Friday, June 29, 2012

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is so much more than just a World War II novel. At heart, it's the story of a true friendship between two young women. "Verity," a wireless operator, parachutes in to Nazi-occupied France from a disabled plane flown by Maddie, her best friend. Verity is captured by Nazi intelligence shortly after landing. She's tortured and imprisoned, not knowing what has become of Maddie, or whether her friend is even still alive. In return for a few more torture-free days, Verity promises to write everything she knows about the British war effort. What she writes is the story of her friendship with Maddie.

If you can suspend disbelief on that one point -- that the Nazi intelligence officer would allow Verity to write such a rambling "confession" of questionable usefulness -- this is a phenomenal book. It's very hard to write anything more about it without spoiling some aspect of the story, which is by turns sweet and tragic and funny and heartbreaking. And the last couple pages brought tears to my eyes. Don't miss this book -- it's definitely earned a spot as one of my favorites of the year, and the best World War II story I've read since The Book Thief.

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Flora's Fury by Ysabeau Wilce

Flora's Fury: How a Girl of Spirit and a Red Dog Confound Their Friends, Astound Their Enemies, and Learn the Importance of Packing Light by Ysabeau S. Wilce is a worthy continuation to an excellent series.

In this book, Flora is a cadet at the Barracks, having put aside her childhood dreams of being a Ranger (at least for a while). She's on assignment as a clerk in the General's office, so her duties are limited to errands, paperwork, and baby-minding. Her long-time friendship with Udo is strained, she's unsatisfied with her work, and she has certain plans of her own. She knows she shouldn't be mucking around in the Current, but there are a few things she just has to know -- and to find them out, she will need to use magic. Her spell-casting attempt is interrupted by a mysterious stranger, and shortly thereafter, she finds herself on a voyage that will take her over sea and land, to places she's barely even heard of, and she will learn much more than just the answers to her questions. She'll also learn a few hard lessons about actions and consequences . . . and maybe a little bit about romance, as well.

Flora's high-spirited hijinks will be familiar to fans of the series. I was particularly impressed how, in this book, Flora really seems to mature. By the end of the book, she's making decisions on her own -- not to please or spite her parents, and not thoughtlessly following her whims, but weighing consequences and choosing the course of action that she deems best. She also gives up something precious at one point in the story (I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so sorry if this is getting really vague), and the results of that were poignant and hinted, I hope, at things to come in future volumes. Flora will always be fiery and temperamental, but I feel that she's developing into a truly strong woman, and becoming someone I'd actually like to know.

Some reviews I have read have speculated that this is the end of the series for Flora, but I think that can hardly be the case -- there are too many loose ends, and all of Califa is poised on the brink of conflict. Here's hoping that we'll see a lot more of Flora in the not-too-distant future!

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

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pants On Fire by Meg Cabot

Pants On Fire by Meg Cabot wins my award for Most Obnoxious Point-of-View Character Ever.

Katie Ellison lies . . . but not for bad reasons. Well, not really. She just doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. And what's a boy-crazy girl to do, when both the star football player and the Drama Club's leading man want to make out with her? Katie's situation is further complicated when Tommy Sullivan comes back to town. Katie knows the truth behind what happened four years ago, when Tommy left town in disgrace after the words "Tommy Sullivan is a freak" appeared on the wall of the middle school gymnasium in orange spraypaint -- and she's sure that Tommy is out for revenge. Why else would he come back? The problem is, he's also gotten really, really hot. . . .

I basically wanted to smack Katie upside the head for this entire book. The writing is up to Meg Cabot's usual standard, the plot has lots of the funny, cringe-worthy scenarios that typify chick lit, and the male romantic lead is pretty close to masculine perfection (except for his execrable taste in women). But Katie got on my nerves so much that I couldn't enjoy the story.

I listened to the audio version, and narrator Krista Sutton did an excellent job of portraying Katie. In fact, I'd recommend this audiobook . . . if you have a high tolerance for annoying main characters.

