Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Thickety: A Path Begins

J. A. White

Hand in hand, the witch's children walked down the empty road.
When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. Years later, Kara and her little brother, Taff, are still shunned by the people of their village, who believe that nothing is more evil than magic . . . except, perhaps, the mysterious forest that covers nearly the entire island. It has many names, this place. Sometimes it is called the Dark Wood, or Sordyr's Realm. But mostly it's called the Thickety.

The black-leaved trees swayed toward Kara and then away, as though beckoning her.
The villagers live in fear of the Thickety and the terrible creatures that live there. But when an unusual bird lures Kara into the forbidden forest, she discovers a strange book with unspeakable powers. A book that might have belonged to her mother.
And that is just the beginning of the story.

This book was one of those that caught my eye and I knew it was a risk to take a chance on a story about witchcraft. Often these sorts of stories tend to run along black magic, pentagrams, and other things that give me the willies. I greatly dislike black magic and stay far away from it in any form. I was leery as I read, seeing that the story was heading in a dangerous direction. Oddly, the line that the author danced around was okay for me. It was a dark story, one that would have frightened (and probably delighted) me as a child. Kara has a complex path to follow in this first book, finding magic and seeing its dangers and delights. The impressive part of the book is that it isn’t really about magic, it’s about choices and who you are deep inside, about the gifts you have and how you choose to use them. I would be comfortable grouping this book into paranormal and horror genres, but for younger readers, and therefore not as freakishly scary as some others that have given me nightmares as an adult (psychological thrillers are terrifying to me). That being said, this makes it difficult to review this book from a content standpoint, because it definitely won’t be for everyone, and will give some kids nightmares. It was reminiscent of books I’ve read about the Salem Witch Trials, like “The Burning Time”. That book was horrifying to me. The nice thing is, this book is so firmly in the fantasy genre, that it makes it less terrifying because it isn’t based on actual events or people. Still, parents be careful with this one, I’d recommend a child that is more mature; preferably at least 14.

I give it a 3.75 out of 5

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Elantris

By Brandon Sanderson

Elantris was beautiful, once. It was called the city of the gods: a place of power, radiance, and magic. Visitors say that the very stones glowed with an inner light, and that the city contained wondrous arcane marvels. At night, Elantris shone like a great silvery fire, visible even from a great distance.
Yet, as magnificent as Elantris had been its inhabitants had been more so. Their hair a brilliant white, their skin an almost metallic silver, the Elantrians seemed to shine like the city itself. Legend claimed that they were blessed with great strength, insight, and speed. They could perform magics with a bare wave of the hand; men visited Elantris from all across Opelon to receive Elantrian healings, food, or wisdom. They were divinities.
And anyone could become one.
The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly—usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person’s life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence and move to Elantris. Elantris, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshiped for eternity.
Eternity ended ten years ago.

It has been a long time since I have been so all-consumed with a book. This was amazing writing and world-crafting. I really liked Mistborn and thought it was fantastic and inventive, but Elantris just came at me from every angle and had me from the very first line. I was floored by the concept and even more so by the in-depth characters that became complex and incredibly real. I was so invested in certain characters that (no exaggeration) I was in the throes of anxiety about whether they would survive. I had moments where I was so afraid of their demise that I would just stare at the cover and cringe, not wanting to read in case the worst happened, but ultimately I had to keep reading because I loved the world and people too much to stop! I was sick, I was ecstatic, I was teary, I was exultant, and that was just in the first half of the book! Raoden was amazing, not because he was a warrior or prince, but because of his endless optimism and courage. Sarene was the most amazing female character I have EVER read, because she is intelligent and witty, forceful and yet still feminine. She is a woman. Not a stereotype. Holy cow Brandon Sanderson, I love you for writing Sarene so well. Hrathen I can’t even begin to explain my feelings about, he is so complex and interesting. These are the three main characters, but each character that is introduced is so well fleshed out and individual that you just know that they’re real. Nobody is left feeling like a ‘filler’ character. That in itself is astounding. I cannot say enough good about this novel, I’ve already read it twice since discovering it a few months ago and it’s one of those transporting reads that just leaves you feeling good and like you were there with them every step of the way. This book, for me personally, hit every mark perfectly with precision and innovation. It just makes me happy to go to Arelon, like it makes me happy to go to Middle Earth or Hogwarts.

I am very frugal with a 5 star vote, only a handful of books have done that for me, but none-to my mind-deserve it more than Elantris. To me 5 stars means it touched something intangible as I read and had me, without any choice, drawn into the pages and living alongside the characters. In other words, this was something special.

5 out of 5


P.S. if you read Elantris and love it like I did, be sure to go to Brandon Sanderson’s web site and read his short story “The Hope of Elantris” as well as his deleted scenes and chapter annotations. They are all amazing and fun for fans. 

Janitors 4: Strike of the Sweepers

By Tyler Whitesides

The stakes have never been higher, and you’ve never seen squeegees do this before! IT is a wild and slightly unsanitary ride as Spencer, Daisy, and the rebels find themselves chased by Mr. Clean’s new and terrifying breed of toxite—the Sweepers. Time is short. With the fable Manualis Custodem in hand, Spencer must figure out how to summon the founding witches if they ever hope to mop up and save education.

Much like the previous 3 novels in the Janitors series, this is full of adventure and has some great morals for kids within its pages. One of my favorite quotes from this book was, “Winning doesn’t mean we all go home safe, that is a thing of fairy tales and bedtime stories. Real life will demand much more of us, and we have to stand ready to pay whatever price is needed to gain the victory. Because victory will come to those who fight for what is right. It won’t come without its fair share of pain and suffering. No victory comes without sacrifice. But it will come. We just have to stay the course.” That’s really the crux of this book. We’re heading into the final innings of the series, and things are getting serious. Spencer is the only hope for the rebels and must learn to trust his instincts to save the people he has come to rely and care for as well as save education and the future.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

The Light Princess and Other Stories

By George MacDonald

When the Light Princess was born, somebody messed up an invitation to her christening and left out her evil aunt, who was a witch. That evil aunt vented her anger by casting a spell on the Princess that left her immune to gravity. Which was a strange (and often inconvenient ) way for things to be -- more than once the wind caught hold of her while she slept, and you can go the most amazing places on the wind if you have no weight.
Then, when the princess got to be a young woman, she met a young prince and fell in love -- and the results of that love are the very essence of this tale . . . Also included in this volume are "The Giant's Heart," and "The Golden Key.”

I’ve been meaning to read more from George McDonald since I discovered that my own name was derived from one of his books. This is a collection of short stories, the main of which is The Light Princess. I adored the story of the Light Princess, and contrary to my initial assumption of her being a Light (as in the opposite of dark) princess, she is actually Light (as in the opposite of heavy) princess. It was funny and clever and felt like a classic fairy tale in every sense. It’s a story about levity and solemnity as well as the power of sacrifice and love. I’d recommend it to anybody who likes fairy tales. The other two stories included in the version I read were The Giant’s Heart and The Golden Key. The Giant’s heart was strange, but oddly endearing. It’s about two kids who set out on a journey to save themselves and other children from a child-eating giant by trying to find where he hid his heart. The Golden Key was a surreal story. It’s about two children who find themselves, for lack of a better word, in fairy land. Their journey is all to do with a Golden Key and what it unlocks. They encounter wonderful creatures and gods. It felt a bit disjointed, but I feel like I missed something and it makes me want to go back and read it again. It has a depth in the tone of the telling that I’m sure I missed the meaning behind it. This was, overall, a very satisfying read.

