Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: Wolf by the Ears - Ann Rinaldi

Wolf by the Ears by Ann Rinaldi
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on January 1, 1993
Published by Scholastic
Pages: 272
Read From: 7.6.12 - 7.7.12

Cover Blurb: It looks dated, the girl in the front does not at all look how I imagine Harriet. She looks more Hispanic or Latino descent than African; her features aren’t right.

What I Liked: Like all of Rinaldi’s female characters, Harriet is a strong protagonist, doesn’t have an attitude, is intelligent, and feminine without being weak. I was able to appreciate her struggle, thus her indecision didn’t get as annoying as it could have.

What I Disliked: While I liked Harriet well enough, she was perhaps the least “connectable” out of all the protagonists in Rinaldi’s books that I have read. It wasn’t because of her situation or anything like that; there was just a slight something lacking in her personality. A slight something that I aggravatingly cannot entirely pinpoint, but it was there, making Harriet just slightly less than she could have been.

Believability: Rinaldi does her research, of course; it’s part of why I love her books so much. And Rinaldi presents very believable reasons for, if Thomas Jefferson had children by one of his slaves, why he couldn’t claim them.

Writing Style: Good, as always. I liked how it was told in a loose-journal style. There weren’t daily entries, but monthly ones, with just the month and the year. And never once did the story feel like it was slandering Thomas Jefferson - Rinaldi says in her Author’s Note that that is not the intention of the story, and I believe her. It felt like a work of fiction; an interesting “what if” that is possible, but there is not 100% historical backing for it, and the Author acknowledges this. The views and opinions expressed in the story also felt like the characters’ opinion, and not something the Author was forcing her characters to voice for her. The only negative thing I have to say about writing choice is the pace of the story. It was kind of slow, there was no real climax. Taking Liberty is somewhat similar, and I wish the pacing of Wolf by the Ears had been more like that; then it would have been better.

Content: Blunthead tries to rape Harriet, but he doesn't get very far at all before it is interrupted.

Conclusion: As said earlier, there is nothing terribly climatic about it. But it’s realistic. I do, however, wish the story was longer, and had more build-up.

Recommended Audience: Fans of Ann Rinaldi, naturally, and consequently historical fiction fans. This is a girl read, though guys who don’t mind dress descriptions and the like might like it as well.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


At last!!! Oh my; such freedom! Such a sense of fresh air! Who ever knew that Writer's Block for 16 months could feel so stifling! Yes, my Readers, that's right - I have been stuck on my story for sixteen months - maybe fifteen. Since last September; you guys do the mathematics. In any case, that's a long time. My brain went into hiberation for the last few quarters of college in order to survive. Deep hiberation. I've been reading during that whole time, which is good; I need my reading time as well as my writing time. But after 4 months, I was feeling really lonely. And stagnant. And depressed. And just . . . sad.
Now? I don't really know what caused it this time. I was listening to the soundtrack for The Duchess and Oliver Twist (Rachel Portman is an amazing composer) while alternating between reading Flame-Colored Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Something about that combination, I guessed, joggled my brain out of its hiberation, and I decided to start working on a few minor changes to my story. In went the soundtrack for A Series of Unfortunate Events. Minor edits led to bigger edits, and then I hit my stuck place again. But rather than backing down and moping like I used to, I glared my story in the eye and told it, "Now look here, my dear fellow, this simply won't do any longer. You've had your holiday, and I've had mine. And now I want to work on you some more. And I can't if you keep stubbornly refusing to tell me what I need to know! I may write mysteries and I may be a Sherlockian and therefore an amateur detective in my own right, but not even Sherlock Holmes could solve a case without data. Give me data or I'll go work on some other story. And I do mean it this time."
For years, my philosophy has always been if a story says no, don't push it. And generally this is a very good idea. Listen to the story; it will tell you what you need to know when it's ready, and no sooner. But I've discovered something about stories that you are almost done writing: they get stubborn. They see the end nearing and they don't want to part company. Stories are loving to writers who listen to them, but stories are also jealous of other stories (at least, mine are). Even when I type THE END on this fourth draft of my story, I'll still have lots of editing to do, but in general, I will be done with it. I'll be able to turn my attention to other stories. I've spent a good six or seven years with this particular story; maybe longer. I'm close to it, and it's close to me. And it doesn't want me to be done with it. So it's not telling me what I need to know so I can finish it. It's times like these than a writer must be firm. My story continued to refuse to tell me anything, so I kept going at it at different angles, and I got one of my sounding board out, otherwise known as a friend, to test ideas out on (thanks, Hazel! You're a terrific sounding board! ;)
Now, I am not yet 100% certain if I have hit all of the bricks in The Wall to make it crumble so I can press on, but I am confident that I am oh so close. And now I've got the soundtrack to Sherlock Holmes going to keep my concentration level up (wish I had the soundtrack to A Game of Shadows as well; it has some lovely klemzer). In any case, I think I've solved it! The story has, I'll admit, taken some new turns that I wasn't expecting (that's part of the fun of writing a mystery!), but I am excessively pleased with it. Oh, and those of my Readers who have had the privilege of reading my manuscrips and think that Murtagh and Ivy are going to become romantically involved (I shudder at the thought, as do my characters) - well, with the new twists I've put in, that would be extremely awkward if they did. Let's just say while Victorians were okay with cousins marrying each other, I am not, nor are my characters.
Hopefully I'll have more to report soon!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: Eve - Anna Carey