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

Flora Segunda and Flora's Dare by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Flora Segunda and Flora's Dare by Ysabeau Wilce were both rereads for me. I read and enjoyed them both a few years ago, but knew I needed to refresh my memory of them before reading the newly-released third book in the series.

I don't think I can possibly summarize the plots of these two books. Wilce is an amazing writer, and she does a great job with character, setting, and plot. I love Flora, for all her flaws and foibles. The scrapes she gets into are often of her own creation, but the reader will root for her throughout, for all that. The setting is wonderfully different from the typical fantasy world, and the language and naming traditions reflect that.

I hope I'm not giving these books short shrift with this truncated review -- I highly recommend them to fans of young adult fantasy.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is another old favorite of mine. This time, I decided to listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by Roslyn Alexander.

Aerin is the daughter of the king of Damar -- but by his second wife, a woman who was widely distrusted and whom many suspected of witchcraft. Aerin herself is looked down on by most of the royal court, even when she discovers a fireproofing ointment that enables her to slay dragons with less chance of personal injury. Dragons, after all, are vermin, and though they can be fierce, none of them grow much larger than a dog in Aerin's day. The Great Dragons are considered creatures of legend . . . until the day that one of them appears. Maur, the last of the Great Dragons, awoken by malicious Northern magic, returns to terrorize Damar -- and Aerin may be the only person who can face him. Even if she can defeat Maur, she will have to face greater and more dangerous challenges before she can take her rightful place in Damar.

This is probably my second-favorite McKinley book (after Beauty). Aerin is a great, complex character -- she consistently undervalues herself, but that doesn't stop her from attempting heroic action, not for the glory of it, but because it's a dirty job that someone has to do. The romance in the story, not to give too much away, is likewise complex. And, though the story is pretty tightly focused on Aerin, secondary characters (even the unlikeable ones) get their moments of poignance and character development.

As for the audio version . . . it was all right. The narration was not distracting (in the way that really bad narration can be), but neither did it stand out in a positive way. I listened to The Blue Sword earlier this year, and though two different narrators read the two books, they have a very similar sound. In both cases, I'd recommend reading the books, rather than listening to them.

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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery

Jane of Lantern Hill by L.M. Montgomery is one of my childhood favorites. I hadn't revisited it in a while, so I decided it was time for a reread.

For most of her childhood, Jane Victoria Stuart believed that her father was dead. When she was eleven years old, she learned otherwise. For as long as she could remember, Jane had lived in Toronto with her lovely socialite mother and cold, repressive grandmother. Jane knows that her grandmother dislikes her, particularly the parts of her that seemed inherited from her father's side of the family. Jane, who has no memory of her father, hates him, too, because the memory of him seems to cause her beloved mother so much pain. Then, out of the blue, a letter arrives, demanding that Jane spend the summer with her father in Prince Edward Island. That summer is to change Jane's life forever.

On Prince Edward Island, Jane learns what it is to have friends, to be competent at something, and to be loved without the fear and restrictions that characterize her life in Toronto. Jane's dad welcomes her with open arms and an open heart. Together, they choose a little cottage on Lantern Hill to be their summer abode, and Jane delights in every aspect of housekeeping. She befriends all of the neighborhood children and learns new skills every delightful day, from cooking to gardening to swimming in the Gulf. She goes home a confident, independent young woman instead of the cowed child she has always been . . . and she can't help but wonder: what did go wrong with her parents' marriage all those years ago?

This is one of Montgomery's lesser-known works, but it remains one of my favorites. I love Jane's capable, down-to-earth nature, and I remember relishing her domestic conquests back when I first read the book at the age of nine or ten. And, though Jane is a child throughout the book (unlike many Montgomery titles, this spans only a couple of years, rather than the protagonist's entire girlhood), there are a lot of adult issues and concerns, not all of which are pleasantly resolved by the end of the book. It's a wonderfully complex story, and fans of Montgomery's other works should definitely seek it out.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce is a companion novel to Sisters Red, which I read earlier this year. It's a loose retelling of "Hansel and Gretel." Siblings Ansel and Gretchen are driving cross-country after being kicked out of their home by their stepmother. When their car breaks down in a tiny South Carolina town, the only local citizen who welcomes them is Sophia, the beautiful young proprietor of a confectionery shop. As Ansel and Gretchen make themselves useful around the shop, they learn some of the town's darkest secrets. Young women have been steadily disappearing . . . and some locals blame Sophia. Through a friendship with a somewhat reclusive young man, Gretchen learns the truth behind the girls' disappearances -- and solves a mystery from her own past, as well. Can she stop more young women from disappearing, or will her efforts be too little, too late?

Of the two books, I have to say that Sisters Red was the stronger work. My problem with this book is that I didn't find a single character likable. Ansel was a flat nonentity, Sophia a bit too much of a stereotypical femme fatale. Gretchen struck me as both whiny and clueless, and her romantic counterpart, who was probably supposed to seem mysterious and brooding, instead came across as sullen and uncooperative. The plot dragged a bit in the middle as Ansel and Gretchen cooled their heels at the chocolate shop, waiting for something to happen. Also -- minor spoiler -- equating the "witch" from the original story with the werewolves from Sisters Red didn't work for me, and having Gretchen constantly refer to the werewolves as witches reinforced my opinion of her as a clueless airhead. I also feel that it weakened the bond between this retelling and the original Hansel and Gretel story.

I'm sure many readers, particularly fans of this author, will love this story. It just wasn't the best book for me.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

In A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Prince Khemri has been trained, enhanced, and programmed since infancy to become one of the elite rulers of the galaxy. He dreams of someday becoming Emperor. When he leaves his secure training area to take his place among other Princes, however, he learns that the world is not at all what he expected. Competition between princes is cut-throat, he has to work for the luxuries he expected to come with his station, and not all Princes are just and honorable. The biggest challenge comes when he is sent on a top-secret training mission where e has to live as a normal human, among other normal humans. Will he be able to function without the technologies that have surrounded him his entire life? Will he be able to complete his mission and return to the world of privilege he's always longed for -- or does a different destiny await him?

This novel is pure sci-fi, so a change of pace from what I've been reading for a while. There's plenty of action as Khemri moves from one challenging situation to another. The heart of the story, though, is Khemri's character development -- and that character development is masterfully done. Khemri goes from believing everything he's ever been told about the nature of the Empire, to learning to think for himself. He retains some of his cold analytical thinking skills, but he also slowly learns how to relate to other human beings. Some readers may feel that he doesn't change enough, but it felt entirely believable and natural to me. I'd recommend this to any reader who enjoys character-driven sci-fi.

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is truly a fantasy epic. Large portions of the narrative focus on three characters: a young woman sent by her family to steal a valuable artifact, a slave who was once a soldier and a leader and has the potential to become one again, and an aging warrior who faces the challenge of uniting a fractured kingdom. Other points of view are touched on, but those three stories are the backbone of the narrative. As with all of Sanderson's writing, the magic system is detailed and creative. Readers who enjoy epic fantasy will, no doubt, enjoy this. In fact, I enjoyed it, on the whole. I must admit that I slogged through the middle portions, and I put off reading it for almost two years because I dreaded the time commitment involved in reading the entire book (unlike my brother, a much more avid Sanderson fan, who pounced on the advance copy as soon as I brought it home, and has been talking it up ever since).  I don't think I like it quite as much as I liked the Mistborn series, or Elantris, and if you're new to Sanderson's writing, I'd recommend starting with one of those before tackling The Way of Kings. Still, I'm glad I finally got around to it!

