Monday, April 30, 2012

Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore

Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore is the sequel to Magic Under Glass, the author's first novel. I feel that Dolamore's writing has improved since she wrote that first book -- for, although I enjoyed Magic Under Glass, I find Magic Under Stone to be the stronger book.

Nimira has rescued Erris Tanharrow, the fairy prince, from his imprisonment in an automaton's body -- but only partly. He now has control over his movements, as well as a more human appearance, but Nimira must still wind him every morning. In order to find a way to fully break the enchantment, Nimira and Erris travel north to the home of a sorcerer who may be able to help them. When they arrive, they find the sorcerer away from home, but other surprises await them there. Meanwhile, the usurping fairy king Luka has obtained the aid of a jinn, and he is seeking Erris in order to bring an end to the Tanharrow line. The Jinn, though he may be bound to serve his master, has ideas and desires of his own. Will Nim and Erris find a way to bring Erris fully back to life, or will that life be brought to an untimely end?

Despite the fact that a portion of this novel involves the characters waiting around for the return of the sorcerer, I felt that the pacing was good. The new characters were interesting, and I thought the development of Erris and Nimira's relationship was particularly well-written -- there's the fact that they are attracted to each other but can't act on that attraction at all with Erris still in clockwork form, as well as the problem of their different stations in life, not to mention the potential for resentment between the two as represented by the key that hangs around Nimira's neck . . .

This book does conclude Erris and Nimira's story, and readers unfamiliar with this series should start with Magic Under Glass in order to fully understand Erris and Nimira's world.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

The List by Siobhan Vivian

 The List by Siobhan Vivan is another contemporary young adult novel -- but a really well-done one.

Every year, on the last Monday of September, The List is posted at Mt. Washington High. Nobody knows who writes the List. It's stamped with an old school seal stolen from the principal's office years ago, and it lists the prettiest and ugliest girls in each class. Appearing on the list means recognition and notoriety for eight girls, but it's not always the blessing -- or curse -- one might expect.

This novel follows those eight girls through one week -- the week the List is posted; the week before Homecoming. Vivan does a fairly good job of differentiating the characters. Some are more fully explored than others, but each girl's story is an interesting exploration of beauty and the perception of beauty. As the stories weave together, the reader can't help but wonder: who wrote the List?

I was impressed with the characterization, as I have mentioned, as well as the way the author managed to bring closure to so many stories, without giving in to the temptation to give each one a pat ending. Recommended!

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey

I read relatively few graphic novels, but The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross sounded like one that I might enjoy.

Tom Taylor is a minor celebrity -- not because of anything he did, but because his father wrote an enormously popular series of novels featuring boy wizard Tommy Taylor. Then, at the height of the series' popularity, Tom's father disappeared. Now Tom, a disenfranchised young adult, makes a living traveling around to conventions and such. He resents his inability to disassociate himself from the fictional character his father created, as well as the fact that his father disappeared and yet left his estate tied up so that Tom can't access the money. Then, one day, a young woman stands up at a routine Q&A session and alleges that Tom Taylor is not who he says he is. This results in mobs of angry fans rioting outside Tom's hotel room . . . but the real danger for Tom may not be from obsessive fans, but from some dark characters that seem to spring from the novels that Tom has always believed were entirely fictional. The problem is, the lines between reality and fiction are starting to become a little blurry. . . .

So, interesting premise. I have to say, I think I would like this better if it were an ordinary book, rather than a graphic novel. The concept of Tom Taylor as a sort of cross between Harry Potter, Christopher Robin Milne, and the group of washed-up actors from the beginning of GalaxyQuest appealed to me -- the execution of the story, not so much. I think it's my usual impatience/difficulty with the graphic format, rather than some failing in the graphic novel itself. If you enjoy graphic novels and literary fantasy (and don't mind a touch of gore), this might be perfect for you. As for me, I didn't hate it, but I probably won't read the rest of the series.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal is the sequel to Shades of Milk and Honey, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Newlyweds Jane and Vincent are off to a grand start in their marriage -- the Prince Regent has hired them to create a large-scale glamour for his New Year's Eve celebration. The book begins with a dinner party celebrating their achievements, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Jane and Vincent, though deeply in love, have many issues to work through. Vincent is used to being a solitary artist, and does not always find it easy to work with another glamourist, even his beloved (and talented) wife -- nor does he find it easy to discuss his feelings, plans, or ambitions. Jane still struggles with deep-seated insecurity, not only over her plain features, but in comparing her own work as a glamourist to that of her husband. With the war seemingly over and Napoleon confined to the island of Elba, Jane and Vincent travel to Belgium to work with another glamourist, an old friend of Vincent's. However, many unexpected events await them in Belgium. . . .