Eve by Anna Carey
Series: Eve Trilogy #1
Genre: YA, dystopian, romance
Published on October 4, 2011
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 336
Read From: 7.5.12 - 7.6.12

Sixteen years after a deadly virus wiped out most of Earth's population, the world is a perilous place. Eighteen-year-old Eve has never been beyond the heavily guarded perimeter of her school, where she and two hundred other orphaned girls have been promised a future as the teachers and artists of the New America. But the night before graduation, Eve learns the shocking truth about her school's real purpose - and the horrifying fate that awaits her. 
Fleeing the only home she's ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Arden, her former rival from school, and Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust. . . .and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.


Cover Blurb: I love the metallic mint-green and blue color, and I like the title’s font - it rather resembles cracked asphalt, but has pretty curls. The girl on the front doesn’t bother me because you can’t see her face, and the bridge disappearing into the distance echoes a lot of themes in this story.

What I Liked: I didn’t think I would like Eve at first. She’s pretty useless. But I actually warmed up to her pretty quickly. She doesn’t know how to do much, but she doesn’t have a victim mentality, she doesn’t want to be a burden, and she tries to learn. I also thought that she became convinced of the school’s true intent pretty bloody fast, but she does go and gather conclusive evidence before she decides to run. And while Eve doesn’t trust men, she doesn’t have a man-hater attitude. She acts properly afraid for someone who has been brain-washed into believing that all men are dangerous, and then starts to realize that maybe it isn’t true about everyone. I also liked Caleb (though I honestly didn’t picture him with dreadlocks; not even when the book kept saying he did). He had a good sense of humor, but didn’t have a “I’m a chick magnet, so you should like me” attitude; not even remotely. And there was no love triangle! Yay! Yeah, Eve and Caleb end up liking each other, but Eve doesn’t end up liking Leif, too, so there’s no “oh my gosh, who do I choose?” scenario.

What I Disliked: The romance between Caleb and Eve happens super fast. Especially since there’s two more books in which the Author could develop their relationship in. Why couldn’t Caleb be fiercely protective of Eve in this one without him being romantically attached? And somehow, I just didn’t find the King threatening; his “job title” held no menace.

Believability: I have the same problems with this one as I do with all of the modern dystopian novels I’ve read. The regime was not convincing. If someone was not useful to the King’s society, he would kill them - he wouldn’t let them live outside of his “realm.” What was convincing was the brainwashing that went on at the Schools, and the promise of a future that they in fact never get.

Writing Style: The Author went into too many close-up details, like dried spit, dried tears, sweat droplets, dust particles, runny noses, bad teeth, dry vomit, and other nooks and crannies on the human body that are crawling with the type of grime that no one wants to read about, especially when eating. I wanted to take a bath in acid after I was done reading this book. Now, if an Author wants to emphasize the lack of showers in their world, by all means do so, but don’t get out the microscope and zero it in on clogged lymph nodes and the plaque coating so-and-so’s teeth like cream cheese.

Content: 1 g--damn. Leif tries to rape Eve (pg. 194-196), but it is interrupted in a timely fashion; before any clothes can be removed. The King keeps girls solely for breeding, so there is a constant theme of that, but never is there details or anything that happens, and the Author clearly depicts this as a bad thing.

Conclusion: It was, in all honesty, rather anticlimactic. It seems to me that a lot of pain and trouble could have been saved, too, if Caleb had just told Eve everything.

Recommended Audience: People who liked Pure and Divergent would like this one. I’d say it’s a girl-read, but some guys might like it, too. Definitely intended for an older teen audience.

Others in This Trilogy:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Scarlet - A. C. Gaughen

Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen
Series: Scarlet #1
Genre: YA, classic retelling
Published on February 14, 2012
Published by Walker Childrens
Pages: 292
Read From: 7.7.12 - 7.8.12

Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets - skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood's band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet's biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know. . . .that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl. 
The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in and puts innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more - making this a fight worth dying for.


Cover Blurb: I like the cover. Since the girl is looking up and off to the side, she doesn’t leer at me, I like the silhouettes of the leaves and grass, and I like the title’s font. And the girl isn’t done up too much.

What I Liked: Guy of Gisbourne was spot on and creepy. I’ve always preferred him as the villain over the Sheriff of Nottingham - or even Prince John. He just always seemed more cruel and heartless. And he’s all that in Scarlet. And for once I even liked Robin Hood himself. Maybe it’s because I watched Errol Flynn too much when I was little, and therefore Robin Hood has always struck me as annoying and yes, a bit gay, but I’ve never been especially attached to Robin’s character. I like him in Nancy Springer’s Rowan Hood series, and I didn’t mind him in Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood and Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Chronicles of Robin Hood. But I never really cared about him. Well, in Scarlet, I actually warmed up to his character. He wasn’t always laughing and had merry blue eyes, and he wasn’t always picking on people who were minding their own business. He had depth.