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

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz

Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz is the story of a young American growing up in China. At the age of 11, Jean has never set foot on American soil, but she dreams of the day when she will get to experience typical American childhood events: feeding chickens at her grandmother's farm, roller-skating, saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school. On the other hand, she loves her life in China, too. This fictionalized memoir is a lovely description of a young girl who is, in many ways, torn between two countries. Fritz obviously remembers vividly what it is to be a child -- young Jean struggles with her parents' expectations that she be a "good" girl. "Sometimes, I don't even try [to be good]," she admits in a letter to her grandmother.

When a friend passed this book along to me, I thought that I had never read it -- but as I read, I found that certain mental images echoed back from my childhood: the junks on the Yangtze, the chef with his long fingernails and his elaborate butter pagodas, the little boy who calls Jean a "foreign devil" and with whom she shares an orange. I must have read this at some point in the deep and dusty past. While the descriptions of Fritz's China are, by now, somewhat dated, her descriptions of her childhood feelings are timeless.

(Reviewed from a secondhand copy given to me by a friend.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Last Princess by Galaxy Craze

Eliza Windsor is The Last Princess. In post-apocalyptic Britain, the ruling family is holding on to the throne by the skins of their teeth. The world was devastated by the Seventeen Days, an unspecified apocalyptic event, and global communications were obliterated. The last of the Windsors are struggling to maintain some semblance of normalcy, but revolutionary forces are demanding their heads. When the palace is invaded, Eliza is the only royal who manages to escape. She doesn't know what has happened to her family, but she's determined to find out -- and to avenge them, if necessary.

This is the grittiest "princess book" imaginable -- don't expect poofy skirts and court intrigue! Instead, as I remarked to a co-worker, this book has cannibals and death camps. Not that I'm complaining -- it's certainly a valid way of picturing a post-apocalyptic future. I thought that ties to the present day were generally well-done, though I'm perhaps not familiar enough with UK politics to see any gaping plot holes. And, while I found Eliza a little flat in her grim determination to exact revenge, I must admit that a less forceful character would not have survived in the world that the author has created. I would recommend this to fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels, particularly readers who find some recent dystopias just a little too wimpy.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge: Crossing the Finish Line

This past 48 hours has been a test of endurance, to be sure.

I've read and blogged for 26 hours and 45 minutes -- well over my goal of 24 hours.  I pledged to donate 25 cents per hour to Reading is Fundamental, and I'll round my total up to $10.  That's the good news.

On the other hand, here's my reading progress:

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini -- read about 30% (started before challenge, finished during challenge)
Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz -- read 100%
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley -- listened to 22% (started before challenge, did not finish)
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson -- read 91% (started during challenge, did not finish)

So, I suppose I only really have one book completed for this challenge.  Pretty pitiful for nearly 27 hours of reading!  But I'm actually fairly happy with the progress I made on The Way of Kings -- 914 pages is nothing to sneeze at, and I'm at the point where the book has finally started to rush toward its conclusion.  I'll finish it off easily in under two hours of reading, probably tomorrow night.

I've enjoyed being part of this, my first official readathon.  I already have some ideas of how to make the next one better:
- Have on hand a broad selection of short, engaging reads.  While I don't exactly regret tackling The Way of Kings, I do wish I had more to show for a weekend's worth of reading -- and I'll admit, getting through the middle parts of that book was a slog at times.  Next time I do this, I want plenty of options, including some easy chapter books, graphic novels, and fluffy romances for times when my brain is tired and I need a sense of accomplishment.
-Make better use of audiobook time.  I spent a little over two hours listening to my audiobook -- driving to and from church, and fixing and eating supper.  Next year, I want to load the audiobook onto my iPod so I can be a little more mobile, and get out and do something while listening.  Which leads into my next point . . .
-Move around more. Right now, I'm feeling a little stiff and sore from inactivity.  I spent a lot of reading time in bed, actually, because my bedroom is the coolest and most comfortable place in my apartment at the moment (I'm plagued with chronic air-conditioning woes).  Next year, I want to find different places in which to read, and use my audiobook time for staying active.

Thanks to MotherReader for setting up this readathon, and to my fellow 48HBC bloggers for their comments and camaraderie.  See you around!

48-Hour Book Challenge: The End is In Sight!

The end is in sight, but it's still some distance away.  However, this is probably the last update I'll post before the end of the challenge.  I have a little more than ten hours remaining of my 48, and I plan to spend most of that time reading (though it's entirely possible that a nap will overtake me at some point).  So far, I've read 17 hours and 45 minutes.  I have not finished any books since my last update -- I made a little progress on The Way of Kings and listened to a few discs of The Hero and the Crown while driving.  I'm still hopeful about finishing The Way of Kings, but I also need to stop by and comment on some blogs, particularly since several of you have stopped by to comment on mine!  I'll save that for when I need a break in a few hours.  For now, on with the big book. . . .

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini is a fairly good read, though it has its weak points.

Nantucket native Helen Hamilton knows that she's different, but she doesn't know why. She's beautiful but painfully shy, and though she's both smart and athletic, she holds herself back in both areas so as not to draw attention. When the Delos family moves to the island and their teenage children start attending Helen's school, Helen finds herself consumed with an inexplicable burning hatred toward these newcomers. Helen's usually pretty easygoing, so her emotions come as a surprise to her and her friends. She even physically attacks Lucas, one of the Delos boys, in the hallway at school. Everything changes, though, when she and Lucas end up saving each others' lives. Helen learns that she is a demigod -- part of one of four rival families who have been battling since ancient times. And though Helen and Lucas are undeniably attracted to each other, they can never be together . . . the fate of the world depends on it.

So, this is sounding pretty Twilighty, right? A shy, beautiful girl, a mysterious family of beautiful people, a forbidden romance . . . I'd actually say it's Twilight meets Percy Jackson, and recommend it to people who enjoyed both of those series. It does have an edge over Twilight in a few ways, though. For one thing, Helen is as strong as the Delos family. They do some Cullen-esque protecting of her, but they also work on training her to use her gifts, and they acknowledge that she has the potential to be stronger than any of them. For another thing, Lucas is not as cold as a marble statue, he doesn't sparkle in the sunlight, and he has no desire to eat Helen. 'Nuff said, right? And I also appreciated that Helen doesn't completely dump her mortal friends for the Delos family. As for weaknesses, there are places where the writing is a little clunky, there are some weird perspective shifts toward the end of the book, after being pretty much in Helen's head for the bulk of the story, and Helen's passive attitude toward her training got on my nerves sometimes. Still, this was an enjoyable read which I'm sure I'll be recommending to teens looking for something similar to Twilight, and I'll probably read the sequel sooner or later.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased electronic copy.)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge: Evening Edition

I'm coming up on the halfway point of the 48-Hour Book Challenge, and will have spent 14.5 hours out of 24 reading and blogging.  So far, I have finished off one book which had been started before the challenge (Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini), read another book (Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz), and plowed through half of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  I haven't written reviews for the first two yet (in fact, I still owe a review for a book I finished before the challenge started), but I will try to do that soon.  All in all, I feel fairly good about the amount of reading time I have put in, and I'm on target to reach my goal of 24 hours read by the end of the challenge.

48-Hour Book Challenge: Afternoon Update

I'm about 17 hours in to the 48-Hour Book Challenge at this point, though I've only spent 8.25 of those hours reading and blogging.  I'm 402 pages into The Way of Kings, and I'm thinking it may be time to read something else for a while.  The story is good, but the small print and sheer heft of the 1,000-page tome is giving me a headache!

Other than that, not much to report.  My dog loves days where the two of us lounge around the house, so she probably wishes every weekend could be a 48-Hour Book Challenge!  Any other 48HBC readers out there?  How's it going for you all?

48-Hour Book Challenge: Morning Edition

Good morning, everyone! What with last night's late start, I only got an hour and 45 minutes worth of reading in before my eyes started going shut without my permission.  So now, having gotten a good night's sleep, I'm starting back up.  I made a good start on The Way of Kings last night, so I'll be reading that for now.  If I decide I need a change of pace, I'm also halfway through Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini, so I might pick that up.  I also have a stack of library books, plus my owned to-be-read books, so I certainly won't run out of reading material.  I'll keep posting as the day goes along!