I enjoyed this book, just as I did its predecessor. Jane and Vincent really develop as characters in this book, the portrayal of their marriage is well-balanced, and there's plenty of intrigue and adventure to keep the plot moving along. If you're unfamiliar with this series, I definitely recommend starting with Shades of Milk and Honey, as the characters and magic system are more thoroughly explained in that book. Fans of fantasy and Jane Austen are sure to enjoy this series . . . I only hope that the wait for the next book is not too long!

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

I listened to The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, narrated by Diane Warren, over the course of a week or so. I have read The Blue Sword many times before. Many, many times. In fact, I found that I could quote particularly memorable lines along with the audiobook narrator.

In The Blue Sword, Harry is sent to live on a military complex at the border of Damar, far from her homeland, because her father has died and her brother is in service at that post. Harry immediately falls in love with the desert and the distant mountains, never dreaming that she will some day do what no other Homelander has done: travel to those mountains with the king of Damar and his Riders. Despite her foreign background, Harry's future and that of Damar (and its king) are inexplicably intertwined. Though she is unaware of it, Harry possesses kelar, the magical Gift of the hill people, and she has a part to play in the land's very survival.

I love nearly everything McKinley has written. This isn't my favorite, but it's in the top three. I thought the audiobook narration was serviceable, but not fantastic. Then again, this is one of those books where I'm inclined to be picky! I did enjoy listening to this book -- it was a nice way to sneak in a reread without feeling that it was taking away from the time I could spend reading other things.

(Reviewed from an audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Pure by Julianna Baggott

Pure by Julianna Baggott is a post-apocalyptic dystopia . . . I feel like I've been alternating between those and high-school-angst type books, and I need to break out of the rut!

In Pressia's world, there is the Dome. It's inhabited by the Pure, those who were able to enter the Dome before the Detonations, who did not suffer the consequences of the nuclear blasts. The Pure watch the rest of humanity from a distance -- nobody enters the Dome, and nobody leaves. Pressia, and everyone else she knows, struggle to survive in the ruins of their world. The Detonations caused humans to fuse with nearby objects -- Pressia's right hand fused with the rubber head of the doll she was holding -- and, in some cases, other people, animals, and even the earth itself. There's never enough food, and because the radiation causes mutations in the plants and animals, there's no guarantee that your next meal won't kill you. Order is maintained by OSR, a quasi-military group that arose after the Detonations. Every child is forcibly drafted into OSR at their sixteenth birthday . . . and Pressia is just about to turn sixteen.

Into this world comes Partridge -- a Pure. Though his father is one of the most powerful men in the Dome, Partridge has started to question everything he's been told about life in the Dome, and about the fate of his mother. Did she really die in the Detonations . . . or is she outside the Dome still? He has to find out, so he escapes. When he finds himself in danger, Pressia saves him. This chance encounter . . . is it a chance encounter? . . . will have a profound effect on both of them.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I thought that the plot was strong, one of the strongest dystopias I've read. Part of that is because the teens are not always able to defeat the plots of the all-powerful evil government. There are some great unexpected twists . . . and of course, that's all I can say about that without giving too much away! On the other hand, I found it hard to care about the characters. They rang a bit hollow for me. I also felt that the pacing of the story dragged and lagged in places. It's obvious that there will be a sequel, but I doubt that I will seek it out.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

I received Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I had heard of Colasanti before, but this is the first of her books that I've read. It won't be the last!

Noelle is at the very bottom of the high school social ladder. Caught between bullying at school and a miserable home life, it's no wonder that her self-esteem is at an all-time low. When the cute boy she's been secretly attracted to starts paying attention to her, Noelle is sure that she doesn't "deserve" anything good in her life. However, through a series of events that unfolds over the course of the novel, Noelle finds that she has both inner strength and the support of friends that she needs in order to Keep Holding On.

This story struck a chord with me. Like Noelle, I was the target of bullies in my school years. In an Author's Note at the beginning of the book, Colasanti reveals that she, too, suffered through hard times in high school. The tone of that note, and the entire book, is ultimately hopeful.