What I Disliked: Sadly, my dislikes far outweigh my likes. Mostly, because of Will Scarlet being a girl. Initially, I thought, Alright, this might work. And it might have . . . In the hands of another Author. But this Author gave pretty Scarlet The Attitude. Her surliness, tough-girl attitude, and lack of humor drove me up a wall. One of the “boys” would offer to help her or would make a little joke and she’d snap his head off. If someone was as bad-tempered as often as Scarlet, I wouldn’t ever help them and I certainly wouldn’t hang around them. I also didn’t like that everyone in Robin Hood’s gang knew she was a girl. It eventually led to romantic troubles that got even further on my nerves. While Scarlet keeps telling John Little that she doesn’t love him, she doesn’t really stop him when he gives her kisses and puts his arm around her, which irritated me as well. Make it bloody plain to him that you don’t like his attentions, Scarlet! Drive home your point painfully, if you have to! That wasn’t the most annoying aspect of the romance, though. We’ve got a bit of a love triangle going on here, and nothing irritates me about a love triangle more than when the two boys start fighting over the girl. Not only did this irritate me from the standpoint of a love triangle, but I also didn’t like John Little and Robin Hood being at odds with each other. I always liked the camaraderie between him and John, and I didn’t like that the Author changed it by throwing in a girl. I also didn’t like that the Author changed John’s personality from being a noble young man who protected everyone like a big brother, to a flirtatious womanizer. And I didn’t feel like I really got to know Much all that well. I also didn’t like that the Author replaced Marion with Scarlet as Robin’s love interest. The Author says in her Author’s Note that Marion “was always doe-eyed and waiting to be rescued.” Uh, actually, I’ve read lots of versions that depict Marion as a very strong woman. She rescues herself from an unwanted marriage because Robin is late in getting to the castle in time, and she’s always at Robin’s side, giving hope to the people and being supportive. How is that “waiting to be rescued?” The nickname “Scar” also really got on my nerves, for some reason.

Believability: Scarlet did rely mostly on stealth and quickness when she killed people, but the karate backflips and kicks started feeling silly very quickly. And sorry, but if Scarlet was that determined to hide as a boy from Guy of Gisbourne, she would have cut her hair. The dialogue also did not feel very authentic.

Writing Style: No present-tense (yay!), but it still managed to be extremely movie-ish. Scarlet is the narrator, and everything is written in what is supposed to be an English street urchin accent. It’s not hard to follow, but it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t feel right. As for storyline structure, I honestly have to wonder why Scarlet had to be a girl at all. As I got closer to the end, it struck me that the Author could have had basically the same story even if Will Scarlet were kept as a boy. And it would have been better.

Content: 5 g--damns, and Scarlet is almost raped (pg. 214). Her attacker rips her shirt off, but then things are halted in a timely fashion.

Conclusion: It’s exciting, and if the Author decided to write a sequel, she could, though I certainly don’t think it needs one. Even if it were a good book, I wouldn’t think it needs one. Tangled up emotions get straightened out, people are killed, Scarlet and Robin finally talk about how they feel, and Robin’s band starts to grow. So it’s a pretty predictable ending, but fits.

Recommended Audience: This is definitely a girl read. So guys who are looking for a good Robin Hood retelling, you might want to look elsewhere. I am actually almost tempted to throw this into the romance genre, there’s that bloody much of it. People who don’t mind a bad-tempered female protagonist, and who don’t mind a bunch of changes to the Robin Hood legend, would probably not mind Scarlet too much. But, honestly, if you want to read a Robin Hood story that has a girl disguised as a boy - or just a good female character - Rowan Hood by Nancy Springer and The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley are both much better.

Others in This Trilogy:
2)Lady Thief
3)Lion Heart

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: The Bad Queen - Carolyn Meyer

The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyer
Series: Young Royals #6
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on April 12, 2010
Published by Harcourt
Pages: 420
Read From: 7.3.12 - 7.5.12

Marie-Antoinette is given endless instructions before she leaves Austria at the age of fourteen to marry the dauphin of France. In her new home at the grand palace of Versailles, her every move is scrutinized by the cruel and gossipy members of the French court. Marie-Antoinette tries to adhere to their stifling rules of etiquette, but sometimes, this fun-loving young woman can't help but indulge herself with scandalous fashions, taboo recreations, elaborate parties - and even a forbidden romance. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
Young Adult
Read From: July 3, 2012 - July 4, 2012

I am having to abandon my “new” way of reviewing books for this one, because this isn’t a story that I can easily break into categories. The elements that I liked also frustrated me, and I am still honestly quite undecided about how I feel about this book. My Readers will be wondering, then, why I gave it five stars, and I must beg you to go on some faith, because I cannot wholly justify why I thought it deserved such a high rating; my gut told me that it should get five stars, so I listened to it. A Monster Calls is an inspirational story, but it isn’t your typical “young teen comes to terms with his life.” Nor is the book a horror story, but at the same it is. There is a monster in the story, and the monster is scary, and while the story does essentially end up being about Conor coming to terms with his mom’s cancer, there is a supernatural and very dark element to the whole thing. It isn’t a feel-good story; I didn’t feel cozy and warm inside when I was done reading it.