Friday, June 8, 2012

48-Hour Book Challenge: Ready, set . . .

I'm getting a later start than I had planned, but it's still a start.  My 48-hour period will run from 11:30 p.m. Friday to 11:30 p.m. Sunday.  I'd still welcome sponsors, if anyone is interested.

All right, my first book is beside me, and the clock is ticking.  Here I go!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Black Heart by Holly Black

Black Heart by Holly Black is the conclusion of the Curseworkers trilogy, and I'm finding it hard to explain the series. First of all, if you're at all interested -- if, for instance, you like urban fantasy, or reading about original, well-developed magic systems, you should start with White Cat, where you can meet teenage con man Cassel Sharpe and his mob family and preppy boarding school friends. You can immerse yourself in a world where some individuals have the ability to work curses by touch, so everyone in society wears gloves to prevent being worked. And you can avoid the spoilers that will be included in the rest of this review.

In Black Heart, Cassel is working for the Feds -- or is he? After all, Cassel will always look out for Cassel first, and he hasn't made a definite commitment to the Feds yet. Still, they need his unique talents for a big job. If he plays his cards right, he may be able to make everyone happy: the Feds, his family, the crime boss, his friends, the mob, and Lila -- the girl he loves, who was cursed to love him back and . . . well, it's complicated. Then again, if Cassel messes up, the consequences could be deadly. Will Cassel be able to pull off "the Big One?"

I liked this book just as much as the first two in the series. Cassel has a strong, smart (and smart-alecky) voice, and he was a lot of fun to read about, as always. The plot came together well, though it seemed just a little bit more straightforward than the other two books. That may be because this book has a definite ending, wrapping up loose ends nicely. A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

A note on the cover: I really liked the covers for White Cat and Red Glove -- I'm ambivalent about this one.  I generally dislike when publishers change the cover design in the middle of a series, and more so when the original cover art does as good a job of evoking the atmosphere of the books as the first two covers for this series did.  I can live with this one -- mostly because I don't plan to add them to my personal collection.

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

48-Hour Book Challenge

It's almost time for the 48-Hour Book Challenge!  Since this is my first year of blogging, it's also my first year of participating in this challenge.  Basically, over the course of the coming weekend, I and many other bloggers will attempt to read for as much of a 48-hour period as possible.  My current plan is to start my 48 hours on Friday evening and end it up on Sunday evening.  This year, the beneficiary for the reading challenge is Reading is Fundamental.  I have fond childhood memories of getting books through RIF, so I was excited to see that it will benefit from this challenge.  I'll be sponsoring myself at the modest rate of 25 cents per hour, and if any of you would like to sponsor me as well, please post in the comments.  (If you choose to do so, please donate directly to RIF at the link above.)

My plans for the reading challenge are not particularly solid at the moment.  I know I'd like to tackle a couple of the big, chunky tomes that have been languishing on my bookshelf -- my brother keeps pestering me to read The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, and I keep putting it off because, though I know I'll like it, I just haven't wanted to tackle it since I know it will take a while to read.  I have several books like that, actually -- fantasy, classics, and even YA -- so if I get through The Way of Kings, there are several others I might pick up.  I'll also have an audiobook on hand for a change of pace.

