Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Cross My Heart - Sasha Gould

Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould
Series: Cross My Heart #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on March 13, 2012
Published by Delacorte Books
Pages: 262
Read From: 7.21.12 - 7.21.12

Cover Blurb: Love the mask - it’s sparkly! And since it is a side profile, the cover doesn’t leer. There’s something of a promise of mystery to it all, which is not at all misleading, though I’ll admit - the smoke just serves to remind me of a cigarette.

What I Liked: Laura is a wonderfully unannoying protagonist: no Attitude, and she’s not helpless or useless. The Author did a terrific job making Vincenzo really creepy and gross. He reminded me of Mr. Gride in Nicholas Nickleby. Giacomo has a gentle, quiet humor that I really appreciated, and though many of the twists were rather predictable, I still liked them.

What I Disliked: What I disliked has to do with the writing.

Believability: I am not all that familiar with Venetian history or politics, so I can’t say too much about the history. From what little I do know, it seems to me that the Author did a pretty good job with research. She definitely did when it came to clothing and social protocol, and the plot itself seemed plausible.

Writing Style: Present tense; bleh. It fit this book fairly well, but I still wish it hadn’t been in present tense. The Author’s descriptions were nice and the dialogue good, though there's a habit of unnecessary detail - why do we need to know what the mouth looks like when shaping the word segreta? Where the story fell down was some plot points. The mystery is good and a lot of twists are good, as I said, but there also could have been much more. A character or sudden revelation would be introduced, and then nothing would happen. Vincenzo makes a very abrupt exit from the story and never appears again; there could have been something more, I felt. And then there’s the secret Laura tells the Segreta as payment for their services. It’s a secret that screams foreshadowing, but nothing at all comes of it.

Content: 1 g--damn.

Conclusion: It’s exciting and well done. And I actually didn’t mind that Laura ended up rescuing Giacomo, because it didn’t feel like a situation put in solely for the purpose of a “gender reversal.”

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction mystery fans, girl read, geared a bit more towards an older audience.

Others in This Series:
1)Cross My Heart
2)Heart of Glass

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: Flame-Coloured Taffeta - Rosemary Sutcliff

Flame-Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction
Published on April 1, 1989
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 144
Read From: 7.15.12 - 7.21.12

Cover Blurb: This is a cover that could do with a makeover. It’s not bad, but it is a tired cover, nothing terribly exciting about it, though it does say “historical fiction right here!”

What I Liked: Damaris is an adventurous and likable protagonist. It’s true that she doesn’t actually do all that much in the story, but it isn’t because she’s useless; there just isn’t all that much that happens. It’s a novella, remember. Tom’s humor is surprisingly funny; I wasn’t entirely expecting it, and I liked it. And of course Snowball, Damaris’s fat little pony, was adorable.

What I Disliked: Only the fact that it wasn’t longer. So much more could have happened, and I wish more had.

Believability: This Author does an amazing amount of research for her stories; she’s known for it. And she always has a wonderfully detailed Author’s Note for all of her stories that explains what isn’t true or if she has changed the locations of things (which she doesn’t do often). Though only a novella, I got the feeling that she gave the historical aspects of this story as much attention as her others.

Writing Style: Some reviewers (and no, I am not pointing fingers at anyone in particular) complained that Readers would have difficulty getting past all of the long sentences and apostrophes and dashes. They make it sound like the book is difficult to get through. It isn’t. It took me longer to read than it should have because I was distracted that week, but on a normal week it would have only taken me half a day. There is nothing wrong with Sutcliff’s writing style - as usual. I never have anything to complain about with her writing. The sentences are no longer than usual.

Content: None.

Conclusion: My biggest complaint is, definitely, that the story wasn’t longer. It felt like it had so much more that could have happened - and did happen, but in the background. This could have easily gone from a novella to a full-fledged novel. That is my only sorrow. For a novella, the end was satisfying enough, but still - more could have happened.

Recommended Audience: It is appropriate for all ages, both guys and girls would like it, and historical fiction fans will enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Review: The Willoughbys - Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Genre: Middle Grade, satire
Published on March 31, 2008
Published by HMH Books
Pages: 174
Read From: 7.15.12 - 7.15.12

If you start this book without the knowledge that it is a satire against classic stories about charming orphans and nannies, then the story will come across as perfectly horrid, downright mean, and not at all pleasant. But keep in mind that it is a satire. And it is a very funny satire. It’s very Snickety, in many ways, and the Author pokes fun at stories like Mary Poppins in a truly amusing way. Maybe adults will enjoy it more than kids, because adults will have read all of the books Lois Lowry makes fun of, and they will more readily recognize this as a satire. But I think there are a number of kids that would find it amusing, especially well-read kids. Even if you don’t know the stories it refers to, Readers will find it funny. This isn’t a story where the Reader must care about the characters; it’s a satire. And in satires, characters are supposed to be silly or horrid or utterly ridiculous. So don’t go into this book expecting a serious story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: City of Cannibals - Ricki Thompson

City of Cannibals by Ricki Thompson
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on February 1, 2010
Published by Front Street
Pages: 269
Read From: 7.14.12 - 7.14.12

"You will not show yourself to the boy."  
"Yes. I mean, I won't, Father."  
"Or venture past your mother's cross." He gripped his spoon as if it were a knife. "You know why it is called the City of Cannibals." 
Of course Dell knows. But here on the mountain, all she has is her embittered family - a brother who torments her, an auntie who berates her, and a father who's drunk. 
And once she arrives in the city - if the cannibals don't eat her first - surely the Brown Boy will help her. Not that she's ever spoken to him, but she has seen him leave sacks of supplies for her family. Dell has waited long enough. She escapes to the city. 
The City of Cannibals is indeed fraught with dangers and surprises. The Brown Boy, Ronaldo, seems to love the fishmonger's daughter and he's about to become a Benedictine monk. John the Joiner asks Dell whether she's signed the Oath of Allegiance to the king, and if she will deliver secret letters to the Benedictine monastery. Worrisome messages about sheep and wolves. 
Dell has good reason not to sign the Oath. So does Ronaldo. But the king's command is clear: every subject must sign or die a traitor's death. If Dell defies the king, can she save herself and Ronaldo?


Cover Blurb: Even though it leers, I kind of like it. I certainly like the title’s font (you’ve probably noticed by now that I love swirly, fancy fonts), and I like the colors. Though I admit my first thought was that this was a story that took place in India, until I read it, of course.

What I Liked: I loved Bartholomew. It is true that he was only a puppet that Dell controlled, but somehow he was the best character in the whole story. That isn’t a mark against the other characters, either, because they are also good. But Bartholomew really stole the stage, as does Margery, who is one of those wonderful bubbly-personality characters who somehow manages not to be annoying. Dell and Ronaldo are good protagonists, though I’ll admit there is nothing especially memorable about them.

What I Disliked: I wish the Author had talked more about Dell’s mother. Considering her mother’s past has quite a bit to do with the storyline, I felt that I didn’t really get to know her all that well, and I would have liked to.

Believability: The Author has done research, especially in the area of how filthy cities were. No complaints in this area; Dell sports no attitude that is unrealistic for a girl in that century, nor does Ronaldo.

Writing Style: It was nothing special, nor was it bad. Though I must say that the Author’s gritty descriptions, while accurate, are gross and a little overdone. I didn’t need to know about every chamber pot, rotten guts, and foul smell that Dell encounters. I understood the first time.

Content: 1 s-word, and several sexual innuendos. Dell and Ronaldo do sleep together, but the actual “act” is entirely skipped over.

Conclusion: The end is very abrupt, but it somehow fit the story well enough. I do rather wish the Author had said what happened to John the Joiner, but other than that, the end was satisfying enough. As a whole, I liked the story; Bartholomew definitely makes it worth reading.

Recommended Audience: Historical fiction fans, more of a girl read than a guy read, and a bit of an older audience because of the sexual content, even though it isn’t detailed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: The New Policeman - Kate Thompson

The New Policeman by Kate Thompson
Series: New Policeman #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on January 11, 2007
Published by Greenwillow Books
Pages: 442
Read From: 7.10.12 - 7.14.12

Cover Blurb: I like the clock gears and the blue color. But I think it’s a little misleading because my first thought when I saw this cover was that it was a time travel story, and it isn’t.

What I Liked: All the tunes at the end of each chapter! Being a musician, how can I not like that? While I am not a fan of J.J.’s name, I liked him pretty well as a protagonist, though I’ll confess he isn’t the most memorable protagonist I’ve encountered. But I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse him of being cardboard. I was mostly too distracted by some of the story’s flaws to really pay attention to him as a character. I did love the other characters, though, especially the ones in Tir na n’Og. They were every one of them memorable, with their peculiar traits.