The illustrations are way awesome - and also extremely creepy. I made the mistake of showing a friend’s little boy one of the illustrations when he asked to see them, and his smile slipped off his face as soon as he clapped eyes on the monster peering through Conor’s window. It’s amazing what the illustrator did simply with different shades of black, white, and gray.

The end both frustrated and pleased me. It was frustrating because in the end I wasn’t sure if the monster was actually real or if he was merely a manifestation of Conor’s bitter thoughts and feelings. But I also really liked that! Somehow the monster seemed all the scarier to me when I started to suspect that maybe the monster was actually Conor himself. But I think I would have been a little disappointed if the Author had confirmed this. So, by the time I was done with this book, I was left feeling creeped out, frustrated, not at all inspired, and cold. But I was also left feeling strangely thoughtful, pleased that an inspirational story actually held my attention the way it did, and scared in the way that kids feel when they’ve done something terrifying and forbidden, and got away with it (like knocking on the strange neighbor’s creepy house, and lived to tell the tale). But other than the illustrations, I really cannot pinpoint what it is exactly about this book that I liked - and yet, I know I did like it. I am sorry I cannot give a more specific review, and I’m sorry I cannot wholly explain the five-star rating. But that’s the way it is with faith-reviews.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Secrets at Sea - Richard Peck

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck
Genre: Middle Grade, animal fiction
Published on October 13, 2011
Published by Dial
Pages: 238
Read From: 7.1.12 - 7.2.12

Helena is big-sister mouse to three younger siblings, living a snug and well-fed life within the ancient walls of the Cranston family home. When the Cranston humans decide to sail away to England to find a husband for one of their daughters, the Cranston mice stow away in the name of family solidarity. 
And so begins the scamper of their lives as Helena, her siblings, and their humans set sail on a life-changing voyage into the great world of titled humans . . . and titled mice, and surprise endings for all.


Cover Blurb: It’s cute and charming, which is exactly in keeping with the story. I love the title’s font and the colors; very vibrant and fun. What I don’t quite like is the title itself. It doesn’t really capture much of what the story is about.

What I Liked: Helena is a plucky mouse heroine who takes the job of looking after her siblings very seriously. Even so, her fussing and worrying doesn’t get annoying because the behavior of her siblings really does warrant it. Helena treats Louise far better than Louise certainly deserves, I thought, which was commendable. I loved the illustrations because the mice actually looked like real mice, and not characterized cartoons.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to have known Olive better. The mice and other people are always hinting that there’s some reason why no one will marry her, but I never really gathered why it was, and since Olive’s predicament is what starts the adventure in the first place, I think Olive should have been given a bit more writing attention than she was.

Believability: Well, we are talking about mice who sew, wear clothes, talk, drink coffee, write, and do other things that real mice cannot, and do not, do. So believability is a hard thing to talk about at all.

Writing Style: This is the first Richard Peck story I have read, and I must say that I am positively in love with his simple, but funny and charming, writing style. It would have delighted me when I was little, and it delights me as an adult. For a charming little story like this, Richard Peck’s style is perfect. It isn’t beautiful like Rosemary Sutcliff’s, but it has it’s own charm. It isn’t sophisticated like a lot of classics, but it doesn’t talk down to its Reader. It isn’t bitingly sarcastic like Charles Dickens‘s, but it is amusing.

Content: Nothing.

Conclusion: It has some surprises, but everything of course works out well and things end happily, just as charming adventures with talking animals usually do. I’m being slightly sarcastic, but I’m not complaining; Secrets at Sea begged for a happy ending for all characters, so it fit.

Recommended Audience: Kids, of course, and people who like stories about talking animals, but want something very quick and short to read. Girls might like this one better than guys.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review: I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend - Cora Harrison

I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
by Cora Harrison
Young Adult
Read From: July 1, 2012 - July 1, 2012

Cover Blurb: I honestly don’t care for it. The girl does not at all look like she is from the Regency era - her hair and her makeup are all quite modern - and the guy in the background looks nothing like how I imagine Captain Williams. I love the title’s font, but everything else suggests yet another heart-pounding romance story, and while it is romantic, the story is not at all as serious or dramatic at the cover implies.

What I Liked: Jane is an opinionated, energetic, sarcastic, and fun young woman. Jenny is fun, too, but she’s quiet and doesn’t like to get into trouble. As such, she presents a wonderful contrast to Jane’s unique personality. Jenny is a very good narrator and a stronger girl than she at first seems. She may be shy, but if something has to be done, she’ll do it. That is clearly indicated in the very beginning, when Jenny braves the midnight streets to send a letter to Mrs. Austen - a letter that ends up saving Jane’s life. I loved all the different relationships among Jane and her brothers, and I loved the illustrations.