I won't be able to do 48 hours (I'm too fond of sleep, and I do plan to go to church on Sunday), but I'm hoping I'll at least top 24.  This is my first real, concentrated attempt at a readathon, and I'm excited to see how it goes!  I have a few review posts to catch up on before it starts, but I'll be sure to do a starting line post, a few posts in the middle, and a wrap-up post Sunday evening.  Anybody else who's participating, or any cheerleaders watching from the sidelines, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

In The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen, Meg and Calen face dangers both familiar and new. Calen and his master Serek have traveled to the headquarters of the Magistratum for Calen's first official mage-mark, but while they are there the Magistratum is attacked by mysterious forces, and some of the mages think Calen is to blame. Meanwhile, back in Trelian, a neighboring kingdom claims to have been attacked by a dragon, and Jakl is their prime suspect. Meg is sure that Jakl had nothing to do with the attacks, but she's been suffering from violent nightmares, herself. Could that have something to do with her link with the dragon? She's hesitant to discuss it with her family, because they are already mistrustful of Meg and Jakl's link. When Meg tries to take matters into her own hands, she manages to make a bad situation worse . . . and Calen, one of the few people who really understands her link with Jakl, may be too far away to help. Trelian teeters on the brink of war, the Magistratum seems to be breaking apart -- is there some evil force orchestrating events, and what roles will Meg and Calen play in how they unfold?

I thought this book was about on par with its predecessor. It's obvious that it's the second book in (most likely) a trilogy. The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger. A few new characters are introduced -- most notably the eccentric mage Anders, possibly my favorite character in the series so far. Readers who enjoyed the first book in the series will probably like this one, though they will doubtless be impatient for the release of the next book.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

I read The Dragon of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen back when it first came out, and reread it just now since the sequel has been released. I enjoyed it when I first read it, but the details of the story did not stick with me at all, so I am glad I squeezed in a reread before proceeding with the series.

When apprentice mage Calen and Princess Meglynne encounter each other (both hiding from their respective responsibilities), a fast friendship is formed. Both children were lonely and isolated by their positions, and they soon find themselves sharing secrets. Meg has a big secret -- she discovered a young dragon in the woods near the castle, and she has been hiding it in a cave ever since. In fact, Meg and the dragon Jakl have formed a magical bond. They are, in fact, linked for life, whether they meant to be or not. Calen resolves to help keep Meg's secret, and he begins to research the dragon linkage in hopes of helping her manage it. Even bigger than this dragon-size problem, however, is the scheme of an evil mage who is plotting war and murder. When Calen and Meg stumble upon this plot, their lives are in danger -- and they are the only ones who can sound the alarm and stop the plot from wreaking havoc in Meg's family and her kingdom.

This is a fun fantasy read -- though I found myself enjoying it a little less as a reread than I did at first. Perhaps that's because it's not highly original, as far as the plot goes. I like the characters, and I think Meg's conflicted feelings about her link with Jakl are particularly well-done. Some of the secondary characters (Meg's parents, for instance) are a bit flat, while others (Serek, the mage Calen is apprenticed to, in particular) are intriguing. It's a good solid read, and I'd recommend it to fans of middle-grade fantasy, especially those who like the Dragon Slippers books by Jessica Day George and A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke is the story of Jon, a young British boy unwillingly sent to boarding school by his mother and soon-to-be stepfather. He's harboring boatloads of resentment, but that's not all that's haunting him in the ancient city of Salisbury. A centuries-old ghost has sworn vengeance on one of Jon's ancestors, and he's pursuing the feud right down the family line. Jon calls on the ghost of an even more ancient knight, one who has sworn to protect the innocent until the sins of his lifetime are expiated. In gratitude for the knight's help, Jon promises to serve as the knight's squire and to do him a favor that may help him rest easier in his grave. The task proves both difficult and dangerous, but Jon has help from his new friend Ella . . . and from another, much more unexpected source!

One of the things I liked best about this book is how much history Funke incorporated into the story. It made me want to learn more about Ela Longespee, an influential woman from 13th century Britain -- I had never even heard of her before! I also thought the characters were interesting, and Jon in particular undergoes a good bit of character development over the course of the story. I quite enjoyed this book, and it certainly made me want to visit Salisbury!

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Forgive Me, I Meant To Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine

This Is Just To Say

I have read
your funny book
of false
apology poems

I liked them
but that's really
all I'm going
to say

Forgive me
I never was
very good at
reviewing poetry

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