What I Disliked: Most of this falls under the category of writing style, so I’ll just put down some here, and that is the book’s title. It does not become apparent until the very end of the story why the book is named after Larry O’Dwyer - the new policeman in the village. He isn’t a very prominent character - quite absent, in fact. And yes, the end does explain in full why the book is named after him, and it makes sense then, but up until that point, it’s just confusing and consequently annoying. The Author ought to have put a few more hints to the importance of his role earlier on in the story so the Reader isn’t going, “O-kay, why is he important again?”

Believability: I’ll address the Author’s musical knowledge in this section, since believability is rather inapplicable to this story. Well, I’ll say this, the Author does know something about music, and clearly understands the musical abilities that come to musicians who start at a young age. And clearly she knows something about fiddling. I probably sound surprised at this discovery, and I am, because there are a number of Authors out there who write about music, but don’t have a clue about what they’re talking about. I am happily pleased (and yes, I know that is grammatically incorrect) to announce that this Author knows what she’s talking about - yay!

Writing Style: The style itself is fine. It’s the pacing of the story that I had trouble with. The first 100 pages of the story is very slow, but there is just enough of a What the heck element that it kept me reading. Once J.J. ends up in Tir na n’Og, I expected the pace to pick up a bit, and it did. Only just, though, and in all reality it only held my interest because of the few random strange things that happened while he was there. But the reality is the story doesn’t pick up much. Half of me says that this lent an air of surreal-ness to the story, and the other half of me says that it just made the story less than it could have been. I tend to agree with the latter half most days. And then there was the Author’s portrayal of Tir na n’Og. I always love reading the different variations Authors have on this, but I didn’t much care for hers. At first I kind of liked it, but as time went on, I decided that it lacked the eerie magic and the pure wildness I always imagined to be found there. The only eerie part was the fact that it looked like J.J.’s village, and that’s about it.

Content: Nothing.

Conclusion: The solution to the time leak bordered on being lame. It felt too simple, too easy. I liked how it tied into one of J.J.’s family legends, but when the time leak was fixed, my immediate reaction was, “That’s all you do? Seriously?” This story could have used a climax; it completely lacked that.

Recommended Audience: It’s both a girl and guy read, suitable for any age, and recommended to anyone who likes stories that deal with Irish legend.

Others in This Series:
1)The New Policeman
2)The Last of the High Kings
3)The White Horse Trick

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: The Sacrifice - Kathleen Benner Duble

The Sacrifice by Kathleen Benner Duble
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on September 6, 2005
Published by Margaret K. McElderry
Pages: 224
Read From: 7.9.12 - 9.10.12

In the year 1692, life forever changes for ten-year-old Abigail Faulkner and her family. In Salem, Massachusetts, witches have been found, and widespread fear and panic reign mere miles from Abigail's home of Andover. When two girls are brought from Salem to identify witches in Andover, suspicion sweeps the town as well-respected members of the community are accused of witchcraft. It isn't long before chaos consumes Andover, and the Faulkners find themselves n the center of it all when friend turns against friend, neighbor against neighbor, in a desperate fight for the truth. At the heart of this gripping story are Abigail and her sister, Dorothy, who together must find a way to persevere during a period marked by terror, adversity, and ignorance.


For such a fast-paced story, it was pretty intense. It doesn’t take long for Abigail to be accused of witchcraft, and once that happens, things move along at a clipped pace, holding one’s attention until the very end. The ending itself is pretty abrupt, but the Author’s Note fills in what holes are left, so it is definitely advisable to read that. The writing itself is pleasing, the dialogue authentic, though I kept thinking that it really should have been told in Abigail’s voice. I think she would have made a great narrator. Other than that little complaint, this is a very quick, fun read that I’d recommend to any historical fiction fan, guy or girl.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: Bewitching - Alex Flinn

Bewitching by Alex Flinn
Genre: YA, fairy tale retelling
Published on February 14, 2012
Published by Harper Teen
Pages: 336
Read From: 7.8.12 - 7.9.12

Once, I put a curse on a beastly and arrogant high school boy. That one turned out all right. Others didn't. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Review: Lost in the Labyrinth - Patrice Kindl

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl
Genre: YA, mythology retelling
Published on August 26, 2002
Published by HMH Books
Pages: 194
Read From: 7.8.12 - 7.8.12

Princess Xenodice is content to spend her days tending to the animals in the royal menagerie, haunting the workshop of a beautiful young man named Icarus, and visiting her brother who lives in the Labyrinth. Her safe and privileged world, however, has ominous cracks underfoot. 
Soon battles for power and revenge threaten everything Xenodice loves. Betrayals from both within and without her family lead to a series of tragedies that Xenodice struggles to avert.