I give The Light Princess a 4.5 out of 5
I give The Giant’s Heart a 3.25 out of 5

I give The Golden Key a 3.5 out of 5

Those Extraordinary Twins

By Mark Twain

Those Extraordinary Twins came about because they were original characters in Twains other novel Puddin’ Head Wilson, but seeing that they detracted from the novel, he deleted all scenes that held the twins, and this novel is their story that was taken from Puddin’ Head Wilson.

Luigi and Angelo Capello are conjoined twins that move into the house of a widow and her daughter. They share peculiarities, such as the fact that when Angelo drinks, only Luigi gets drunk, and when Luigi is sick, only Angelo is able to take the medicine to make him well. The twins also share this peculiarity: Only one of the twins can control the body for one week at a time. This strange and oddly entertaining story is the kind of satirical nonsense you expect from the sarcastic Twain. While not feeling like a true novel, and being more of a series of stories about the Twins. It’s strange. It’s funny. It’s plain confusing at times. It was enjoyable at times and boring at others. I don’t  think I’d recommend this one to just anybody, probably just literature lovers that are familiar with and enjoy Twain’s writing.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Winter's Tale

By William Shakespeare

The Winter’s Tale doesn’t have a summary as such, so I’ll just review and summarize here. This is the story of two kings, friends until one king accuses the other of cheating with his wife. Chaos ensues, the accused king escapes, the queen goes on trial and dies from grief. The King is devastated by his wife’s death. The worst part is she was pregnant and delivered a baby before she died, and the king wanted the baby abandoned because he thought it was his friend’s child. After the death of the queen it is shown that the queen was faithful and the king’s paranoia has destroyed his family, and possibly his kingdom. The rest of the play is about how things work out for the best and how love wins out and sacrifice is rewarded. I’d like to see it one day. While it has similar themes as some of his other plays, it has a maturity and depth to it that some of the others don’t display, and also a lot more hope than his other tragedies.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Janitors 3: Curse of the Broomstaff

By Tyler Whitesides

A secret society of Janitors with wizard-like powers continue their battle, and now, the stakes are even higher.
The Bureau of Educational Maintenance is after Alan Zumbro and this time they mean business—deadly business. Spencer, Daisy, and their little team of rebels must find the source of all magical Glop and destroy it before it can destroy the world as we know it. No small task with the BEM and their monster toxites at their heels. It’s a wild and dangerous ride as they follow the trail of clues all the way to the hiding place of the mysterious aurans: guardians of a secret landfill. What they discover there will change the way Spencer sees himself, not to mention the fate of the rebels.

I was excited to start this novel simply for the fact that I was interested to see what the author would do with Spencer’s newfound abilities as an Auran. The journey that the group takes through the glopified dump is equal parts entertaining and surprising with the imagination that Tyler Whitesides displays. Kids will eat this up. Bookworm is a personal favorite for a new character, that scene just left me happy. We’re handed a few twists in this book and Spencer has to decide who he’s going to trust and who he should give a second chance. I can say this for the Janitors series, it gets better with every book. I didn’t much care for the first book, but they have gotten incrementally better each time. I still am of the opinion that this series is one for the kids more than the adults. Some middle readers and young adult books can bridge the gap between kids and adults so both parties end up loving it, but this one falls shy of that for me as an adult reader. It’s still fun, don’t get me wrong, but I can become bored. That doesn’t mean I won’t finish the series though!


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Atlantia

By Ally Condie

Can you hear Atlantia Breathing?

For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.
Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.

Ally has a truly beautiful way of writing in this latest novel. It’s as if we hear a singing melodic voice as we journey with Rio, who has spent her life hiding her true voice. This is an introspective novel, one that focuses, not on the world Rio inhabits, but on her own self-discovery and growth. I’ve seen many negative reviews stating that this novel is boring and the world building is non-existent. These reviews miss the crux of this novel in my opinion. Atlantia is a novel about family, about sacrifice and about learning to find yourself and love who you are despite everything else. I really resonated with this book, which pulled at my heart in the simplistic way that Ally was able to bring Rio’s inner struggles to life. Can you hear Atlantia breathing? That’s what the flow and tone of this book was like, at times it breathed quietly, other times it wheezed and strained, sometimes it screamed for air, and then you are breathing quietly once more. The simple beauty of this book is like feeling the sunlight on your face in the middle of winter, something you have to stop and be still to appreciate fully. It’s lovely.

I give it a 4 out of 5 

Robyn Hood: A Girl's Tale

By K. M. Shea

The ballads lie. Robin Hood, the Bold and Brave Outlaw of Sherwood Forest, is cowardly, spineless, and a girl.
Robyn unwittingly starts the Robin Hood farce when she is mistaken for a male while saving her friend, Marian, from two foresters. Forced into hiding, Robyn unwillingly collects “Merry Men” while grudgingly robbing from the rich fools that wander through Sherwood. What starts as small scale robbery blows up into complex heists when Little John and Will Scarlet join her team, and the idiotic Prince John and his legion of soldiers comes to town. However, Robyn can’t stop the theft—not when King Richard is being held ransom.
Cowardly Robyn’s best chance to raise money for King Richard’s release is to rob his brother, Prince John. Will she survive the heist, or swing in the gallows?

Reluctant female Robin Hood? Cool. I had reservations about this book because I had recently read the book Scarlet, which similar in regards to changing the gender of an iconic character, that of Will Scarlet. This book, thankfully, was much better than Scarlet, which was a huge let down for me. Robyn Hood is a girl that just wants to be left in peace to lead her life, and is cajoled by her merry men into becoming their leader. She is someone that they can rally around and also protect. The dynamic of the group was fun because it was kind of like Robyn was a little sister to the Merry Men, but they all love and protect her in every way possible. The only issue I had with this book was that I didn’t know before I started it that it is a two-part story. There is a pretty huge cliff-hanger in the end and it felt incredibly abrupt. So of course I had to go get the second book immediately to finish it. I kinda think that the author could’ve just put the two books together into one, as they really aren’t that big. Oh well.


This first instalment gets a 3.25 out of 5

Robyn Hood: Fight for Freedom

By K. M. Shea

Robyn left her band of Merry Men after losing an archery contest against Little John and runs to the last place her men would expect: the courts of Prince John. Robyn successfully masks her identity until Little John and Will Scarlet locate her with Marian’s help. Unfortunately the Merry Men are found out, and the Sheriff of Nottingham makes plans to hang them. Robyn must save her men and find a way out of the locked Nottingham Castle, or she will lose her trusted partners to the noose.
The Merry Men aren’t the only friends Robyn is fighting for. Marian—Robin’s childhood friend—will be unwillingly married to the persistent and violent Sir Guy of Gisborne if Robyn can’t stop the wedding.
Can Robyn save her men, her closest friend, and finally pay King Richard’s ransom.

