
Read From: Apr. 14, 2012 - Apr. 15, 2012

Even though this particular Ann Rinaldi book only earned 3 stars, I still liked it. Compared to her other books, it was not my favorite for several reasons: Juliet is a pretty spoiled girl, and even though she does usually act for selfless means, I had a hard time completely connecting to her, and part of what makes Rinaldi's heroines so good is the ease in which the Reader can connect to them. Juliet also was not a real figure in history, and I always tend to like Rinaldi's fictional characters less than the real ones that she brings to life with her outstanding writing. And then the story just kind of ends. This is a book that could have been longer, and been made better because of it.

However, there were things I did like. I have never heard of this particular event in history until now, and I found it to be very interesting. One thing I love so much about Ann Rinaldi's books is she picks small tragedies in history that not many people know about. And I also liked how Rinaldi managed to tell a story from the point of view of a Confederate girl. Not many writers are comfortable with telling the Civil War through the eyes of the South, but Rinaldi can do it - and she does it well. It never feels like she's saying one side was better than the other. She consistently illustrates that both sides did bad things, and both sides did good things.

Juliet's Moon is certainly not my favorite Ann Rinaldi book, but it is still good and worth reading.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Review: The Throne of Fire - Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire
by Rick Riordan
Middle Grade
Read From: Apr. 7, 2012 - Apr. 14, 2012

Every bit as good as The Red Pyramid. Sadie and Carter continue to be witty and intelligent heroes, and their sibling banter very real. I still have a difficult time comparing this particular series to Percy Jackson and the Olympians because they are different enough. I will venture to say, however, that I actually am growing to like the Egyptian gods better than the Greek ones, from the standpoint that the Egyptian gods seem more human than Ares or Zeus. But they also don't seem as powerful. As I said in my review for The Red Pyramid, such differences work for The Kane Chronicles, but if the Author had portrayed the Greek and Roman gods like this in Percy Jackson and The Heroes of Olympus, it probably would not have worked.

Needless to say, The Throne of Fire is full of new perils and villains. Apophis is still not as scary as Kronos or Gaia, but he works for the series. Meanwhile, I found absolutely nothing about Set intimidating. He's actually really funny in this installment - kind of reminds me of Jim Carry in The Mask, only red instead of green. I believe that this was the Author's intention, though, so it works. And though many of the twists in The Throne of Fire are predictable, they are twists that leave the Reader satisfied with being right, rather than leaving you thinking, "I was hoping that my guess was incorrect, because that's just lame!"

I look forward to The Serpent's Shadow.

Others in The Kane Chronicles:
1)The Red Pyramid
2)The Throne of Fire
3)The Serpent's Shadow

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Sapphique - Catherine Fisher

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Series: Incarceron #2
Genre: YA, dystopian, futuristic
Published on December 28, 2010
Published by Dial
Pages: 462
Read From: 4.10.12 - 4.13.12

Incarceron, the living prison, has lost one of its inmates to the outside world: Finn's escaped, only to find that Outside is not at all what he expected. Used to the technologically advanced, if violently harsh, conditions of the prison, Finn is now forced to obey the rules of Protocol, which require all people to live without technology. To Finn, Outside is just a prison of another kind, especially when Claudia, the daughter of the prison's warden, declares Finn the lost heir to the throne. When another claimant emerges, both Finn's and Claudia's very lives hang on Finn convincing the Court of something that even he doesn't full believe. 
Meanwhile, Finn's oathbrother Keiro and his friend Attia are still trapped inside Incarceron. They are searching for a magical glove, which legend says Sapphique used to escape. To find it, they must battle the prison itself, because Incarceron wants the glove, too.


While the storyline of Incarceron's sequel is essentially the same - characters are searching for Escape and Claudia is trying to prove that the Crown Prince really isn't dead - the Author manages to make it feel new. Sapphique is, in many ways, weirder than Incarceron, but I was used to it and able to look on the weirdness with a shrug and say to myself, "That was weird" and then not be surprised with the weird occurrence isn't really explained later. As with the first one, stuff happens and things are mentioned, and no, there is no explanation.

As far as characters go, they all stay good. Finn still lacks something of a personality and doesn't really do anything terribly useful - and yet somehow I still kind of like him. Claudia is still the determined and practical heroine from the first who does her best to survive in the world of Outside. Keiro is as annoying as ever, and I kept wishing that he would die. And I was infinitely pleased that Attia remained a quiet, intelligent, and cautious girl. No annoying love triangles surfaced involving her, Finn, and Claudia, which I was seriously concerned about. Attia is a good character, but she had the potential of being annoying if she and Claudia started fighting over Finn. And I am also pleased to say that while Claudia and Finn are a "couple," no irritating romance scenes surface to impede the adventure.

The end is very weird, but it is also satisfying and fit. I actually felt a little sorry for the Prison, as strange as that may sound. Catherine Fisher is an Author who can do weird and still make it a good story, from beginning to finis, while still managing to not explain over half of the things the characters encounter. It still really bugs me that there are a lot of things about Sapphique that are never explained, but I suppose I'll live with it. Fans of Incarceron will not be disappointed with its sequel.

Others in This Series: