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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Miss Buncle's Book












Review of Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson:

Overview from www.bn.com: Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara's bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel ... if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.
To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It's a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle's world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?
A beloved author who has sold more than seven million books, D. E. Stevenson is at her best with Miss Buncle's Book, crafting a highly original and charming tale about what happens when people see themselves through someone else's eyes.

My Review:


This next book is going to be hard to describe. It was apparently written in the 1930’s by an author that I had never heard of before. It features the story of one Barbara Buncle who is something of a spinster leaving with her maid in a small English village.

When I started to read this one, I had just finished reading one of my writing books that goes into much detail about how to write certain styles of POV (Point of View) and when you might want to use which. I think this influenced my opinion of the book.

The first chapter, I am sorry to say, was rather boring. It begins with an opening sentence of: “One fine summer’s morning the sun peeped over the hills and looked down upon the valley of Silverstream.” Boring. Of course, I had to remind myself that this was a different time and this is how many books were written at that time.

The first chapter continues on in the same veins, going on to talk about cows in the valley and then the baker and her struggle to find a good employee to deliver her buns. Even when we finally get to our heroine’s house, we hear a great deal about Dorcas, her housekeeper, and her struggles to get her work done.

Eventually, after a couple of chapters, it starts to get interesting. We learn about Barbara’s book and how she had it accepted by the first publisher she sent it to. (Not fair at all.) But it is what the book is about that turns her little village upside down.

It is all about her town and her neighbors. She wrote a book that was essential about them and what they have done. Of course, they don’t like it one bit, even if she did change a few names and characteristics.

Much to their chagrin, the book, entitled Disturber of the Peace, is a runaway best seller. Lawyers refuse to take a libel suit to court for fear of looking ridiculous and the publisher, Mr. Abbott, won’t listen to their demands that he remove it from the market, so what’s left?

Members of the town of Silverstream vow to discover once and for all who the author is and to come up with a way that they can punish him. (Only Dorcas, Barbara, and her publisher know Barbara’s identity since she used a pen name.)

And while all of this is going on, some of the real life people that Barbara has based her characters on decide to take up the author’s advice and follow the path of the characters they are based on by doing exactly the same things that Barbara has their counterparts doing. Meanwhile, Barbara is writing a sequel.

So, yes, the book started out slow but it did get interesting. I found Barbara to be a wonderful protagonist. I didn’t always appreciate the omniscient, authorial intrusion but the story and the characters more than made up for that. I liked their amusing expressions such as Dorcas saying, “I am all behind, like a cow’s tail.” It reminded me of a lot of South Eastern American expressions that amuse me.

And, to top it off, nothing in this story was really offensive to me. (Though Mrs. Featherstone Hogg might feel differently.) It was just some good, clean fun all around.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Wanderers












Review of The Wanderers by Cheryl Mahoney

Overview from www.bn.com: The Wanderers is set in a world inspired by fairy tales--but with a bit of a twist! You might recognize the landscape, and you may think you know the rules, but you’ve strayed beyond the tales. Come join a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter as they fight monsters, pursue quests, and learn that sometimes, rules are no help at all.

My Review:


Cheryl Mahoney, a writer whose blog I sometimes read, sent me an email a few weeks back asking me if I would like a copy of her book The Wanders, presumably for review. Her blog “Tales of the Marvelous” features many fanciful stories that I often enjoy. And it is a free book! So of course I said, send it on over.

I imagined that I would like it since I liked her blog but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like it. I like Fantasy fiction, I do. It is not however, my favorite genre. That would be Historical Fiction but Fantasy is a close second or third.

That being said, I really liked this Fantasy book a lot. In fact, I think I loved it. It was not only good but it put a humorous twist on the genre. Sort of like Shrek but without the ogre. Wait, actually, there is an ogre but he is not a main character let alone the good guy.

So just who is our main character? Well, actually I would venture to say that there really are three. But the first one we meet is Jasper who is the wandering hero type (though he prefers the term “wandering adventurer”).

He travels throughout the land saving people who need to be rescued, usually the damsel in distress type. One day, however, as he attempts to defeat a corrupt magician who is abusing his power—and don’t they all—he befriends Tom who is your typical tabby cat. He is typical except for the fact that he is under an enchantment and is thus able to talk.

After they defeat the magician Jasper invites Tom to join him in his wandering life of adventure and Tom accepts. Although Jasper realizes that he is breaking one of his rules, this one is about travelling alone; he decides it doesn’t count since Tom is a cat.

Enter Julie, our third main character. Julie is the next damsel in distress type that Jasper will try to save; this time his goal is to free her from the witch who is holding her captive. But there is something not quite right about her and the whole situation.

Jasper sneaks out the window after discovering that his reward for rescuing her is her hand in marriage. Jasper doesn’t want to get married.

But Julie also doesn’t want to get married and so she finds Jasper and begs him to let her join their party. Reluctantly he agrees to temporarily allow her to travel with him and Tom. Along the way, all three of our main characters will find their true selves and what it is they really want out of life while having some wild adventures.

What I liked about this most of all was that it was funny. I loved the way it takes accepted Fantasy norms and pokes fun at them. This is where it reminded me of Shrek the most.

I also appreciated that the story did not have a lot of crass content or an excess of violence yet all of the regular Fantasy norms were there. The adventures the characters go on are stories in and of themselves yet they really serve to bind our three main characters together. And it was just a lot of fun to read. Unless you hate the Fantasy genre altogether, I think you will like this one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Lady of Devices












Review of Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina

Overview from www.bn.com: Book one of the bestselling Magnificent Devices series!
London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin's son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.
At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire's talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It's not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices . . .
When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .

My Review:

Lady of Devices was special for me, in a way, and not because I am personally attached to the book. It was special—or at least different—because it is the first Steam punk novel that I have ever read.

Since I first read about this genre I have always been curious what one of its novels would be like so when a reader of Barnes and Noble’s blog recommended this book (and mentioned the fact that it was also free), I thought this would be a great way to see if this genre could appeal to me.

I love history and have always liked the Victorian era so it seemed like a natural fit. I still can’t say that I really understand what Steampunk is all about but I think I have a better idea.

So back to the book. The verdict is that I liked it a lot. It seems to be a blend of some form of alternate history where gasoline powered vehicles do not become the dominant means of transportation but rather those of steam.

Also, though Victorian standards still rule, women seem to have more options open to them in this version of London. Our heroine, Claire, is a smart and capable young lady of means who may not necessarily be the most attractive girl in London. Nevertheless, she knows what she wants to do with her life and it is not to marry some upper crust loser and live unhappily ever after. She wants to go to the university.

It seems like her mother will have the upper hand though and after her finishing school graduation she will be expected to make a suitable match. But everything changes when her father dies and leaves the family with next to nothing.

Claire is told to stay behind at their old home while her mother relocates their family. But when there old home is attached by those seeking vengeance against her father Claire is forced to move in with some ruffian children so that she can realize her dream of independence from her mother.

The story is moving and entertaining at the same time though I think I might have enjoyed it a little more if I understood more about this genre.

Claire is feisty and determined yet caring. Even when her friends let her down, she still chooses to believe in them. She was certainly a heroine who I felt invested in and wanted to succeed.

The novel itself doesn’t take too many huge leaps regarding the original feel of the period though much of the technology as well as the status of United States was different. This only made the story more interesting to me.

If you like history and are content with taking a few leaps of fantasy along with it, I think you might like this novel as well. And the best part? There wasn’t any objectionable material that I have encountered in some of the other books that I have review on here. I just might decide to read another of novel by this author in the near future. And I am definitely recommending this one.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Scavenger Hunt












Review of Scavenger Hunt by Yvonne Montgomery

Overview from www.bn.com: Denver stockbroker, Finny Aletter, dreams of quitting her cutthroat job to restore historic houses, but the murder of her boss—and ex-lover—Elliot Fulton keeps her in the world of scavengers.

When a prized manuscript that once belonged to Elliot surfaces, Finny tops the list of possible killers.

Now, Finny must find Elliot's killer by tracing the manuscript's origin and stay one step ahead of Lieutenant Chris Barelli, the cynical homicide detective working the case, if he is to see her as more than a sexy suspect.

My Review:


This week I go back to the mystery genre. I found this one lurking in my digital library and realized that I’d never read it. And now I have remedied that problem.

However, I am not sure that was such a good idea as this one was something of a disappointment. It seemed to have so much promise that I am not entirely sure where it all went wrong. And while it is not the worst one that I have read it is not the best either.

So what was wrong with it? Well, to start off with I had a hard time liking our heroine. Her name is Finny Aletter but it is not the name that I had trouble with, even if it is a bit odd. Instead it was her attitude about certain things.

First off, at the beginning of the book, but after the murder of her boss, we discover that Finny had once had an affair with said boss. The affair ended ten years prior and I think I would have been fine with it if it weren’t with the fact that Finny seems to feel that cheating with a married man who happens to be her boss is not a big deal.

I could have accepted it much better if she had simply said, “Yes, I cheated with my boss but I have learned from my mistake and have moved on,” or something to that effect. Instead we get a woman who admits to cheating with her boss but does not seem the least bit sorry that she did it. I get the impression that our Finny feels that everyone cheats at some point or another and it just isn’t that big of a deal. So while she may not be guilty of killing him, she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for his family either.

The other thing that I didn’t like about Finny was that she never really solves the crime. She investigates, sure, but the solution to crime just falls into her lap when the guilty culprit decides to confess although Finny is already convinced that someone else did it (and the murder is aware of it as well). This problem was more noticeable, I think, than it would have been if this book were not a part of series. (It was labeled as “a Finny Aletter” mystery #1.) In my opinion a mystery series heroine ought to be much better at solving crimes.

The next problem is that we are never told how Finny will get into the crime solving business. At the beginning of the story we hear that she is planning on quitting her job but not so that she can become a detective, she intends to go into the interior decorating business. After reading this book it is still a mystery to me (pun intended) how our Finny will go from interior decorator to detective.

Finally, the swearing and sexuality were a little bit more than I would have liked and it disappointed me since it seemed like the author snuck them in a little late in story, almost as an afterthought (and one that I think she’d have done better to leave out). My afterthought at the end of all this is, I am not recommending this one.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Wasteland











Review of Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan

Overview from www.bn.com: Fans of the Divergent and Hunger Games series will love Wasteland, the first installment of the Wasteland trilogy, by five-time Emmy Award–nominated writer Susan Kim and Edgar Award–winning Laurence Klavan. With heart-pounding thrills, this harrowing survival story is alive with action and intrigue. Welcome to the Wasteland, a post-apocalyptic U.S. where no one lives past the age of 19. But an early death isn’t the only doom waiting around the corner: Everyone is forced to live under the looming threat of rampant disease and brutal attacks by the variants—hermaphroditic outcasts that live on the outskirts of Prin.
Esther doesn’t care that her best friend, a variant, is considered “the enemy.” She doesn’t care that Levi, who controls the Source, is the real enemy and might send his Taser boys after her if she makes one wrong move. Then she meets Caleb, and just possibly, she might have a chance at salvation.

My Review:


This week we are heading into a future where no one has ever been known to live past the age of 19. In the dystopian era of the novel Wasteland, everyone dies early from a sort of unknown plague. Despite the fact that anyone with symptoms of this plague is banished from the city of Prin, where our heroin Esther lives, it continues unabated.

Because of humanity’s relatively short life spans, “partnering” and childbirth occur earlier than in our own time and children are somewhat rare to find. As a consequence Esther’s older sister Sara is considered an old maid at eighteen and Esther will be one soon herself if she doesn’t find someone. Not that she’s in a hurry or anything.

She is still a child at heart and loves nothing more than playing an elaborate version of hide and seek with her “variant” friend Skar. Variants are a group of people who are basically born as hermaphrodites, due to what is thought to be a genetic mutation of their race, and are allowed to choose which sex they identify as. Skar identifies herself as a female which thrills Esther as it gives them something in common.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the existence of the variants, let alone the fact that Esther chooses to be friends with one. Their friendship eventually becomes downright dangerous for both of them when the variants start attacking the “norms” for no apparent reason.

And this is where I almost quit reading. At this point in the story we had already established the long and close friendship between Skar and Esther, so I kept wondering why, after the first attack, Esther didn’t go to her friend and try to find out the cause. I mean if their friendship is that important wouldn’t Esther want to get to the bottom of this so that it could be resolved as soon as possible?

Yet she doesn’t even attempt to figure it out until much later in the story. I really didn’t understand this. And as I said I almost quit reading at this point but then I decided to give the story another chance.

I am glad I did. It got much better from there on out, almost as if the authors realized their mistake and were trying to make up for it. There were a lot of surprises along the way. Things happened that I didn’t expect. Mysteries were explained in such a way that I didn’t see them coming. It was a really great ride. I am glad I gave this one a chance.

So the review overall, it turned out was mostly positive. I liked it. However I won’t go so far as to say I loved it. Still I didn’t find it as bad as some other reviewers did. I am not sure what they expected. I wasn’t expecting a great work of literature but an entertaining read. I got what I wanted.

Contains: some sexuality and violence

Friday, November 22, 2013

Update: No Post This Weekend

This is just an update to let my readers know that I will not be able to post a review this week since I am going out of town. The review for next week will probably be a day or two late also. I hope too many of you are not disappointed.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Rockin' Chair














Review of The Rockin' Chair by Stephen Manchester

Overview from www.bn.com: Memories are the ultimate contradiction. They can warm us on our coldest days – or they can freeze a loved one out of our lives forever. The McCarthy family has a trove of warm memories. Of innocent first kisses. Of sumptuous family meals. Of wondrous lessons learned at the foot of a rocking chair. But they also have had their share of icy ones. Of words that can never be unsaid. Of choices that can never be unmade. Of actions that can never be undone.

Following the death of his beloved wife, John McCarthy – Grandpa John – calls his family back home. It is time for them to face the memories they have made, both warm and cold. Only then can they move beyond them and into the future.

My Review:


I am heading back to the present with this week’s review of The Rockin’ Chair. This is really the story of four generations of one family but we are introduced first to John, Alice and Elle.

John and Alice are an older married couple though at this stage Alice mostly forgets that’s she’s even an adult, let alone that she’s married. She is in final stage of Alzheimer’s and though the local doctor has advised John to have her institutionalized, he will have none of it. He made her a promise that she could die at home and he intends to keep it.

After she’s gone, John doesn’t want to live anymore. He asks God why he shouldn’t go too and at her funeral the answer comes to him—he is still alive so that he can repair the broken relationships in his family and that is what he sets out to do.

But it won’t be easy. The hardest bridge to cross might be the one leading to his son Hank’s house. The way John sees it; Hank left the farm driven by his own pride and is the main culprit for their bad blood. Hank sees it in the reverse; he never felt loved by his father and he carried that same bitterness into his relationship with his own three children. And those three children are about to come home though none of them will make it home in time to say goodbye to their beloved grandmother.

At the funeral John finally faces up to his own stubbornness as well as his destiny to try to bring the family back together again. He will pull out all the stops to get them to rid the family of its demons.

However, I didn’t find any demons in this story, other than the ones that the characters were facing. John’s story could be anyone’s, though it takes place mostly on his Montana farm, it could be anywhere. John’s family are everything to him but he has trouble telling him that.

Both the children and grandchildren and even the little great-granddaughter seek his approval but aren’t sure if they can live up to his high standards. He tries to show them that as long as you live up to the values they were raised with and do your best, you can hold your head up high when you go to meet God. His simple, folksy wisdom might be his family’s undoing. And if you’re like me, you just might shed a tear or two in the process. I liked this one a lot and am recommending it highly.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Forgotten Legion


 
Review of The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
 
Overview from www.goodreads.com: An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold — Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day — and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.
 

My Review:

 
 
The story for this week takes place during the Roman Era, B.C. The story is told from four different viewpoints, all of them slaves serving in Rome’s vast empire.
We start with Tarquinius, one of the last pure blood Etruscans still alive after Rome practically wiped them out. He is trying to hold onto his people’s heritage and their art of predicting the future as the protégé of the last Etruscan haruspex or soothsayer. His mentor is predicting a long journey for him after his death (the mentor’s, that is) while Tarquinius just wants to survive long enough to exact his revenge on his teacher’s killer and carry on his mission of passing on their ways.
Then we have Fabiola and Romulus who exist because their mother was raped many years ago by a Roman patrician (or an upper-class person). They are separately sold to a brothel and a gladiator school. Both vow revenge for the rape of their mother.
And last, but not least, we have Brennus, a Gaul whose homeland was also conquered by the Romans. While he tried to retaliate, he was taken as a captive slave and forced to fight in the arena.
The story tells the tale of how all of these lives intersect, though unlike her brother Romulus, Fabiola never actually meets Tarquinius or Brennus. She is, however, known to them even though they are not known to her. Even without her brother she proves that she can hold her own as she catches the eyes of Rome’s leading citizens as a favorite prostitute all the while hoping to find her brother and the name of the patrician who raped her mother.
The characters are each compelling in their own ways even if some of the things they are forced to do to survive breaks our hearts. Before reading this story I had always been under the erroneous assumption that the slaves in the Roman Empire were better treated than those in the United States but that was not the case.
They were forced to fight to death, many times, in the arena, as entertainment for the fickle masses. Others, like Romulus and Fabiola’s mother, could be raped, knowing that their assailants would never be punished. And of course, they could also be forced into prostitution. No wonder Spartacus and others tried to revolt.
During this time, Spartacus’ failed uprising is still fresh in many minds as he and his cohorts were brutally crushed by Marcus Licinius Crassus in his quest for domination of the Roman Empire.
It is Crassus in fact who eventually leads three of our four main characters on failed campaign to conquer Parthia that sends them to the far ends of the world. To say that his military leadership is lacking would be a gross understatement as his soldiers are forced to pay for his stubbornness.
The stories here were compelling. The Etruscan aspect had me hooked from the beginning since I have always found them fascinating. Their culture was different in many ways not only from the Romans but also from most of the ancient peoples. I am not sure if they were really that accurate in their predictions but that aspect of their culture manifested in the person of Tarquinius is an incredible way to tell the story.
The downsides were only the excessive use of the f-bomb and some of the graphic sexual descriptions of what Fabiola is forced to resort to. It broke my heart at the same time as it disgusted me.
In summary, I liked this one but didn’t love it. Well I only loved the Etruscan parts. Still I learned a lot and was entertained at the same time. For this reason alone, I am recommending it.

 
 

 




Saturday, November 2, 2013

No Less Than Victory





 
Review of No Less Than Victory by Jeff Shaara
 
Overview from www.goodreads.com: After the success of the Normandy invasion, the Allied commanders are buoyantly confident that the war in Europe will be over in a matter of weeks, that Hitler and his battered army have no other option than surrender. But despite the advice of his best military minds, Hitler will hear no talk of defeat. In mid-December 1944, the Germans launch a desperate and ruthless counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest, utterly surprising the unprepared Americans who stand in their way. Through the frigid snows of the mountainous terrain, German tanks and infantry struggle to realize Hitler’s goal: divide the Allied armies and capture the vital port at Antwerp. The attack succeeds in opening up a wide gap in the American lines, and for days chaos reigns in the Allied command. Thus begins the Battle of the Bulge, the last gasp by Hitler’s forces that becomes a horrific slugging match, some of the most brutal fighting of the war. As American commanders respond to the stunning challenge, the German spear is finally blunted.

Though some in the Nazi inner circle continue the fight to secure Germany’s postwar future, the Führer makes it clear that he is fighting to the end. He will spare nothing–not even German lives–to preserve his twisted vision of a “Thousand Year Reich.” But in May 1945, the German army collapses, and with Russian troops closing in, Hitler commits suicide. As the Americans sweep through the German countryside, they unexpectedly encounter the worst of Hitler’s crimes, the concentration camps, and young GIs find themselves absorbing firsthand the horrors of the Holocaust.

My Review:

This is the last of the novels featured in the Three Novels of World War II set. I think the author does have one more but it is not part of this set.
This book does not bring us to end of World War II though it does take us pretty much all the way through the end of European theater. The Allies still have some unfinished business in the Pacific.
Also we get to see more of Hitler’s inner circle in this one. Now the majority of those who are left are yes men, or are they? Von Rundstedt, the only one who sometimes dared to tell his Fuhrer what he didn’t want to hear, is sent on a forced retirement. But he is ready. He is tired of fighting with the man, hoping to convince him to do what is right for Germany.
Model is still around but is becoming less and less convinced that Hitler knows what he is doing though he dares not say anything. Speer begins to have his doubts as well after he encounters a small boy during an air raid.
“The boy said, ‘Do you know the Fuhrer?’
‘Yes, I do. I will see him…’
‘Tell him we want this to stop.’
Speer looked at the mother, saw the first tears, and she stepped forward, took the boy’s hand, said, ‘Very sorry. Please, I beg you not to report us. He doesn’t understand.’”
Only Goebbles seems to be under the impression that everything is still going along smoothly yet meanwhile he reveals to Speer that he has plans to commit suicide with his wife should things go awry. He will later have his chance to act on that.
Of course the American side of the story is just as fascinating. We are introduced to a man named Benson, a strange private who chooses to go back out to the front lines while his unit is reassigned to guard German POW’s. He does this to show his support a fellow soldier named Mitchell who seems to take more joy than most in killing Germans but is supported by Benson nonetheless.
While I liked Benson, I had a hard time liking Mitchell. He seemed far too mean to his fellow soldiers at times. He struck me as one of those people who probably would have ended up in prison if he hadn’t joined the army.
Their story eventually leads them to the concentration camps, making Benson loose his lunch though this time it is not related to his motion sickness. After this he and others make it their mission in life to end the war and make the Nazi’s pay for their inhumanity. He tries his best to move on with his life after the war, but I get the feeling that the images he saw that day at the camp will be with him always.
The bittersweet ending is a good wrap up to the story. Hitler gets his just desserts while the Russians get a piece of Germany and the Allied soldiers head for home, or maybe the Pacific.
Contains: war images and violence, foul language


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Catherine, Called Birdy

 
 
Review of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
 
Overview from www.bn.com: Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man--any rich man, no matter how awful.
 
But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call--by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.
 
Unfortunately, he is also the richest.
 
Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?
Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!
 

My Review:

The story of Catherine, a girl of fourteen who comes from a moderately wealthy family, is told to the reader from the diary she writes in every day. The first entry records the fact that her brother is responsible both for her being able to read and write and for the fact that she is being forced to write her thoughts down. The diary itself takes us through a year of her life.
I got this book out of curiosity after I spied on the website that the library has for those who want to borrow e-books. I never imagined that I would like it so much. I thought of it only as a short book to pass the time until I found another one.
I not only liked it though, I absolutely loved it. I think it has been a while since I read a book that I could honestly say that I loved but this one was great. Not only did I appreciate the author’s attempts to portray the Middle Ages as realistically as possible but I was also surprised by how funny it was. The main character is not type of girl who stays out of trouble and she is not exactly an all-out rebel either but she does get into some scrapes once and while and they are hilarious. Not only that but hearing her thoughts about people and some of the things that she does to show her displeasure with her lot kept made me laugh out loud. And there are very few books that can make me do that.
Here is an example:

“More lady-lessons. It is impossible to do all and be all a lady must be and not tie oneself in a knot…A lady must have six hands! She must not look proud nor yet too humble, least people say she is proud of her humility. She must not talk overmuch yet not be silent, lest people think she does not know how to converse. She must not show anger, nor sulk, nor scold, nor overeat, nor overdrink, nor swear. God’s thumbs! I am going out to the barn to jump, fart, and pick my teeth!”


The main conflict in the story, besides Catherine’s desire to escape being a lady, is her attempt to keep her father from marrying her off to some old weirdo for money. She prefers not to marry at all but if she must marry then she would rather marry someone close to her own age. This is where many of her troubles come from as well as her desire to help others, such as some of the villagers that are under her father’s thumb.

If there is any downside to this story, I can’t see it. I didn’t even find any swear words unless you count Catherine’s own attempts at swearing by saying “God’s thumbs” or “Corpus bones” which just make me laugh. She is one of the most likeable characters I have read about for a long time. I think I will order the e-book version of this so that I can have this one permanently. I think I could read it again and again.






Saturday, October 19, 2013

Valkyrie Rising




 

Review of Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson

Overview from www.bn.com: Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she'll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she's there.

What Ellie doesn't anticipate is Graham's infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect that something powerful and ancient will awaken in her and that strange whispers will urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, suddenly there's a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it's up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring, Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

My Review:

This week’s review is a paranormal Young Adult story. It is called Valkyrie Rising and recounts the story of our main character Ellie.

At the start of the story, Ellie is just another average teenager who feels like she is living in the shadow of her older brother, Graham. He is popular yet overprotective and because of his popularity very few boys her age are willing to cross him by asking Ellie out. The only one who is really even allowed to talk to her much is Tuck, her older brother’s best friend who she has a massive crush on. Tuck is also a major flirt so Ellie never takes anything he says seriously anyway.

Every summer, she and her brother take a trip to Norway to visit their grandmother while their mother is leading some university trip to Italy. (Their father has been dead for some time.) Although Ellie usually finds it somewhat boring she is relieved to be going this year because she senses that it is the only time she will be allowed to get out from underneath her older brother’s shadow since he is not as well-known there as he is at home in Los Angeles.

So off she goes, to be followed later by her brother. But on her first day there she already sees a difference in Skavopoll. The residents are hostile toward her. They tell her that she should never have come there and they seem to believe that her grandmother is somehow at the center of some plot to kidnap the boys of the town. A few of them have already disappeared and when she confronts her grandmother about this with questions, she receives very few answers and most of them are misleading.

Setting out on her own she vows to find the answers for herself before her brother and Tuck are kidnapped as well. (Tuck has decided to tag along on the trip with them this year.) But when no one will tell her anything, she will have to use her own intuition and sleuthing skills to find out what is happening both to the town and to her as she seems to suddenly have hypnotized the people of the town unintentionally. Where is she getting these strange powers? How can she convince people that she is not involved in the kidnappings? And how can she protect those who are left from becoming the next victims?

I liked this one quite a bit though I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I loved it. I learned a lot about Norway and Viking Mythology while feeling highly engrossed in the story. The story threw a few surprises my way both in some things that I expected to happen but didn’t (thank God there was no love triangle) and some twits that did happen yet I never saw them coming. In short, I was not bored. Also the book was not overly long.

The only downside was I thought the swearing was a bit much for a Young Adult novel though I have seen worse. I think perhaps it is best that the readers of this book be older teens and not younger but other than that, I give it an enthusiastic recommendation.

Contains: some swearing, fantasy violence


 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Never Say Die



 
Review of Never Say Die by Will Hobbs
 
Overview from www.bn.com: When the motto of your village is "never say die," you have a lot to live up to. . . .
 
At home in Canada's Arctic, Nick Thrasher is an accomplished Inuit hunter at fifteen. About to bring home a caribou for his ailing grandfather, Nick loses the meat to a fearsome creature never before seen in the wild. It's half grizzly, half polar bear. Experts will soon be calling it a "grolar bear."
 
Returning to his village, Nick receives a letter from the half brother he's never met. A former Grand Canyon river guide, Ryan Powers is now a famous wildlife photographer. He'll soon be coming to Nick's part of the world to raft the remote Firth River in search of huge herds of migrating caribou. Ryan also wants to learn what Inuit hunters are saying about climate change in the Arctic. He invites Nick to come along and help him find the caribou.

Barely down the river, disaster strikes. Nick and Ryan are both thrown into the freezing river and find themselves under a ceiling of solid ice. With nothing but the clothes on his back and the knife on his hip, Nick is up against it in a world of wolves, caribou, and grizzlies. All the while, the monstrous grolar bear stalks the land.

My Review:


Though this book was short (about 140 pages on my nook), I read it mostly to fill in the gaps between my usual fare and of course because it was a Free Friday offering. I thought the story line might have some promise but what really sold me was the description of it as being a kind of modern-day version of Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Nick is our half-white, half-Inuit narrator and is approximately fifteen years old if I did my math right when I calculated his age based on the age difference between himself and his half-brother who is also a main character in this story.

His troubles start with the appearance of the so-called grolar bear which is a half-grizzly, half-polar bear combination creature. The bear is ferocious, large, and downright evil and nearly kills him. He pops up a few more times again before the book is over.

Then he gets a letter from Ryan (the half-brother I mentioned earlier) who explains to him that he is taking a trip up to Nick’s neck of the wood to ply his trade. He is a wildlife photographer and writer. He wants to research the rumor that caribou are dying out due to climate change. He is also interested in the grolar bear though it is not the main point of his research. He hoped to convince Nick to tag along on his expedition that will take them to the Firth River and hopefully the caribou.

Nick agrees to go with him despite his misgivings and some of his differences of opinion with his only brother. Only interference from his dying grandfather persuades him in the end.

The trip does end up being wild, wonderful and scary all at the same time but along the way he develops a respect and camaraderie with his brother that along with their discoveries make it a trip of the lifetime.

I am not really sure that it compares all that favorably with the Jack London classic that I mentioned earlier but it was still an interesting read. It was not as one-sided on the issue of climate change as it thought it would be. There is some respect for the Inuit way of life as well as Ryan’s views. Of course I suspect that the author is leaning towards the environmentalist position but at least he doesn’t portray hunters as the menacing evil of the Arctic like I thought he would when I started reading.

This is also appropriate for younger readers though perhaps not too young. There is some wildlife type violence in here after all. I think probably fifth grade or above might enjoy it but I am no expert.

I also enjoyed it though it is not likely to become one of my favorites. Still it was better than what I was initially expecting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013











 
Review of Sins of the Father by Angela Benson
 
Overview from www.bn.com: God asked the biblical Abraham to sacrifice his son. But Abraham Martin's only god is money.
 
Successful media mogul Abraham Martin has great wealth, an elegant wife, Saralyn, and a rebellious son, Isaac. He also has a secret: a second family that no one knows about. Now, after thirty years—driven by the urging of his long dormant conscience—Abraham is determined to do the right thing by finally bringing his illegitimate children into the light...and into the family fold.
 
But beautiful, manipulative Saralyn will never accept the proof of her husband's indiscretions. Isaac, the heir, shaken by his father's revelations, will fight mercilessly when his world is threatened, and may lose everything that matters as a result. And while Abraham's forgotten daughter, Deborah, is open to the undreamed-of possibilities suddenly awaiting her, his son, Michael, cannot forgive the man who cruelly abandoned them to near poverty. And he's driven by only one desire: revenge!

Angela Benson's Sins of the Father is a powerful story of a house bitterly divided—a rich, multilayered family saga of betrayal and redemption, rage and compassion, faith, forgiveness, and ultimately, of love.

My Review:

Sins of the Father struck me at first as something that might be just a ho-hum read, something I could use to keep my brain occupied while I waited in line at the grocery store or waited outside in my car in the morning before going to work. It was much better than that.

Yes the setting was contemporary but the story it told was not all that conventional. The story starts with a man named Abraham trying to reassert himself into the lives of his illegitimate adult children. Growing up, they were supported by him financially but not in any other way. He never visited them, he never called them, he never even wrote to them. Why? Because they were children that he had with another woman.

He had pushed them both aside till his mother's death changed everything for him. He decided to honor her wishes and do right by them and it started with a small production company that he bought and asked his illegitimate daughter to run for him.

So far so good but then he tried to bring both of the adult children from another woman into his family which was previously just him, his wife and his legitimate son, Isaac. This part was not going to happen. His wife would do everything she could stop it, while the other son, Micheal is just looking for a way to get revenge on his absent father. Granted some of the others involved have doubts about the idea as well but these two are just itching for a fight, in some cases literally.

The story was very obviously a Biblical parallel story. The characters' names alone give that away. Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Saralyn, and Leah are all the names of characters in this book that mirror or are similar to the names of Biblical characters. The story of a father with children by two different women also mirrors the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible while the illusion to Esau as an example for Saralyn's son Isaac to not follow is also a hint.

The drama underneath it all is modern even if we may not personally know too many people who find themselves in the same situation as this family, we can still relate to their feelings. Too many children today grow up without a father figure in their lives so Deborah and Michael's story is relatable. There are also many children who grow up with high expectations from their parents like Isaac does. And many women have been abandoned when they are no longer deemed useful by their significant others. In that way, this story is timeless.

The best part for me was that not only were the plots and subplots in this book engaging, but the story itself did not have a lot of swear words or other offensive material. Of course sex was a part of the story. How could it not be? But it was not the focal point of the story, the human drama was. I can't be sure but I think this could be classified as Christian fiction but the Christian message contained in here, despite the similarities with the Bible, was not heavy-handed. It seemed to occur naturally within the plot and I like that as well.

There was one thing that struck me as a little bit odd. The author twice mentioned two members of the family having photos of themselves with two different presidents displayed in their offices and both of them were democrats. I am not sure if that was significant or intentional nor do I know if it is supposed to mean anything to the reader but it did get me wondering for a while. Why two democrats? But like I said, it was odd, but not a problem. I am not sure how conservative readers might feel about it. I just chose to say "hmm" and continue reading.

I can't really think of anything bad about to say about it. I liked it a lot though I can't say I loved it. I think you might too.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A White Wind Blew


 








 


Review of A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Overview from www.bn.com:

When the body fails, you've got two choices.
Send a doctor in, or send a prayer up.
And if neither works?
You'll find Dr. Wolfgang Pike at his piano.

Music has always been Wolfgang's refuge. It's betraying him now, as he struggles to compose a requiem for his late wife, but surely the right ending will come to him. Certainly it'll come more quickly than a cure for his patients up at Waverly Hills, the tuberculosis hospital, where nearly a body an hour leaves in a coffin. Wolfgang can't seem to save anyone these days, least of all himself.
Sometimes we just need to know we're not the only ones in the fight. A former concert pianist checks in, triggering something deep inside Wolfgang, and spreading from patient to patient. Soon Wolfgang finds himself in the center of an orchestra that won't give up, with music that won't stop. A White Wind Blew delivers a sweeping crescendo of hope in a time of despair, raising compelling questions about faith and confession, music and medicine,and the undying force of love.

My Review:

This is a sad but beautiful story. Mostly sad though. Our main character, Wolfgang Pike, is both doctor and future priest but that was years ago. He has yet to finish his seminary training and is only about half-way through. His training was interrupted by a marriage that ended in the tragic death of his wife. When she died, Wolfgang vows to resume his studies, thinking that he can never love again.

In the meantime he becomes a doctor and gets a job at Waverly Hills, a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. It is the 1920's  and the preferred treatment seems to consist most of sun therapy, that is the patient is basically told to sunbathe in hopes that it will reduce the effects of the disease.

A few patients do seem to get better and they eventually make "the Walk" that shows that they are strong enough to leave the place. Those patients still have an uphill battle when they go out in the world among the healthy. But some of them come back to help others.

Wolfgang tells himself and the priests at the seminary that he is only staying at Waverly because he is needed there. TB has made a resurgence in the area and he wants to help but three years go by. Three years and he is showing no signs of leaving. And he seems to be falling in love again though he doesn't want to admit it to anyone, let alone himself.

And there is the music. Wolfgang loves it, was raised on it. He will play to any patient at the hospital that asks it of him. And it seems to be working. Many of them are getting better.

When he finds some musicians and singers among the patients, he decides to start an "orchestra." I put that in quotation marks because he only has three real instruments playing in this "orchestra."
Some don't like Wolfgang's orchestra but in particular they don't like the fact that he has invited some patients from the "colored" sanatorium down the hill to join with the whites. Some amateur clansmen will do anything to stop him, even killing those involved if necessary. They also don't like the fact that Wolfgang is Catholic.

And now for the negatives. There are a few sexual scenes as well as some language but I didn't find it that it overpowered the plot. I think the story might be a bit too sad for some but it wasn't nearly as depressing as some of the books I reviewed in the past. At least there is a positive overall tone at the end so I didn't find it to be too much of a downer.

So in summary, I guess, I liked though it might now be one of my favorites. Still I think I feel comfortable in recommending it to a friend or anyone else looking for some thought-provoking historical fiction.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Kingmaking













 

Review of The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick:

Overview from www.bn.com: Who was THE MAN Who became THE LEGEND We know as KING ARTHUR?
 
"You are the Pendragon, rightful Lord of Dumnonia and the Summer Land; Lord of less Britain. By all that is right, you ought be seated where Vortigern sits…You ought to be King."
 
Here lies the truth of the Lord of the Summer Land.
 
This is the tale of Arthur flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man, both courageous and flawed, into the celebrated ruler who inspired armies, who captured Gwenhyfar's heart, and who emerged as the hero of the Dark Ages and the most enduring hero of all time.

This is the unexpected story of the making of a king — the legend who united all of Britain.

My Review:

The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick looked promising to me as I downloaded it, one of Barnes and Noble’s Free Friday offerings that I just couldn’t pass up. In the end though, it was a disappointment.

In fact, it disappointed me many time. I thought about turning off the book many times but then the characters would do some small thing that would make me think that maybe they will redeem themselves but in the end, they didn’t.

That is not to say that I disliked all the characters. In fact, I like the character of Gwenhyfar a lot. She was strong and brave and seemed to always try her best even though her feelings often confused her. Also, she seemed to learn from her mistakes.

Unlike another main character: Arthur. This story is based on the now famous character of King Arthur. In this story though, he is not yet king. He starts off as some tag-along boy who Uther keeps with him on his quests to regain his lands in England.

But the quest goes badly and Uther is killed battle. All seems lost until Gwenhwyfar’s father Cunedda reveals the secret of Arthur’s parentage—he is Uther’s son. It was kept secret from all but three or four people to keep him safe from Vortigern, his father’s mortal enemy.

Arthur seemed to start out as somewhat likeable. He was the silly misfit who was trying to make his way in the world; to make something of himself despite what thought were his humble origins.

Then he becomes a man and everything seems to change. He loves Gwenhyfar sure, but he doesn’t tell her and maybe that is for the best for it seems that there is one thing that he loves even more than her, much more than her: his crown. He admits throughout the story that he will do anything for and proves it with his actions.

First, he joins up with his father’s enemy Vortigern in an uneasy alliance but admits he will break it when it suits him. Then he marries Winifred, Vortigern’s half-Saex daughter to obtain her dowry and although he at first declares that she will be his wife in name only he impregnates her with a child.
He worries that she will have a boy and take him to her Saex family to use as a pawn against him. He takes her away to “Less Britain” so that she can’t use his son against him but she has a girl who dies shortly after the birth. All the while he tells anyone who listens that he doesn’t love his wife and wants to divorce her.

But then later in the book he gives into his wife and impregnates her again. He just doesn’t seem to learn his lesson. All throughout the story he is guided by his impulses—both sexual as well for war. They seem to be running the show, not him. This made him a less than sympathetic character for me.

If it weren’t for Gwenhwyfar, I wouldn’t have kept reading. I kept wondering what she saw in him though. Her story was worth reading, her courage admirable though I think she could have done without him.

Contains: war violence, sexuality, some language