The second half of Robyn Hood is much more creative than the first, seeing Robyn in the courts of Prince John acting as a courtier from a distant county. Robyn is pretty much pouting for the first half of this book, and majorly embarrassed when she discovers that some of her Merry Men have fallen in love with her. She’s a girl who isn’t one for drama, and what’s more dramatic than romance? Not only that, but she is also trying her best to ransom King Richard, and save her best friend from a truly horrible marriage. This is a fun conclusion to an interesting take on the classic myth. I enjoyed the read even if it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

The Book of Tea

By Kakuzo Okakura

In 1906 in turn-of-the century Boston, a small, esoteric book about tea was written with the intention of being read aloud in the famous salon of Isabella Gardner, Boston's most famous socialite. It was authored by Okakura Kakuzo, a Japanese philosopher, art expert, and curator. Little known at the time, Kakuzo would emerge as one of the great thinkers of the early 20th century, a genius who was insightful, witty and greatly responsible for bridging Western and Eastern cultures. Okakura had been taught at a young age to speak English and was more than capable of expressing to Westerners the nuances of tea and the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
In The Book of Tea Classic Edition he discusses such topics as Zen and Taoism, but also the secular aspects of tea and Japanese life. The book emphasizes how Teaism taught the Japanese many things; most importantly, simplicity. Kakuzo argues that tea-induced simplicity affected the culture, art and architecture of Japan.

While this book is, as the title suggests, a book about tea, it is also a beautiful book of philosophy that I found engaging and thought-provoking. Eastern culture has always held a fascination to me, especially themes of simplicity. This book is both a book about the history of tea and the way that it shaped a culture and brought to life the idea of living in the moment and seeing the beauty in simplicity and individuality. I loved how Okakura shows the differences between western and eastern culture and thought. Reading this book was a highlight of my year and I’m adding it to my favorites with books like “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen.


I give it a 4.25 out of 5 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Becoming Lady Lockwood

By Jennifer Moore

Amelia Beckett is delighted to be a widow. Married by proxy to a man she’d never met, Amelia recognizes that a fortuitous entry into widowhood frees her from meddlesome chaperones and matchmakers. Heiress to her mother’s sugar plantation in Jamaica, she happily anticipates working I a man’s world, with the additional credibility of her new title: Lady Lockwood. But with the arrival of Captain Sir William Drake, her plans quickly go awry…
William has traversed the Atlantic with one purpose. If he cannot prove that Amelia’s marriage to his brother was a fraud, she will be entitled to a sizeable portion of his family’s estate. He is determined to return this duplicitous “Lady” to London for an official hearing, and he carries with him a letter that will ensure her cooperation…
Left with no choice, Amelia joins the captain on his return voyage to England, and the two quickly find that ship life does not allow for evasion. Amelia and William are ceaselessly thrown together, and amidst fierce storms and ocean battles, what began as antipathy seems to be evolving quite unexpectedly. But as they draw ever closer to their destination, will the impossibility of their circumstances shatter any hope of a future together?

I happened to overhear a conversation where this book was mentioned in tandem with Sarah Eden and of course I had to see what was up. Another proper romance? Yes indeedy. If you’re looking for a fun adventure with a warm fuzzy romance and a few laughs, then you’ll love Becoming Lady Lockwood. Amelia is an honest person, having been raised in Jamaica and away from the false faces and courts of London. She’s not afraid of work and she genuinely likes people and wants to be useful. When she meets Captain William Drake, she thinks he’s a horrible and mean sort of man, but when they are thrown together out of necessity on a ship sailing for London, she quickly sees that the Captain is the best sort of man there is. Captain William Drake tries his best to dislike Amelia, but when he sees what kind of woman she is, he can’t help being drawn to her. With sea battles, court battles, and family issues galore, will William and Amelia find a way to be together? This was a lovely addition to the genre of proper romances, and taking place on a ship was a creative endeavor and fun trip for this reader. I enjoyed nearly every moment (minus a few harrowing moments of death and mayhem). I am excited to add another author in my go-to for a fluffy romance when needed. Well written and well-researched.
Content warning: There is some violence in this book. It takes place in wartime and the ship is boarded and many people die. It’s not overly gory but the death toll and resulting nightmares on Amelia’s part had me a little discomforted. If you don’t mind violence then you should be fine.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5 

The Blood Prince

By Jeff Wilson

Centuries have passed since the last of the great Sigil Knights, practitioners of lost arts, walked the earth wielding spiritual powers that are now only spoken of as part of myths and legends. Captain Aisen, a military officer in the newly re-founded Sigil Order, is returning home where his life will be altered forever.
His grandfather, Duke Kyreth Edorin, has died, and his body lies in preparation for a burial in the family crypts. As the heir to House Edorin, Aisen will be forced to leave his life as a soldier behind and assume the role of the next leader of his house. With help from his younger brother, Beonen, and his allies within the Sigil Corps, Aisen hopes to build relationships with the other noble houses and gain the respect of the people entrusted to his care.
Confronted by betrayal, Aisen will be shaped in ways which will give rise his reputation as the feared Blood Prince, and threaten to throw the nation of Nar Edor into a deadly conflict.

This is a promising start to what I hope (and expect) will be a great addition to the genre of fantasy. The form and style of writing reminded me of all the greats in high fantasy, everything was well fleshed out and felt realistic and credible. I was appreciative of the fact that it was so professionally written unlike many e-books that contain amateurish writing. I particularly enjoyed the main character Aisen and how his personality was explained through his reluctance as well as his ultimate actions in the finale of the short story. I was impressed with the depth of his character in the short amount of time in which he was introduced, and was excited by not knowing if he was intended to be a hero or a villain within the Archon Sigil Trilogy. I'll be happy to work that out when the first book is released this year. So congratulations Jeff for writing something that has me more than willing to read the full novels when they are released.
There was one thing that made the reading of this short story and prequel difficult, which is mostly just my own opinion. The beginning was challenging, where the specifics in names and places, and the general background of the world we are introduced to was overwhelming and confusing. I had to ignore the specifics I was being handed in favor of the generalities of the story. There was too much name-dropping for me to keep track of things in such a short amount of time. I would've appreciated being fed the specifics at a slower rate. Though, when the fighting began, Jeff was so detailed that I could see every thrust and parry, every move and counter move vividly.

When all is said and done, if you enjoy fantasy genres and kings and peasants, knights and mystical swords, then give this a go and see if the novels are going to be something you'll love. I can say for certain that if you like any of the above things, you'll love this short story (and probably the novels when they appear).

Content warning: There is a scene that has a pretty violent battle that includes a fair amount of bloodshed. I was cringing, but not sick to my stomach (thank heavens). It’d probably be like a PG-13 action film (think Lord of the Rings battles).