Cover Blurb: It’s so-so. It caught my attention because clearly it dealt with Ancient times. I like how the labyrinth is carved into the face. But other than that, it doesn’t have too much effect either way.

What I Liked: Asterius is probably one of the more likable portrayals of the Minotaur that I’ve read. I found it easy to understand Xenodice’s attachment to him. This made it even easier to really dislike the people who were mean to him and Xenodice - Ariadne especially. It was interesting to for once think of Ariadne as the villain in the story, and the Author pulled it off. Ariadne was a conniving, mean little thing, and I really wanted Xenodice to put her in her place. I loved the portrayal of Theseus as a boastful, hot-headed young man. It’s a common enough portrayal in mythology retellings anymore, but this one was especially good. I also loved how the Author wove in the story of Icarus and his ill-fated wax wings.

What I Disliked: It did frustrate me that Xenodice bowed to Ariadne’s will all the time. I kept wanting to shout at her to just tell Ariadne no, despite the consequences; find a way to get back at her before she can punish Xenodice. One of the character’s betrayals (I won’t say who, that’d be spoiling things) bothered me because I really liked the character, and his betrayal didn’t make absolute sense to me.

Believability: The Author didn’t really have that much magic in the story, and what small incidences of magic that occurred came across as merely how the people might see something, though it is made pretty clear that Asterius really is half bull, half man. Being a mythology retelling, it’s hard to say anything about believability.

Writing Style: It was surprisingly pleasing. It has an old feel to it, not at all movie-ish, and is simple. Though why the Author insisted on describing Xenodice’s breasts is beyond me. It also seems to me that there ought to have been more with Eumenes, considering the revelation of who his father was.

Content: Nothing of consequence.

Conclusion: The ending was very bittersweet. Naturally Asterius dies - I have yet to read a retelling of this particular myth where the Minotaur lives. The appearance of Ariadne’s ghost was rather confusing; what exactly was she trying to tell Xenodice, and why is it even important? But for the most part, it wasn’t disappointing.

Recommended Audience: Anyone who likes mythology retellings and is looking for a short read. Guys and girls would like it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on May 15, 2012
Published by Hyperion
Pages: 343
Read From: 8.7.12 - 8.9.12

Cover Blurb: The title is what initially caught my attention, but the cover caught it even more. After reading the story, I have more appreciation for it; the two hands clasped - and tied - together signifying Verity and Maddie’s friendship.

What I Liked: Verity and Maddie are both awesome protagonists. They are spunky and sarcastic (Verity especially) without having The Attitude, and they felt totally authentic for the time period. I loved ‘em.

What I Disliked: I was a little sad that the Author actually reveals Verity’s real name. I liked not knowing it, for some reason.

Believability: Here’s where I had some difficulty. The Author definitely did research on the S.O.E. and the many other elements in her story - the very lengthy Author’s Note in the back proves this, as well as my own research. However, the Gestapo agent that was responsible for Verity’s interrogation was not believable. I just don’t believe that the Gestapo would accept Verity’s long-winded, novel-style personal story as a confession. The thumb screws would be brought out. And if he (the interrogator) were showing sympathetic signs, he would be punished. It’s true that his superiors start pressuring him, but they would do more than that. This may seem like a little flaw, but it isn’t, because Verity’s entire half of the story is told through her confession, therefore we the Readers must accept that it’s a plausible for of narration. It isn’t, thus the whole story has an underlying element of un-authenticity.

Writing Style: The first half of Code Name Verity is written as Verity’s confession to the Gestapo, therefore it’s a combination of present-tense and past-tense, and very choppy in instances. The second half is told by Maddie, in a journal-like style. It, too, is sometimes choppy, but I didn’t mind it as much as Verity’s narration. My first reaction to how the book was written was very negative; I almost stopped reading it immediately. But after a little while, the style did grow on me a bit. I still didn’t like it, but I got used to it enough that I was able to finish - and enjoy - the story.

Content: 8 s-words, 2 f-words. The Author eludes to torture and sexual content without actually saying what happened.

Conclusion: The end is bittersweet, which fit this story very well. It’s a very moving conclusion; I actually felt like crying, and I don’t cry very often while reading. Despite the rather unbelievable Gestapo agent, I did like Code Name Verity. It’s a very good WWII novel with very strong, very believable female protagonists that lack Attitude and flakiness.

Recommended Audience: Fans of WWII-based novels, and Readers who are anxious for strong female protagonists that don’t have The Attitude. This is a guy-and-girl read, but intended for an older audience because of the language.