What I Disliked: The only thing that bothered me was the relationship between Jane and her sister Cassandra. It is widely known that she and Cassandra were very close to each other, but never once did I get that feeling in this book. In fact, I got the exact opposite impression. (NOTE: the Author contacted me and explained that the reason she did not portray Jane and Cassandra's close relationship is because in her experience girls at that age don't have their sister as a best friend. While I still wish Jane and Cassandra's relationship had been portrayed as it was in later life - it is possible that they were always close; my sister and I were - I can see the logic behind the Author's choice, and so mark this down as a personal preference complaint, and not a mark against the Author's story choice.) And Captain Williams fell a little flat as a character. This may be due to the fact that the Reader hardly gets a chance to make his acquaintance, but I just didn’t sense much depth in his personality. And I began to wonder how many bloody times Jenny could describe his brown eyes, high cheekbones, and chocolate-smooth voice.

Believability: It’s rather surprising how little is really known about Jane Austen herself, but it’s very evident that the Author delved into the Austen family history as far as she could possibly go, and then used her imagination to flesh out what she couldn’t find hard evidence for. It worked. Knowing Jane’s humor through her writing, it is very easy to imagine Jane the way she is presented in this book. Energetic, sarcastic, always has something to say - and of course, always scribbling. I think the Author gave us a very believable - and probably pretty accurate - Jane Austen.

Writing Style: The majority of the story is written as if it were Jenny’s journal. And then there are a couple of key parts that revert to first-person present-tense narration. I didn’t think such a transition would work. And I dislike present-tense. Amazingly enough, it actually fit the story. The Author also cunningly inserted little incidents and snippets of dialogue that it is implied later inspire scenes and conversations in Jane’s books. Seeing as Jane made a study of human absurdity and folly, it is very possible indeed that a lot of dialogue and incidents in her books were derived from actual circumstances.

Content: Nothing.

Conclusion: After a couple of misunderstandings that were more amusing than frustrating, things end happily, and this is a book that needed a happy ending. Even better, the Author didn’t twist historical events in order to craft a happy ending, since Jenny’s true story has one anyway.

Recommended Audience: Jane Austen fans, of course. Any Austeneer will find this an amusing read. It’s suitable for any age, and a girl read.

Others in This Series:
1)I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
2)Jane Austen Stole My Boyfriend

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Review: Bloodline - Katy Moran

Bloodline by Katy Moran
Series: Bloodline #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on February 10, 2009
Published by Candlewick Press
Pages: 320
Read From: 6.30.12 - 6.30.12

Essa has spent his life on the roadways of Britain, traveling peacfully with his father, Cai, a bard. But these are the Dark Ages, and times are uncertain. When the pair arrives at a Wolf Folk settlement, Cai leaves Essa behind without explanation. Slowly, Essa grows rooted in village life, and the boy who was bound to no one finds himself forging deep allegiances. Still, Essa can't forget Cai or help wondering why his father abandoned him. 
Then the Wolf Folk's sworn enemy, King Penda of Mercia, threatens the settlement, and Essa finds himself thrust into the violent and cunning world of the tribal kings. With the help of unlikely friends, he goes on a desperate journey to avert disaster and save everyone he loves. A deadly battle is brewing, and Essa can influence the outcome in a way nobody understands - except, perhaps, his father.


Cover Blurb: The simplicity of it is nice, and I love the sunset colors. The shield and Celtic design clearly indicate what sort of story it is, and for someone like me who is always on the lookout for good Britannic stories, it’s attention-grabbing.

What I Liked: Essa is a good, strong protagonist whose anger at Cai is completely understandable. While Cai’s secretiveness and lack of communication with his son is later explained - and I can also understand Cai’s reasons - I still sympathized with Essa and understood his hurt. The main girl, Lark, is also a great character; she’s a true tomboy without an attitude, and very fitting for the time period. I also loved the brotherly relationship that forms between Essa and Wulf - two young men who are very much alike, but on opposite sides of the battlefield. In many ways, it reminded me of the friendship between Marcus and Esca in The Eagle of the Ninth. I’ve always been fond of setups like that.

What I Disliked: It came as an absolute surprise to me when Essa discovered he could make his spirit leave his body and occupy animals. The synopsis gives no hint about this mystical element, and when it happened, my immediate reaction was, “Okay, that’s just weird.” It took me a long time to decide how I felt about it. My concluding thought is Essa doesn’t do it very often, so it is something that can be ignored, but it’s still weird and takes just a tiny bit away from the story.

Believability: The Author did research. And she presents her Readers with a believable ancient Britain. The behavior, beliefs, and social customs were all accurate. The times that character speak negatively of Christianity felt like a realistic reaction for the time period, and not like the Author was trying to shove her own personal opinion down my throat through the voice of one of her characters. The battle scenes are also believable. Bloody and brutal.

Writing Style: Katy Moran’s writing approaches the same beautiful quality as Rosemary Sutcliff and Elizabeth Alder. She doesn’t quite reach Sutcliff’s masterful storytelling, but she comes bloody close. Her dialogue is appropriate for the time period and she shows an understanding of the Celtic pride. Her descriptions of the countryside possess the same appreciation Rosemary Sutcliff expresses; an appreciation that can only come from a Celt. Her battle scenes are easy to follow, and the Author does a very good job with tossing a few hints here and there about Essa’s past. She explains just enough to keep the Reader guessing. The story, also, doesn’t drag. It takes a few moments to establish Essa’s standing in the world, but then it leaps head-first into the action. The only thing that separates Katy Moran’s writing from Rosemary Sutcliff is her characters lack some of the depth Sutcliff’s do. Don’t get me wrong - Moran’s characters are good and not at all cardboard; they just aren’t Rosemary’s.

Content: Nothing. There are a lot of battle sequences, but the Author doesn’t go into unnecessary gory detail.

Conclusion: The twist the Author puts in the end came as a total surprise to me. And the ending battle is exciting and fast-paced. It’s a bit of a bittersweet ending, but for a story set in Ancient Britain, what else can one expect?

Recommended Audience: People who love Rosemary Sutcliff. Katy Moran isn’t quite as good, but the writing style and story choice is extremely similar, so they’d enjoy it. This is both a guy and girl read.

Others in This Series:
2)Bloodline Rising

Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: The Academie - Susanne Dunlap

The Academie by Susanne Dunlap
Genre: YA, historical fiction, romance
Published on February 28, 2012
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 368
Read From: 6.29.12 - 6.30.12

Madame Campan's Academie Nationale is one of the most celebrated schools in all of France, and her students are equally illustrious. Meet the impetuous Eliza Monroe - la belle Americaine - whose father will one day be named president of the United States. And Hortense de Beauharnais, Josephine Bonaparte's stunningly beautiful daughter, who has fallen for a man her family will never accept. Meanwhile, Caroline Bonaparte - yes,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review: Betraying Season - Marissa Doyle

Betraying Season by Marissa Doyle
Series: Leland Sisters Trilogy #2
Genre: YA, historical fantasy, romance
Published on September 29, 2009
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 330
Read From: 6.28.12 - 6.29.12

Penelope Leland has come to Ireland to study magic and prove to herself that she is as good a witch as her twin sister, Persy. But when the dashing Niall Keating begins to court her, Pen can't help being distracted from her studies. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers

Grave Mercy
by Robin LaFevers
Young Adult
Read From: June 25, 2012 - June 28, 2012

Cover Blurb: I like the girl in the red dress holding the crossbow. I don’t even mind all that much that you can see the girl’s face, especially since she isn’t looking at the Reader (in other words, me). I think it all seems mysterious and historical and intriguing. But I don’t like the title’s font. Too blocky. It looks like it would be more appropriate for a dystopian or dark romance novel.

What I Liked: Gavriel Duval is a relatively likable male protagonist. He is honorable, and his deep devotion to the duchess is touching. While Ismae didn’t really stand out too much to me as a character, she didn’t particularly annoy me, and she’s a fairly convincing assassin. The whole setup with the convent of Mortain gave me pleasant memories of the Dark Brotherhood in the RPG computer game The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion - right down to the poison names. Whenever Ismae completed a mission for them, I got that same little thrill I experienced when I finished a Dark Brotherhood quest; it brings a little smile to my face. The Author had loads of opportunities to smear Christianity, and she didn’t, which was nice. It’s always in poor taste to smear religions in a fictional work. And while Ismae distrusts men, the story never felt like it was dissolving into a tirade against the male sex. Ismae had legitimate reasons not to trust men - she’d been abused by them her whole life, and she slowly learns that not all men are like that.

What I Disliked: The romance between Duval and Ismae struck me as being very sudden. Quite literally, in one chapter she loathes and hates and distrusts him - which is okay; she initially meets him under suspicious circumstances. But then, the very next chapter, she Ismae’s can’t take her eyes off him. Really? And for being under cover, Ismae could not have been more obvious. It’s hardly a surprise that Duval suspected Ismae had orders to spy on him - and possibly to assassinate him. Ismae also jumps to a lot of conclusions about Duval, based on the word of people she knows are untrustworthy. The only reason this didn’t get super annoying is because the Author is quick to dispel Ismae’s doubt.

Believability: I confess I don’t know a whole lot about Brittany’s history, and the Author has no historical notes in the end of her book. However, she has some interesting blurbs on her website about what inspired Grave Mercy, and I gathered from those that the general political issues and geographical locations are historically accurate. Ismae’s fighting sequences were believable. She relies on stealth and speed, rather than strength, when she kills, thus there is blessedly no scenes where a slight girl in her late teens is taking a man of pure muscle head-on.

Writing Style: Unfortunately, this is yet another book in present-tense. In all seriousness, what is up with that nowadays? While I definitely wish it hadn’t been in present-tense, the style wasn’t completely unsuited for the story. It was all right. The dialogue was moderately accurate for the time period, and there weren’t any particular moments when I just groaned outright over the writing (except when the Author describes kissing a bit too enthusiastically, but I’ll talk about that in a minute). The plot “twist” is, I thought, pretty obvious, and I also have to wonder why the Author had to involve Death - as a deity - at all. The convent could have quite easily just been a place that took in abused girls and trained them to be royal assassins. In many ways, I think this would have made the story more interesting, but that is perhaps personal preference only.