I give it a 4 out of 5

Wild Swans

By K. M. Shea

Elise is no hero. She would rather balance the castle’s expense accounts than become her country’s champion. But she doesn’t have a choice since her step-mother, a wicked withc, cursed the seven princes of Arcainia, Elise’s foster-brothers, and transformed them into swans. To free her foster-brothers Elise agrees to knit seven shirts made of stinging nettles. She must complete the shirts without uttering a word.
For the sake of safety and secrecy, Elise fless Arcainia and struggles to survive in the wild. Even though she is mute, trails seven wild swans, and knits like a mad-woman, Elise catches the eye of a foreign prince, who drags her back to his family’s castle where she is tormented by the prince’s evil father. With her step-mother hunting her foster-brothers and the foreign king threatening to kill her, Elise’s dedication to her task is sorely tested. But if Elise does not finish the shirts, Arcainia and her foster-brothers will be lost. Can a mathematician be the hero needed to save the day?

I have really enjoyed reading K. M. Shea’s books, and this is the book that goes between Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and the Colonel. I was excited, but wondered why this book got lower ratings than the other two. After reading it I can understand why because having loved the two aforementioned books, this pales in comparison. I liked Elise, but the love story part of the book left something lacking for me. It was almost creepy. Elise has no romantic interest in her suitors because she grew up with them, knowing them as brothers. The story itself was good and I liked the self-sacrifice parts of the book. The brothers were well characterized, if a bit silly at times. My main (and very large) problem with the book was the ending. What a cop-out. After going through the novel and wondering with excitement who Elise will choose, we get to the end only to find ourselves in a choose-your-favorite-love-interest? WHAT? I was ticked. That authorial choice was poor in my opinion. It really lowered the book and the journey you took to figure out who Elise chooses. I hated that. I would’ve liked the book much more if the author had simply let Elise choose, or even told us in a round-about way in a later book. In my opinion, just skip this book and read the other two.

I give it a 2.75 out of 5- All because of the ending. If not for the ending it would’ve been a 3 or 3.5

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To Be Read at Dusk

By Charles Dickens

There isn’t really a synopsis for this short story by Dickens, so I’ll just summarize and review right here. This is a story about a man who is watching a beautiful sunset in the Swiss Alps and happens to evesdrop on five couriers as they tell a ghost story. While not particularly frightening for people who are used to gore and movies like Ouija and The Ring, it is a nice little ghost story for the time period and a quick fun read. I can’t really explain more without giving things away. So, if you like Dickens, if you like a traditional ghost story, then this is worth the hour it takes to read it. Oh, and I recommend taking the author's advice. Read it at dusk!

I give it a 3 out of 5- average.

Fairy Tale Christmas

By Michael Mclean and Scott Mclean

Santa Claus has been kidnapped!
Behind the plot are an evil queen, a wicked stepmother, a sorceress, a beanstalk giant, and, of course, the mischievous Rumpelstiltskin. They have a plan that will erase the term “Happily Ever After” from our storybooks forever.
But it’s nearly Christmas Eve, and time is running out. Can Santa and the fairy-tale heroes save the day and bring Christmas to all the children of the world? Will anyone have a “Happily Ever After” again?

True to Michael Mclean, this is a cheeky happy story that has a good moral and a snappy song. I read this is one sitting and I’m still shaking my head and smiling when I think about it. Fairy tales have gotten more popular of late what with the slew of retellings in the book industry, Disney movies, and the hugely popular TV show Once Upon a Time. Capitalizing on this, Michael Mclean has given us a witty story about the villains, who want their happy endings and will do whatever it takes to get it, including holding for ransom the jolly elf himself, Santa Claus. This is a wonderful book to read aloud to kids at Christmas and has a website in the end that has a lovely song that goes along with the moral of the book; about the hero in all of us. Feel good and warm-fuzzy inducing, this is a good book to have at Christmas, and if it does well we might see it hit the stage alongside The Forgotten Carols!


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Brotherband 4: Slaves of Socorro

By John Flanagan

Hal and his fellow Herons have returned home to Skandia after defeating the pirate captain Zavac and reclaiming Skandia’s most prized artifact, the Andomal. With their honor restored, the Herons turn to a new mission: tracking down an old rival turned bitter enemy. Tursgud—leader of the Shark Brotherband and Hal’s constant opponent—has turned from a bullying youth into a pirate and slave trader. After Tursgud captures twelve ARaluen villagers to sell as slaves, the Heron crew sails into action…with the help of one of Araluen’s finest Rangers!

Brotherband has been a fun read from John Flanagan, but it hasn’t gotten up to par with Ranger’s Apprentice for me…until this book. I loved this installment. Maybe it was just that in the previous 3 books I didn’t like the antagonist Zavac. But this just had more of the tone and pacing that I came to expect from Rangers Apprentice. Perhaps it also was the fact that I was familiar with the characters and Flanagan was able to pull more out of them because they were well established. Or maybe it was the fact that Gilan was a consistent character! Yay! When worlds collide eh? Loved seeing a familiar face (so to speak) and it was fun to see Gilan in a more prominent role than in Rangers. He was more of a secondary character and having him as the sole Ranger in this trip was great. I enjoyed the plot as well, saving the slaves from Araluen and having to play cloak and dagger with Hal and the Herons. This was a fantastic addition to the Brotherband series, the best so far, and I can’t wait to read the next book and see some more familiar faces!


I give it a 4 out of 5. 

Janitors 2: Secrets of the New Forest Academy

By Tyler Whitesides

Now more than ever, Spencer, Daisy, and even Dez must fight to save schools everywhere. Toxites, the small creatures that love to feed on the brain waves of students, are just the beginning of their troubles.
The Bureau of Educational Maintenance (BEM) is after Spencer, and the Rebels hope to sneak him to safety within the walls of an elite private school. But danger follows Spencer and his friends testing their loyalty and trust as well as their Toxite-fighting skills. Can they hold out long enough to discover the true secret of New Forest Academy and what it means to the future of education?

I will admit, I didn’t much care for the first book in the Janitors series, finding it a bit preachy about education and a tad boring in the plot. But, having read this second book much improved my temperament toward the series (for an adult, kids will love it) as new twists were thrown in and we are introduced to new plots, bad guys, and powerful janitor equipment. This is much the same base plot as the first book with a few twists, one in particular at the end that had me wanting to read the next book as soon as I could get it at my library. Spencer has fully taken on the duties of a janitor, and has a mystery to solve once he and Daisy are sent to what the rebels assume is a safe school. What is the secret of New Forest Academy? Read to find out.


I give it a 3.25 out of 5

Bloom

By A. P. Kensey

Chosen individuals have been gifted with extraordinary abilities in order to restore balance to the world.
Haven Kincaid is seventeen. After moving away from her friends before the start of her senior year, she struggles to fit in at her new school. When the boy o her dreams shows interest, she finally has a chance to be normal—but Haven is more different than she realizes. After a tragic loss and a deep betrayal, she is kidnapped by a sinister group that will do anything to extract a deadly ability she can barely control—even if they kill her I the process.
Colton Ross is fresh out of high school. Driven by a desire to escape his abusive father and haunted by the memory of an absent mother, he moves to New York City to start over. When a favor for his friend backfires and he ends up in jail, Colton is bailed out by a mysterious businessman who offers him the chance to strengthen his new-found power and discover the truth about his past—a truth that will set him on a deadly quest.

First off, this is a free book on kindle, if you want to give it a go. Haven is a girl who has a tragedy strike her life, and as usual, when it rains it pours. She is kidnapped and experimented on, and rescued and taught about the unique abilities that got her kidnapped in the first place. Told in alternating perspectives of Haven and Colton, a boy fresh into the real world and learning about his own ability that he’s been trying to hide and use for good, Bloom is a creative fantasy about a world beneath our own. One where the balance of life is determined by people with incredible powers. But who is right and who is wrong? Is Haven on the wrong side, or will Colton prove to be mistaken in his choice of companions?

This gets a 3 out of 5- an average type young adult fantasy

Glimmer of Hope

By Sarah M. Eden

Stunning Miranda Harford once had the world at her feet. She was young carefree, and desperately in love. But when her new husband left for London without her, her world fell apart. Devastated by his abandonment, Miranda fled their home, taking residence at her husband’s rarely visited countryside estate. For three years, she lived alone. But now, as the holidays draw near, an unexpected visitor arrives…
Carter Alexander Harford, Seventh Viscount Devereaux, is a man driven to succeed. His work is his life, and the position of Prime Minister of England is within reach. But in truth, Carter is a man haunted by lost love. Estranged from his beautiful wife, Carter is shocked to find Miranda—the woman he loved and who he believes left him—in residence at his country home. As plans for a holiday party move forward, the uneasy couple realizes that to avoid further scandal, they must keep up appearances in a charade of marital happiness. Thrust together by fate, it quickly becomes clear that they have both been living beneath a conspired cloud of misunderstanding. As family, career, and social pressures threaten to keep them apart, can love have even a glimmer of hope?

Another book by Sarah Eden, this one is a Christmas book and one of the more emotionally twisting ones that I’ve read. Miranda is such a sweet character and I found myself connecting with and loving her character. Carter has obviously been hurt and the way he acts around and treats Miranda shows it. He is confused at why she left him four years previously, and is even more disturbed by the fact that after being around her he realizes he still loves her. Miranda tries to protect herself from old feelings when she sees her husband who she believes abandoned her, and remembering the love they used to share has been torture for her. Can the two ever be reconciled after the hurt they both experienced? Will they ever understand what happened four years ago? This is a kind of torturous love story. It’s about a husband and wife estranged from one another, and for the majority of the book, you don’t know why and neither do they. When everything comes to light it is heartbreaking. I would’ve liked to have had a little more than a glimmer of hope at the end of the book. Don’t get me wrong, things are good and the ending is fine, but the trip through had me frowning and screaming at the two characters to just flipping talk to each other! Ah, the stress of it all. This is a good story and book, but the tone was less lighthearted than I look for in a regency romance. I want to be happy and have warm fuzzies flying around my stomach at the end, but in this book I found myself sighing at the end in a sort of sad way.


I give this one a 3.25 out of 5- above average, but not happy enough.

Princess Ahira

By K. M. Shea

Getting kidnapped by dragons on her sixteenth birthday was the best thing that ever happened to Princess Ahira. After spending her life avoiding lectures and lessons, Ahira is thrilled when she is kidnapped and selected as live-in-princess (servant) for a powerful dragon named Azmaveth. Her dreams of escaping royal monotony are dashed, however, when she realizes she will have to marry the prince that saves her. Tradition rules, after all. Being a romance cynic, Ahira doesn’t consider marriage a fantastic future. So she decides to stay with Azmaveth until her brother, a prince, can sneak away from their kingdom to rescue her. Life is interesting thanks to eccentric tenants of the dragon lands. As a live-in-princess Ahira meets Snow White and her seven dwarf uncles who have fallen asleep, Hansel and Gretel who have locked an old woman out of her cookie cottage, and a miniature unicorn who has some pretty powerful magic. However, there are a few negatives to Ahira’s new life. There’s Kohath, Azmaveth’s infuriating human steward; Azmaveth’s tendency to mis-make magic spells Kohath; the ongoing epic battle between the dragons and the Valkyrie, magical warriors bent on dominion over magic; and Kohath. Things get scaly when the dragons realize Azmaveth has unwittingly put their future in Ahira’s hands. If Ahira wants her happily ever after she’ll have to fight tooth and nail for it.

This book is a tad hard to review without giving away certain key plot points, so I’ll do my best to convey things without spoilers. This is the story of Ahira, reluctant princess who just wants to be treated like a normal person and not swept under the royal rug. When Ahira is kidnapped on her birthday along with a few other princesses of the realm, she is quickly found to be the most level-headed unromantic and pragmatic princess ever. Azmaveth, who is akin to a Duke among the dragons, feels extremely fortunate to have found such a servant and housemate. Azmaveth is a bit of an oddity himself, a dragon who is an inventor as well as a magician, he has created quite a few useful things, but has caused a lot more mayhem with his failures. Ahira has to learn how to manage the house of a dragon, and an unusual one at that, and she is surprised to find that she enjoys her life with Azmaveth much more than her old one. She’s useful and wanted. This story is quite fun, though a bit unimaginative with Ahira. She’s a quirky princess who is stolen by a dragon, and seems to be the only princess that isn’t a dunce. Kohath on the other hand is a little strange and does his best to befriend Ahira, though there is something off about him. He is the more interesting character of the two, as there is a mystery to him. When all is said and done, this was a fun read and I loved the squat little unicorn that Ahira makes friends with; it just made me giggle. For a dragon book it was middling because I was disappointed with the finale. I do recommend this book, however, despite some of my disappointment with different facets of the book. It’s a fun little read and I was smiling at the end, which counts for a lot.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Wild Born

By Brandon Mull

Four children separated by vast distances all undergo the same ritual, watched by cloaked strangers. Four flashes of light erupt, and from them emerge the unmistakable shapes of incredible beasts—a wolf, a leopard, a panda, a falcon. Suddenly the paths of these children—and the world—have been changed forever.
Enter the world of Erdas, where every child who comes of age must discover if they have a spirit animal, a rare bond between human and beast that bestows great powers to both. A dark force has risen from distant and long-forgotten lands, and has begun an onslaught that will ravage the world. Now the fate of Erdas has fallen on the shoulders of four young strangers…and on you.
Part engrossing book series, part action role-playing game—discover your spirit animal and join the adventure.

This is one of those books that if you’re an animal lover you’ll enjoy. It’s a nice little late elementary to middle reader book that centers around a coming war and the four children chosen to have the four fallen Great Beasts for their spirit animals. Each of the children is uniquely different and bonds (or doesn’t) with their spirit animals. They each find that they are looked to for answers to end the oncoming war, and it is up to them to discover their own parts in the battle and in the process become a team. I really enjoyed the mythology of this world and wondered throughout what spirit animal I might have. There is a whole online experience for kids that I tried to check out but lost interest in pretty quickly. This is a fun young fantasy that can get a little boring for an older reader at times, but on the whole it is a great book choice for young and reluctant readers.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

The Little Mermaid

By Jenni James

Is grass truly greener than ocean blue?
Pearl has always dreamed of visiting the land of humans, to walk with them, eat with them, and learn everything she can from them. But no one in the North Seas agrees with her. In fact, they are all convinced that the landfolk are a dangerous, scary group of people who would harm the mermaid if they could.
Keel, the great merprince of the North Seas, has never loved anyone as much as he loves Pearl. He knows of her fascination with mankind and realizes she will never be truly settled until she has walked among the humans. So he finally relents, giving her a potion to grow legs of her own so she can experience the world above the water. He vows to come on land and protect her, as he doesn’t trust humans and never will.

While this fairy tale retelling was more engaging than Jenni’s Rapunzel, I still was a tad let down at what I thought was a sort of cheapened view at what should’ve been a longer novel. It once more felt like the bones of a novel that needed muscle, nerves, and skin. Pearl feels like a half-formed strange character who for no discernable reason wants to be a human; she admits no one makes her feel the way Keel does and yet she is still idiotically obsessed with the land. Keel on the other hand, is a self-sacrificing character that only wants to help Pearl get over her obsession so she might have a chance to decide to be happy with him. The plot had potential but the carry-out was too simplistic for me to feel engaged as a reader. It was too easy.


I give it a 2.75 out of 5

Princess of the Silver Woods

By Jessica Day George

Petunia is the youngest of King Gregor’s twelve daughters who together battled their way out of a curse that had plagued the family for years. But while on her way to visit an elderly neighbor, Petunia’s carriage is ambushed by bandits and Petunia finds herself falling headlong into another conflict—this one between a hidden forest community and the powerful kingdom that has stripped them of their wealth. With the line between enemies and friends suddenly blurred, and a handsome young thief her only hope at escaping the clutches of the King Under Stone, it will take all of Petunia’s courage, and a little help from her eleven older sisters, to put an end to the curse once and for all and restore their kingdom to right.

This is the third installment from Princess of the Midnight Ball, and we get to hear from Petunia, the youngest of the twelve dancing princesses. This is a sort of Robin Hood/ Little Red Riding Hood retelling in a loose sense that I ended up enjoying more than the previous two books. Petunia is this little petite thing with a wicked aim and a big heart. She meets Oliver and things snowball from there. While I enjoy Jessica Day George’s books, this particular series is definitely not my favorite. From her fairy-tale retellings, Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow is my favorite, and I very much liked her Dragon Slippers books more than these. I do read a lot of fairy-tale retellings and these just aren’t my favorite. They aren’t memorable for me, just fluff and fun.

I give it a 3 out of 5- average 

Red Rope of Fate

By K. M. Shea

In the epic stories falling in love is often described as a beautiful, wonderful experience. Tari finds it to be life threatening, embarrassing, and nothing but heartache.
When Tari, an elf, is selected to be bound to Captain Arion, a human military officer, in a ceremony designed to promote friendship between their countries it is discovered that the two can communicate with each other in spite of the language barrier. Not everyone is supportive of the change Tari and Arion symbolize, so in addition to attending evening teas and royal luncheons Tari and Arion dodge kidnapping attempts and blackmail plots crafted by powerful political figures.
Tari is dumbfounded when she realizes she has fallen in love with Arion, who has the emotional capabilities of a rock. As both human and elf society dictate that an elf and a human can never be together, Tari must conceal her feelings. Unfortunately the taciturn Arion is watchful and attentive to Tari’s well-being, constantly pushing her to her limits with his loyalty, friendship, and dreadfully informal habit of touching her.
If Tari and Arion survive, their tumultuous realationship will either strengthen their countries’ alliance, or cripple the human courts of nobility. The deciding factor will be Arion, and his indecipherable feelings for Tari.

I got a trial subscription to Kindle Unlimited from Amazon and I ended up reading as many of K. M. Shea’s novels as possible. I just liked them. They are wholesome and lovely and just a good read. This is a story about elves and humans who have an uneasy treaty between the two worlds, but the differences between their worlds is staggering. Language is an enormous barrier, and many humans and elves dedicate their entire lives to learning as much as they can about each other’s culture. There is a ritual, usually performed on the young of both species that binds one elf to one human for life. Normally this binding is purely political and nothing comes of the process, but when Tari and Arion, two adults are bound in a special ceremony, they become celebrities when they find out that they can perfectly understand each other without translators, and even sometimes feel what the other is feeling or know where the other is. This is a love story above all else, and there are a few discrepancies in the plot that confused me. The story made it seem like it was taboo for an elf and a human to love one another and fall in love, but in the end everything seemed peachy and there was no conflict. Oh well, it was still a fun story, though not my favorite from Shea. I get a little skeptical when people use elves in their stories, because in my opinion elves can only be done seriously in high fantasy by masters. Tolkien started it and I have very little patience for other versions because they seem like pale imitations.


I give this a 3 out of 5 for an average, though fun romance.

For Elise

By Sarah M. Eden

In the sprawling gardens of their neighboring estates, childhood friends Miles and Elise spent countless pleasant days together in the spirited adventures of youth. They were inseparable—until Elise vanished without a trace. Miles searched, but Elise could not—or would not—be found…After years spent laboring on the family plantation in the West Indies, Miles Linwood is shocked by the unexpected news: he has inherited his distant cousin’s estate and the title of Marquess of Grenton. Miles’s return to England is tarnished by only one thing—he is still haunted by Elise’s mysterious disappearance. So when he glimpses a woman with a starling resemblance to his lost friend, he’s shaken to the core. This is no mere shadow of the past: it is truly Elise. But his dear friend has changed—to the point that he questions whether it is really her, though he knows it is. Accustomed to rescuing Elise from childhood escapades, Miles takes her and those in her care back to his estate, even as he struggles to understand her fear and mistrust. As their friendship and feelings slowly blossom again, the shocking truth of their separated years is revealed, and Miles realizes more than ever that he must protect Elise. She slipped away once, and he cannot lose her again.

I’ve become quite the fan of Sarah Eden, she’s my go-to author for a quick little romance jaunt that I don’t have to worry about content. This is her newest novel and I was pleased to be able to get a hold of it so quickly. Miles was a great character, though his past actions felt very out of step with his overall character, though it was explained. Elise is a tragic sort of heroine and I found myself dreading finding out what happened to her, because I was sure of it from a very early point in the novel. Which leads me to my only real problem with the book: I just have an issue with what happened to Elise, because it’s something of a personal nightmare that I hope never happens to anyone. This fact colored my read of the novel and I just wasn’t able to be objective about it, and ended up feeling rather sad than happy toward the end like I’m accustomed when reading a regency romance. If you’ve read Eden’s books you’ll know that she chooses a difficulty to give her characters like child loss, widowed, abuse, etc. This one was just not for me.


It still gets a solid 3.5 out of 5 because it was good despite my personal issues.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Newt's Emerald

By Garth Nix

After the Newington Emerald is stolen at the height of a conjured storm, eighteen year-old Lady Truthful Newington goes to London to search for the magical heirloom of her house. But as no well-bred young lady can hunt the metropolis for a stolen jewel, she has to disguise herself as a man, and is soon caught up in a dangerous adventure where she must risk her life, her reputation... and her heart.
Balancing twin roles as a young lady coming out in her first season and as an intrepid young man up against an evil sorceress isn’t easy, but Truthful has to manage it. Her father’s life and even the fate of England may depend upon her recovering the Newington Emerald!

This is a fun little romp of a story, mixing regency with magic and there’s a little bit of Twelfth Knight in there as well. I enjoyed reading about Truthful’s first foray into society as both young woman and young man, and her relationships with the people she meets. It’s a cute little tale of magic, mystery and romance, something which I didn’t think I’d be seeing from Garth Nix, but it lends itself well to his dry wit and creative ingenuity. I enjoyed myself thoroughly while reading and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fantasy mixed with history.


I give it a 3.75 out of 5

Awaken

By Katie Kacvinsky

Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her. Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking. In this not so brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

The message in this book is a good one, and I was anticipating it crossing the line of being preachy, but Katie Kacvinsky does an admirable job of keeping things professional and not getting on a soap box. Maddie is a girl who’s been shut in a cage, and meeting Justin allowed her to start to open the door and stretch wings she never knew she had. This is a story about how isolating technology can be if we allow it to control our lives, and the dangers of letting a computer become your life. Justin is the flip side in the story, he’s a man on a mission: he wants to find those who will fight against over-using technology and bring them to safety. He didn’t bet on meeting Maddie, one of the most important converts he could’ve made, and he never would’ve guessed she’d make him feel the way he feels when she’s around. Maddie loves Justin and his enthusiasm for life, and Justin loves watching Maddie become more and more of herself. This is a journey of discovery as well as a dangerous adventure.

Content warning: teen making out and intimacy.


I give it a 3.25 out of 5- a little above average.

Eldest

By Christopher Paolini

Darkness falls…despair abounds…evil reigns…
Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the mighty forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesmera, land of the elves, for further training in the skills of the Dragon Rider: magic and swordsmanship. Soon he is on the journey of a lifetime, his eyes open to awe-inspiring new places and people, his days filled with fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and nothing is what it seems. Before long, Eragon doesn’t know whom he can trust.
Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle—one that might put Eragon in even graver danger.
Will the king’s dark hand strangle all resistance? Eragon may not escape with even his life…

This has been on my list of books to read since the movie Eragon came out nearly 10 years ago. It took a little time for me to get into the story, but I found myself so annoyed with Eragon’s side of the story that if it weren’t for Roran’s story, I never would have finished it. Eragon’s side is so clich├ęd and over-fantastical that I was rolling my eyes at every turn and gagging at Eragon’s weird obsessive crush on Arya. The ease with which Eragon is able to overcome the challenges in front of him made me cringe. Let’s throw magic at the problem and make everything all better! Sheesh. But then there is Roran’s story of how he becomes a freaking awesome character. Roran should be the protagonist. He’s the boss. He leads the people and saves lives, he comes out on top in a horrible situation. I loved reading his part of the story, in fact I’d tell you to read this just for his side of things. I can suffer through Eragon’s stupidity for Roran’s leadership and passion.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5- but only because of Roran

Stolen Songbird

By Danielle L. Jensen

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fad from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cecile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.
Cecile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.
But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting—she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods—part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.
As Cecile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

This is yet another story that had overtones of Beauty and the Beast, so how could I resist when it came on sale on my kindle for 1.99$? Reading this was a fun adventure and very emotionally yanking. Cecile is forced into a marriage that she doesn’t want, and is expected to produce the heir to the Troll throne that will save them all from their curse. Tristan, her husband, is cold toward her and barely civil. She becomes confused when she realizes that the part of their wedding that marked both of their hands was a binding deeper than skin, and she understands that she is able to tell where Tristan is and what he is feeling, and he can tell what she is feeling too. She realizes that there is more to Tristan than the mask he wears in public. His feelings betray him, and Cecile starts to see that things are not as they seem, and she begins to feel for him what she never thought she could: love. And if she isn’t mistaken, he is beginning to feel the same. While this is a neat take on the beauty and the beast story, it has some downfalls for me in the fact that it has some heated scenes between Tristan and Cecile toward the end that made me highly uncomfortable, and it will only get worse as the series continues. I hate sex scenes, as I’ve repeatedly stated, and so, with a sigh, I’ll leave this to those of you who don’t mind. It’s a good tale and will appeal to people who like teen fiction with a little bit of a steamy romance.

I give it a 3.25 out of 5- above average, but the steamy parts really lowered my score.

Cinderella and the Colonel

By K. M. Shea

The country of Erlauf is the enemy, as far as Cinderella is concerned. Since Erlauf took over her home country, Cinderella has been forced to manage her once opulent duchy like a tightly budgeted farm. Gone are the days of wealth and luxury. Instead, Cinderella dons servants’ clothes and sells all her luxuries to save her servants and her duchy from the mountain of debt she’s racked up due to Erlauf fines and taxes.
Romance and forgiveness are the last things on Cinderella’s mind. Unfortunately the rakish Erlauf Colonel Friedrich has other ideas.
Cinderella thinks she needs a pile of money to save her duchy, and for the Erlauf invaders to leave. What she gets is a debonair Erlauf colonel, a fairy godmother, four mice, two goats, a pair of glass slippers, and a pumpkin.

It’s funny, I never seem to get tired of Beauty and the Beast retellings, but I always go into a Cinderella retelling with huge misgivings if I even decide to read them at all. When I began this book I was shocked at what K.M. Shea decided to do to the original tale, and I wholeheartedly pumped my fist in the air at her decisions. This is, in my opinion, the best retelling of Cindrella. Period. Okay, maybe it ties with Ella Enchanted. But seriously, this is amazing and heart-felt and all things good for a retelling and a proper romance. I adore Cinderella, I’m pretty sure I fell in love with the Colonel, and the plot is just amazing. This isn’t just a romance or a fairy tale. It’s a story about the power of forgiveness. Please, please read this if you love fairy tales and need a little romance in your day, but don’t want just fluff. It’s such a breath of fresh air. I loved K.M. Shea’s Beauty and the Beast, but this, this was just awesome.


I give it a 4.25 out of 5

Hero

By Alethea Kontis

Rough-and-tumble Saturday Woodcutter thinks she’s the only one of her sister without any magic—until the day she accidentally conjures an ocean in the backyard. With her sword in tow, Saturday sets sail on a pirate ship, only to find herself kidnapped and whisked off to the top of the world. Is Saturday powerful enough to kill the mountain witch who holds her captive and save the world from sure destruction? And, as she wonders grumpily, “Did romance have to part of the adventure?”

This is the sequel to Enchanted, the story of Sunday Woodcutter. Now it’s Saturday’s story we get to see. Saturday is a tomboy and has always been frustrated that she was the only one in her amazing family who seemed to not have some magic powers. It turned out that Saturday’s birth gift, an axe, turns into a sword and that Saturday’s destiny is even more than she bargained for, and she was hoping for quite a lot. Brash and impulsive, Saturday sets in motion a terrible curse, and only she can set things right with the help of her pirate sister Thursday. Saturday is in the middle of a save-the-world quest, and with her is the strangest boy she could’ve met in Peregrine. The two very opposite characters have to rely on each other if they’re going to survive this adventure, and like Saturday laments, “Did romance have to be part of the adventure?” It’s cute and fun and has a tighter plot than the first book did, while still bringing the fun of fairy tales into the plot line. My only issue is the embarrassing lack of restraint that Saturday shows with modesty. She has no problem stripping in front of Peregrine to dive into a pool to take a bath. Peregrine is a lot more sensitive than Saturday, and it makes a few scenes awkward and a little ridiculous.  


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Kiss of a Stranger

By Sarah M. Eden

When Crispin, Lord Cavratt, thoroughly and scandalously kisses a serving woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But he couldn’t be more mistaken—the maid is not only a lady of birth, she’s the niece of a very large, exceptionally angry gentleman, who claims Crispin has compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle. Trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment, which would leave his reputation tainted and Catherine’s utterly ruined, Crispin begins guiding his wife’s transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. Their unfolding relationship reveals encouraging surprises for both of them, and privately, each of them wonders if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted, and as a battle of wits escalates into a life-threatening confrontation, will it be possible for Crispin and Catherine to live happily ever after?

Sooooo, here’s another regency romance by the lovely Sarah Eden. This is, I guess, a kind of addendum to the world of the Jonquil brothers books, as Crispin is a close friend and honorary Jonquil brother. Crispin’s story goes at a fast clip, and also advances in a backward sort of way. It reminded me of the TV movie Love Comes Softly, because Crispin marries Catherine, and it takes a while for them to fall in love. Crispin is proud and hard-headed and had me frustrated at times with how silly he is when dealing with his ‘wife’. Catherine is so timid and fragile that he has to walk on eggshells and figure out how to treat her so she won’t run away or think he’ll hit her. This is actually a good story for showing how marriages and love can grow as you learn about your spouse and how to read their moods and figure out what makes them happy. I enjoyed the slow way that Crispin and Catherine fall in love, one good turn at a time with plenty of steps backward. This was also a good read, though I liked As You Are and Drops of Gold better.


I give it a 3.5 out of 5

The Emperor's Soul

By Brandon Sanderson

When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life. An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife. If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.
Shai is given an impossible task: to create—to forge—a new soul for the emperor in less than one hundred days. But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors. She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood. Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal counselor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.
Time is running out for Shai. Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape…

I read this book by Brandon Sanderson because I saw on Goodreads that it was set in the same world as Elantris, but as far as I could tell it wasn’t in the same world at all, or it was so removed it could’ve been another world. It’s set in an Asian-like atmosphere where there is an emperor (hence the title) and politicians, courtesans, and clans. We are brought into the story when Shai, a Forger, is given an ultimatum; make a new soul for the wounded Emperor, or be sentenced to death for her crimes. Shai is a different sort of protagonist because she is inordinately proud and skilled in forging, or making one thing look like another. She is renowned for her ability to forge souls, something that is forbidden because it is thought to be a heresy. Shai is a slight female with a sharp tongue, needs spectacles, and is an artist in the highest degree. While Shai struggles under her deadline to Forge the emperor’s soul, she is watched by Gaotona, one of the only true friends the emperor had. The journey that this short book takes us on is extraordinary and fascinating, as Sanderson explains Forging and the science behind it as well as explore the hidden depths of a soul. This is a solid book in Sanderson’s arsenal, and I enjoyed finding the philosophical and moral questions that were brought up in the telling. This was a deeper book and left a lot open when the book was finished. It isn’t everyone’s favorite from Sanderson, but I think it is a great read.


I give it a 4.25 out of 5

Rapunzel

By Jenni James

On Rapunzel’s sixteenth birthday, her parents are tuned to stone by the evil witch, Lady Vactryne, and the girl is taken to be forever hidden away in a tower. The young princess is afraid and all alone, and as the months pass by and her attempts to escape become more desperate, she begins to hope that anyone will come to save her.
Prince Jonathan of Balligyrn has loved Rapunzel since they were children and has vowed to battle the witch, bring Rapunzel back, and restore her kingdom, no matter the cost. It has been years since he last saw her and asked her to wait for him to return from school. Now Jonathan only hopes he is not too late.
The cunning witch has other plans for them both, one that does not involve losing her dreams to mere fools. Who will win—the woman bent on revenge, or the young girl determined to overcome it all?

So, I really enjoyed Jenni James’ first retellings so much more than her last few. This one fell flat for me, because it felt incredibly rushed and had so much potential to be something fantastic. I’ve read a few reviews that talk about how they appreciated how she handled the subject of depression, but I found it hollow and too sudden to be realistic or well-told. This is a story that tries to be a boy-next-store love story with a royal twist, and then a curse, and then Johnathan spends most of the story pining for Rapunzel and wandering around trying to find her. There is the barest trace of character development, most of what we know is told to us rather than shown because this was just bare plot bones showing through everywhere. There was just too much story for the length of book she wanted. I didn’t care for this one as much as her others. The Frog Princess was the last book she wrote that I really enjoyed.


I give this a 2.75 out of 5

The Avatar Battle

By Chad Morris

The adventure continues when Abby and Derick begin their second semester at Cragbridge Hall, the most prestigious secondary school in the world. But when Grandpa Cragbridge admits them to the Council of Keys—a secret group of people who have keys to travel back in time—strange things begin to happen. One by one, members are found unconscious and unable to wake, their keys stolen. Now Abby and Derick must scramble to figure out who is behind the attacks before they become the next victims, which would give their enemy the power to change the past forever.
A page-turning, time-travel adventure that teaches powerful lessons about choice and consequence, believing you can do hard things, and valuing history.

So here’s the second book in the Cragbridge Hall series, and as you can tell from the title, it focuses on the Avatars. Avatars are robots that mimic animals and allow their human hosts to experience what it is like to be a gorilla, a rhino, or a giraffe, to name a few. This story picks up where the last one left off, with the adults all safe and the kids are being introduced to a brand new world where time travel is possible and the past is being threatened by a terrible foe who thinks that history should be changed so no one has to ever lose again. Derick and Abby are just starting to realize the damage that can be done by this man, and the council of the keys (those who know about the time travel) are slowly being taken out. Abby and Derick are trying to find out how to help and expose whoever it is that has betrayed them. This is a fun addition to the series, it focuses a lot more on Derick than the first novel, so we get to know Abby’s twin better and see that he’s not as infallible as he was painted in the first book. Again, we get neat history lessons while reading and epic avatar battles by the end. Mystery abounds once more and we’re left wondering, who will save the day?


I give it a 3.25 out of 5- above average, if only just.