(Reviewed from an advance copy sent to me by the publisher, through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

The Fairy Ring: or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure is narrative nonfiction -- and for this story, that works pretty well. In England, during and just after the first World War, cousins Elsie and Frances performed a little bit of harmless trickery with Elsie's dad's camera. Using hatpins and some cleverly crafted paper figures painted by Elsie, the girls falsified pictures of fairies that they said lived at the spring near their house. This could have been a simple family joke -- the girls did it because the father was teasing them about fairies -- except that, through a series of coincidences, the fairy photos fell into the hands of a group of theosophists. These men were inclined to believe in things like nature spirits, ghosts, and yes, fairies. One of the most notable members of the group was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Could such a brilliant man be taken in by the girls' little prank?

The author of this book gives a good sense of the girls' characters as she sees them: funny, artistic Elsie, who likes a good laugh, and who dislikes those who would write her off as "just" the daughter of a working man; and Frances, the more serious of the two, the one who does actually believe that she's seen fairies at the spring, and who resents the intrusion of the media and the men who want to measure, categorize, and quantify the fairies. The author is also very lenient toward the girls, pointing out that they would have gotten in a lot of trouble if they had confessed that the pictures were fakes after people outside of the family got involved -- and pointing out that the girls were continually underestimated by said outsiders, because they were young, because they were girls, or because they were poor.

I had heard mention of this story before, but I didn't know much about it. This brief book presents a good deal of information in a very readable fashion.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker

The Queen of Kentucky by Alecia Whitaker is, come to think of it. oddly similar to Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have (two posts below this one) . . .

Ricki Jo, small-town Kentucky girl, decides to revamp her image for high school. She's something of a new girl, since she's attended the K-8 parochial school, and she's determined to be cool and popular at the public high school. She decides to go by "Ericka" instead of "Ricki Jo," tries out for cheerleading instead of marching band, and works really hard to be accepted by the coolest girls in her class. It seems like she's succeeding . . . but there's a cost: she may lose her best friend Luke, who's going through a lot of difficulties in his own life. Is it worth it?

Author Alecia Whitaker grew up in Cynthiana, and my first thought was, "I know where that is!" So, the descriptions of Kentucky farmland, tobacco farming, and small-town life are genuine, informed by the author's own experiences . . . and it shows. It made me a little homesick for the Bluegrass, to tell the truth. I was also impressed with the characterization in this novel. Ricki Jo manages to seem like a real teen, with real issues, and sometimes I wanted to shake her for the choices she was making, but she's also really likeable. The girls she befriends are Mean Girls in a sense, but they're not mean all the time, nor are they completely stereotypical (though they're not entirely distinct; I did have some trouble remembering which one was which at times). Ricki Jo's crush, the handsome star athlete, was similarly nuanced -- and while best friend Luke did seem to verge on too much perfection, he did have the occasional flaw that made him seem a little more real. The pacing of the story had its ups and downs, but it kept me reading all the way through. I'd recommend this read to fans of realistic YA fiction, and I look forward to more from this debut author.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Fever by Lauren DeStafano

Fever by Lauren DeStefano is the second book in, yes, a trilogy. And it's a young adult dystopia!

In this book, Rhine and Gabriel are fleeing from cruel Housemaster Vaughn, but they find that there are many other dangers in the world, and it's a long way back to Manhattan. Even when they return to New York, will they be able to find Rhine's brother Rowan?

I really enjoyed Wither (the first book in the trilogy) though I had some reservations about it. (Here's my review.) I had hoped that some of the issues that bothered me would be sorted out in the second and third books . . . but that's not the case, at least for the second book. I also found that, while I remember the basics of the first book, I had forgotten many of the specific events that are frequently referenced in Fever. I'll probably read the final book in the series to see how it all resolves, but I'd recommend this only to those who can't get enough YA dystopia . . . and I'd probably recommend waiting until you can read all three at once.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff

Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff is the story of Andrew Zansky, a fat kid who decides to remake his image by trying out for the football team. He does this mostly to impress April, a cool new girl who also happens to be a cheerleader. In embracing his new image, he manages to hurt and alienate his old friends. Will his new friends prove to be as faithful as they seem? Is there some way he can balance both parts of his life?

This is a funny story with strong characters and an interesting plot. It didn't do a lot for me personally, but I can appreciate that, in this case, it really is just me. If you like books like Swim the Fly and Flash Burnout, you'll probably love this book.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

The Goblin Gate and The Goblin War by Hilari Bell

I'm doing one post for The Goblin Gate and The Goblin War by Hilari Bell, as they are the second and third books in a trilogy and I read them back to back. (For my thoughts on the first book of the series, see this post.)

The Goblin Gate focuses on Tobin's brother Jeriah, who is attempting to find a way to rescue his brother from the Otherworld. Jeriah is opposed in this by the priests and government officials who are focused on winning the war with the southern barbarians, now that the goblin problem has been dealt with . . . even though they know from their research that prolonged exposure to the Otherworld will kill Tobin. In their eyes, Tobin is a casualty of war, but Jeriah is not willing to give up on his brother while there is a chance that he is still alive. The main focus of the book is on Jeriah's desire to be a hero, while acknowledging that the heroes of old never had to compromise their principles the way he does. Jeriah reminds me of another Hilari Bell character -- Michael from The Last Knight.

In The Goblin War, the final conflict with the southern barbarians is heating up, and all of the characters are struggling to find a way to coexist. United by the threat from a common enemy, the goblins and the humans may finally have to learn to work together.

I enjoyed this series, but find that I don't have deeper thoughts on it than that it was a fun adventure. It's not one I'll want to revisit, but I'd recommend it to someone looking for (if this is not a contradiction in terms) light epic fantasy.

(Reviewed from copies borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Printer's Devil by Paul Bajoria

I listened to The Printer's Devil by Paul Bajoria, mainly because the audiobook was narrated by Katherine Kellgren, who does such a fabulous job with the Bloody Jack series. Unfortunately, Kellgren's masterful narration was not enough to save this one for me.

Mog, an orphan and an apprentice at a small print shop in Victorian London, is caught up in a web of intrigue involving smuggled opium. He meets some sleazy criminals, a vicious boatswain, a mysterious foreigner, and a young boy his own age who bears a startling resemblance to Mog himself.

I had lots of problems with this book. I couldn't figure out why Mog was so caught up in the mystery from the beginning -- especially when he was in considerable danger, with nothing to gain but satisfied curiosity. I thought the plot relied too heavily on coincidence. I also thought that two of the big reveals toward the end of the book were blindingly obvious (though one of them might not have been if I hadn't been listening to the audiobook, and that's all I'll say on that in order to avoid spoilers). Most of all, I found the ending extremely unsatisfactory. Nothing was tied up or explained. This appears to be the first book in a trilogy, but I won't be reading the next two books.

(Reviewed from an audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wonder by R.J, Palacio

There's been a lot of buzz about Wonder by R.J. Palacio, so I had to read it for myself. I think the buzz is, in general, deserved.

Ten-year-old Auggie has never been to school. Born with extreme facial abnormalities, he's been through countless medical procedures. He's used to people staring at him, pointing at him, pitying him . . . but he's about to experience his biggest challenge yet: middle school. Auggie manages to deal with the bullies and backstabbers of fifth grade with grace and a buoyant optimism. He's not perfect, of course -- what ten-year-old is? -- but he's infinitely likeable. A strong cast of secondary characters rounds out the story. I recommend this book, and I'd bet that some award committees out there will be giving it serious consideration.

 (Reviewed from a copy borrowed though my library system.)

Bonus picture book review: One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo

I haven't reviewed many picture books here yet.  I read lots of them, of course -- as a children's librarian, they cross my desk regularly.  Last year, I even did a Mock Caldecott program, and I posted about my personal favorites before the Youth Media Awards were announced.  But I rarely spend enough time with them to formulate a review.  However, when one comes along that manages to surprise and delight me, I have to give it a little extra praise.

One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small, is one of those books that managed to delight me from the first page to the last.  Elliot, a very proper young man, is polite but slightly disinterested when his father suggests that they attend Family Fun Day at the aquarium. "Kids, masses of noisy kids," Elliot thinks -- and proves to be correct.  As Elliot's absentminded father sits on a bench and reads his magazine, Elliot bypasses several crowded exhibits until he discovers the penguin display.  The penguins appeal to his sensibilities . . . so he takes one home.

This was all reminding me of My Penguin Osbert, a book that I enjoy reading at post-Christmas storytimes, but One Cool Friend gets bonus points for humor and a twist at the end that made me laugh out loud.  The interplay between the text and the pictures is flawless -- I was particularly impressed at the way David Small makes the character of Elliot's father come to life on the pages of the book.  Kids and adults alike will appreciate this story, and I'll definitely be using it as a read-aloud in the future!

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Starters by Lissa Price

Starters by Lissa Price is a gripping post-apocalyptic story. In a future America where only the elderly and the young survived an act of biological warfare, gangs of impoverished "unclaimed" teens and children live hand-to-mouth on the streets, squatting in abandoned buildings. Callie and her younger brother Tyler live this way, running from government officials who would put them in institutions and rough renegade teens who would kill them for their meager possessions. Tyler needs expensive medical care, as well as nutritious food that Callie can't afford. When she hears about Prime Destinations, a service that uses advanced technology to "rent" the bodies of teens to rich elderly people who want to experience youth again, she thinks that the hefty stipend they are offering may be her only hope to help her brother. What she doesn't realize is that the CEO of Prime Destinations, a mysterious figure known only as the Old Man, has much darker and more nefarious plans in mind. And when Callie unexpectedly wakes up in the middle of a "rental" with a gun in her hand, she discovers that she is more deeply involved than she could have imagined.

This was a fairly good story. I thought there were a few plot holes in the world-building, but not enough to spoil my enjoyment of this as a fun, fast-paced read. I'll be looking for the sequel, Enders, when it comes out this winter.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.) 

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood

The Incorrigible Children of Aston Place, Book III: The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood is, as the title suggests, the third book in a delightful little series about Miss Penelope Lumley, governess, and her three young charges who were literally raised by wolves. In this book, Penelope and the Incorrigibles are back at Ashton Place after their eventful trip to London. An expedition into the forest which surrounds the manor reveals a few clues about the Incorrigible children's upbringing.

I'm quite fond of this series, but at this point I would definitely recommend starting at the beginning -- if you jump in with this book, you'll be lacking a lot of necessary back-story. I don't think I loved this book quite as much as the earlier two, but it was still very pleasant, and nice to see Penelope's character develop a bit more. I look forward to reading future volumes, and hope that they will provide a few revelations about some of the long-standing mysteries in the series.

The narrative voice reminded me of the Series of Unfortunate Events -- more strongly in this book than in previous books. That's not a criticism per se, though if the narrator of the Snicket series got on your nerves with the slightly didactic humor, you may experience the same thing with this series.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

 I picked up Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier because I am very fond of Wildwood Dancing, one of her young adult novels. Heart's Blood is never going to be a favorite of mine, though I didn't hate it.

Caitrin, a female scribe, is fleeing her home when she arrives at Whistling Tor. This mysterious estate is home to Anluan, who was crippled by a palsy as a child, and his mysterious attendants. The people of the village tell Caitrin that Whistling Tor is under a curse -- but Caitrin has heard that Anluan is looking for a scribe, and she is in need of work. When she arrives at the Tor, she finds that Anluan is unfriendly and his people are indeed mysterious, but she feels safe there all the same. Part of Anluan's hostility is due to the fact that he is sure she will leave after a few days, but Caitrin pledges to stay through the summer and complete the work of organizing his library and transcribing his Latin texts into the common tongue. As she progresses with her work, Caitrin comes to believe that there might be something in the texts to break the old curse upon Whistling Tor -- but before she can find it, threats from without and within endanger both Caitrin's life, and the survival of all at Whistling Tor.

This Beauty and the Beast story didn't do much for me, in terms of romance -- I just didn't feel the spark of attraction between Caitrin and Anluan for most of the book. I will say, however, that in terms of character development, both Caitrin and Anluan grew and changed over the course of the story, and I was interested in the ways that they were developing. There was a point where I felt conflict was manufactured, rather than naturally occurring, and Caitrin's actions at that point seemed forced.

My other complaint is about the names -- the setting of the book is Ireland, presumably some time in the late middle ages, and many of the character names are completely unpronounceable . . . and there is no glossary. It's a small thing, but each new name left me wondering how it was pronounced, which took me right out of the story.

So, all in all, I probably wouldn't recommend this one unless you are a die-hard fan of this author or this sort of fantasy story.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson is a reread for me -- and it's a book that stands up well to rereading. An impoverished Russian countess, displaced due to the Russian revolution, takes a position as a housemaid in a grand English country home. She is soon beloved by everyone there, upstairs and down -- and even Rupert, the new Earl of Westerholme, is not completely unaware of her charms. However, the arrival of Rupert's fiancee Muriel brings many unwelcome changes to the estate. . . .

This book is delightfully funny and sweet. All of the characters are wonderful, but Anna is the one that really makes the book. She's one of those fictional characters that I really wish I could meet in person -- since I can't, I'm sure I'll be dropping by her book for many more visits in the future!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy is an interesting blend of fantasy and alternate history. When Janie's family moves to post-WW2 London, she's not at all happy about her new home. Things start to improve for her when she makes friends with Benjamin, a handsome boy from her new school. Benjamin's father is an apothecary . . . a trade which proves more interesting than it first seems. Benjamin's father disappears, leaving Benjamin to protect an ancient book, the Pharmacopeia. Benjamin is skeptical about the merits of the book, which holds recipes for transformation, invisibility, and other improbables -- but it is true that strange and sinister individuals seem to be after the book. What are these people looking for? Do the magical recipes in the book really work? And what does all of this have to do with the Cold War, Communism, and the testing of a new atomic bomb?

I very much enjoyed this book. The characters are well-developed and the action moves at just the right pace. The magic system is fascinating, if not fully explained, and setting it in post-war London adds an interesting flavor to the mix.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell

Hilari Bell is one of those fantasy authors that I generally enjoy, but rarely think of when I'm listing  favorites. The Goblin Wood, like many of her other works, is a good, solid read, though it doesn't quite rise to excellence.

When Makenna's mother is killed by the villagers that she's known all her life, Makenna runs away to escape her mother's fate. Like her mother, Makenna is a hedgewitch, and witches are being persecuted more and more by both the government and the people of the land. After stealing an apple from an orchard protected by goblins, Makenna finds herself pursued by the creatures . . . until she learns more about them and comes to an understanding with them. Goblins, like witches, are being driven out of the settled lands and into the wilderness. Though they are crafty and gifted with magical talents, they need someone who can organize them if they are going to have any hope of surviving. Makenna, feeling hostile and resentful of her own kind, throws her lot in with the goblins and never looks back.

Tobin is a knight and heir to his father's lands, until he rescues his younger brother from a political scrape. When he takes his brother's place and accepts responsibility for the scheme, Tobin is beaten, demoted, and disinherited. He's given one chance to regain his honor: capture the sorceress who has power over an army of goblins. He has hardly a chance against such powerful magic -- but the only other option is a life of shame, and by capturing the sorceress, he would be saving his country as well. However, when he meets Makenna and her goblins, he begins to question everything he has been told about this "sorceress" and her "army."

This was a quick and straightforward read, without a great deal of depth to either characters or plot, but enjoyable nonetheless. I'll be tracking down and reading the sequels soon.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Storm Runners by Roland Smith

Storm Runners by Roland Smith is the first book in an adventure/survival trilogy for kids. Chase and his father travel around the country looking for storms -- Chase's father is a contractor who specializes in storm preparation and clean-up. When Chase and a couple of friends are stranded miles from safety in the middle of a hurricane, Chase's storm survival skills are tested to their limits. They face high winds, raging water, and wild animals . . . and even when they reach their destination, the danger is far from over.

This isn't really a book -- it's the first third of a book. It ends in a cliffhanger, so if this sounds like the book for you, have the second one on hand. This fast-paced read that will definitely appeal to reluctant readers, especially those who enjoy man-versus-nature survival stories. I wouldn't recommend this for adult readers, as adult fans of this sort of thriller will seek out longer and more complex works. However, for readers in the target age range, this will be a highly enjoyable book.  I reviewed this book from an advance copy, but I took so long in getting around to reading it that the second and third books are already available.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker

The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker is a cute fairy tale retelling for the juvenile set. Annie, younger sister of the ill-fated Princess Gwendolyn (aka Sleeping Beauty) was given only one fairy gift at her christening: Annie is impervious to magic. So, when Gwendolyn inevitably pricks her finger and the whole castle falls into an enchanted sleep, it's up to Annie to rescue her sister, and the rest of her family, from a hundred-year nap. Annie wanders and blunders through several other well-known fairy tales in an attempt to locate her sister's True Love -- and she just may find the key to her own happiness along the way.

Baker's writing is light and fun. As with Gail Carson Levine's fairy tale retellings, I often find that there's not enough substance there for a really satisfying read, but The Wide-Awake Princess and books like it are a nice introduction to the genre for young readers.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)