Content: Here’s where things get a little muddy. There is, a little surprisingly, no language. But the Author is not afraid to put in copious sexual alludements. More than one girl is accosted - though nothing comes of it. The very first chapter ends with Ismae’s new husband undressing her in order to bed her. The handmaidens of Mortain often use their “womanly charms” to seduce their assassination targets, and of course there is the fact that Ismae is posing as Duvel’s mistress, which leads to numerous characters making sexual comments. Finally, Ismae lies with Duval in order to save his life. The only reason this book didn’t get a 2-star rating is because while the Author hints and suggests all of these things, she doesn’t detail any of it, and all of the rape scenes are interrupted in a timely manner. But she does love to describe kissing - and I mean describe. I’m seriously put off kissing for life; it’s gross.

Conclusion: It is on the predictable side, but definitely exciting and promises a sequel. The villain’s comeuppance is a little disappointing, especially after all the trouble he has caused. But I suppose it is also realistic and therefore I can’t fault it too much.

Recommended Audience: This is definitely an older-teen read, and a girl read. A few historical fiction fans might like it because of the era and the fact that it deals with a little country that few Authors write about, but the majority of history buffs may be put off by the paranormal aspect. Paranormal romance fans will definitely like it, though.

Others in the His Fair Assassin Trilogy:
1)Grave Mercy
2)Dark Triumph

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: Never Fall Down - Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down
by Patricia McCormick
Young Adult
Read From: June 25, 2012 - June 25, 2012

Cover Blurb: It does have the effect of, “Hmm, this looks like a true story; I wonder what it’s about,” and therefore you’ll pick it up. I like that it’s a straight-forward cover; nothing terribly fancy. It fits the story.

What I Liked: In all honesty, this is not a book that you neither like nor dislike. It’s a true story, and though it is written in a novel style, I consider this to be a nonfiction book. So in terms of what I liked, I’ll say this: I liked that I found it interesting and informative. I liked that the Author was writing about tremendous horrors, and did not find it necessary to go into gory detail. She communicated the brutality of the Khmer Rouge very effectively. I am not a person who easily gets choked up while reading, but I did end up having to gab some tissues while I was reading this, while other times I was just too horrified and shocked to do much else but continue to read. I already knew about the Khmer Rouge and their wonderful Communist ideals, but reading a true story still has a profound affect on me.

What I Disliked: Again, this isn’t a book where it’s a question of like and dislike. I read these kinds of books to be informed. This book definitely informed me, so I can’t say that I disliked anything about it.

Believability: Well, it’s a true account. The Author interviewed Arn and a bunch of other people in the story, so I’d say that the believability is 100%

Writing Style: The Author writes it in present-tense, but it really didn’t bother me like it usually does. What I did dislike was she gave the narrator, Arn, an accent. She did a very good job with it, definitely; I felt like Arn was sitting right across from me, telling his story. But it also made it a little difficult to become absorbed in the story. After a while, though, I did get used to it.

Content: This is a brutal read. The Author doesn’t go into unnecessary gory detail about the violence, but when writing about a group like the Khmer Rouge, one can only soften it so much. There’s blood and violence, people starving to death, kids forced to kill people, and it’s very hard to read, because none of it is fiction. There’s a Khmer Rouge girl who repeatedly takes advantage of Arn, but the Author handles this with even more delicacy, and even less detail. The biggest thing content-wise is language, and it is because of this that I gave this book only 4 stars. If it wasn‘t for the amount of language, it would have gotten 5. 1 f-word and 27 s-words.

Conclusion: It ends happy; Arn obviously lived, and he was adopted by an American, and he faced his demons as best as anyone who has been through a living Hell like that can. But it still isn’t a feel-good story, and I felt very depressed when I was done reading it. I’m not complaining; a story like this shouldn’t make a person feel all happy and joyful and want to go dance and frolic about. It’s a very sobering read.

Recommended Audience: Obviously, this isn’t a book that can be read by any age group. Older teens and adults could read it, and both girls and guys would find it interesting. People who are interested in real-life stories about people who have escaped totalitarian regimes would find this very interesting.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Spirit's Princess - Esther Friesner

Spirit's Princess by Esther Friesner
Series: Spirit's Princess #1
Genre: YA, mythology retelling
Published on April 24, 2012
Published by Random House
Pages: 464
Read From: 6.22.12 - 6.25.12

Himiko shouldn't have a care in the world. As the daughter of the most powerful man in the Matsu clan, she has her every need catered to. But Himiko isn't like other girls. She doesn't want to gossip and play silly games. She'd much rather learn how to hunt and forage in the woods like the boys. So time and again Himiko sets out on her own adventures to prove what she can do. Sometimes these adventures result in injury. Sometimes she connects to the natural world in ways that thrill and frighten her. (Can she really communicate with the forest animals?) And one time Himiko loses her way, yet meets a new clan and gains a best friend. 
Back home, Himiko is as unsettled as ever. . . .until her mother enlists the help of the clan's shaman, Yama. Himiko must receive her shaman lessons in secret - if anyone, especially her austere father, found out about the lessons and Yama's vision of Himiko as future clan leader, the consequences would be severe. Suddenly, Himiko's path is very clear. . . .and dangerous.


Cover Blurb: I liked the other covers for the Author’s books because you didn’t get to see the people full-on, leaving one’s own imagination to imagine what Helen of Troy or Nefertiti looked like. While I like the style of this one, I don’t like that you can see Himiko full-on.

What I Liked: The storyline was intriguing, exciting, and dramatic. Himiko starts out as a little brat, but as the story progresses she improves, and when the book ends she is a strong, sensible, and likable heroine. I loved the brother-sister relationship between her and Aki, as well as the sister relationship between her and Kaya. And it was a lot of fun to hate Himiko’s father, with his stubbornness and often cruel behavior. He was a good minor villain. While Ryo is not in this installment for long, he shows a lot of promise as the next villain.

What I Disliked: As much as I liked Himiko, there was something lacking. I didn’t become as attached to her as I did Helen and Nefertiti. Maybe it’s because she started as such a brat, whereas Helen and Nefertiti, while spoiled, didn’t really do anything bratty or cause their own problems. Himiko did. She’s still a good heroine, but I honestly didn’t like her as much as the other two princesses.

Believability: While this story contains more “magical” occurrences, the Author still portrays it in a way that feels more like historical fiction than fantasy. When something happens, it feels like you’re seeing it through the eyes of a person who believes in spirits and magic. There could be a realistic explanation, but because our narrator is superstitious, that’s not how she perceives it. And Himiko’s way of perceiving things feels very genuine indeed. Like with all of her books, Esther Friesner has clearly put a lot of research into this one, and the long Author’s Note in the back is just as interesting as the story itself.

Writing Style: I’ve never had anything to complain about when it comes to this Author’s writing. The descriptions are nice, there’s good dialogue, and she always retells things in a way that makes them feel new. This one is no different, except one thing: the plot did begin to drag. Halfway through I grew tired of no one standing up to Himiko’s father. This is a long book, remember - 400+ pages. Maintaining a stalemate between two characters for that long gets a little boring after a while. And every time the characters did stand up to Himiko’s father, they would always back down, so it became predictable what would happen when someone got up the gumption to try it again.

Content: There is nothing to complain about. It is very briefly mentioned that Himiko begins her cycle, passing from girlhood to womanhood, but the Author handles it with the utmost delicacy.

Conclusion: Once the stalemate was finally got over, the storyline picked up, and the book ends with a very promising sequel. Now that Himiko trusts her shaman gifts and knows how to control her temper, she is going to be a very good heroine, and I definitely look forward to seeing her take on Ryo.

Recommended Audience: People who like mythology retellings that are told in a historical way, as well as people who are a fan of Esther Friesner’s other books. Any age can read this one, and while girls would probably enjoy it more than guys, it’s not wholly a girl-only read.

Others in This Duology:
1)Spirit's Princess
2)Spirit's Chosen

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review: The Prophet from Ephesus - Caroline Lawrence

The Prophet from Ephesus
by Caroline Lawrence
Middle Grade
Read From: June 21, 2012 - June 22, 2012

Cover Blurb: Like with all of the Roman Mysteries book covers, I like the simplicity and color scheme, as well as how it looks like a painting. This particular cover out of the series is one of the less interesting ones.

What I Liked: As always, I like Nubia; she continues to be the most level-headed, best tempered, and most considerate of the four friends. I will always love Jonathan, but in this book his reoccurring pessimism and “oh, it’s all my fault” attitude really got on my nerves. While certainly it would take forever for someone to reconcile themselves with something as terrible as the fire in Rome, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and sigh when Jonathan brought it back up. He’s beaten that horse enough already.

What I Disliked: I liked Flavia in the first book, but I really don’t like her anymore. It’s been fifteen books and she still hasn’t matured. She seems her age - twelve - and therefore it is really hard to find anything romantic about her crush on Flaccus. It’s even harder to believe that Flaccus loves her because - hello! She’s twelve! And she is definitely not mature for her age! It’s just . . . creepy. I know, twelve was an acceptable age for the Romans, but you know what - it’s still creepy. And not at all romantic.

Believability: Caroline Lawrence does her historical research; that has always been true. She’s always managed to take her four young detectives places in a plausible fashion, and have things happen to them that the Reader could actually see happening. It’s no different in this installment. All of the research is there, the plausibility. And she even goes a step further with her believability when everyone converts to Christianity, but Flavia doesn’t. I was afraid that the Author would have her convert, and I was never convinced that Flavia would ever give up her Roman faith. She’s not that sort of person.

Writing Style: It’s nothing special. She is wonderful at historical description, and often relates historical facts and myths through the characters’ dialogue in a way that doesn’t lessen the dialogue’s believability. But her writing is very moment-by-moment, and she overworks the cliffhanger - every single chapter literally ends in one.

Content: This one had no content of which to speak.

Conclusion: This is where the story fell down. The Author did a terrific job in connecting the loose ends of The Colossus of Rhodes to this one. She had a good setup and an intriguing villain that we fans have been wonderful about ever since The Colossus of Rhodes was first released. But then suddenly everything comes crashing down around our heads. I hate, simply hate it when an Author has a good villain, and then that villain repents, turns all good, and everyone goes home happy. It destroys everything in the story; turns it sour; leaves the Reader utterly unsatisfied. And that is exactly how I felt with this book’s conclusion.

Recommended Audience: This is meant more for the middle school level, and while I am an adult, I still enjoy this series, perhaps mostly because I’ve been reading it since I was ten years old. This is both a girl and guy read.

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 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