Monthly Archives: May 2012

Review: Enchanted

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a frothy, silly, enchanting mash-up of almost all the fairy tale memes. Some are crucial to the book’s development, other’s mentioned in passing, and others just plot devices, but they are there. The fun thing, for someone like me who is a fairy tale lover, is identifying them all. Apparently this came out of a challenge at a writer’s workshop in which they were to choose several fairy tale themes from various columns and put them together. She did all of them, inspired by one guy before her who had done the same thing with a different theme set, with The Hand of Don Peron. I used to sit up on Saturday mornings, for years as a kid and pre-teen, reading Andrew Lang’s color fairy books, the Blue Fairy Book, the Lilac, and so forth. He collected fairy stories from around the world, and put them in a large collection of books. Combine that with my own small pb collection, Prince and Princess Stories To Read Aloud, and you get a girl obsessed with the fairy world, and the magic therein. So this book was my delight. It may not appeal to those who don’t have an eye for magic, romance or fey things, but this charming story of Sunday, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, who happens to catch the eye of a frog, a prince enchanted by a fairy godmother. They begin a friendship that is precious to her, and one day, when she leaves, she kisses him, and true love breaks the spell. but she is already gone back to her woodcutter’s family, and doesn’t know that he has turned into the crown prince. So the prince devises a series of balls, and much mayhem and matchmaking ensues. Plenty of action, drama, danger and romance brought right, as the sisters all find their place in this magical world. A keeper if there ever was one.

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Review: Struck

Struck by Jennifer Bosworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a paranormal story of a teenage girl, who over the past several years has been struck countless times by lightening. Sometimes she has been killed, and revived. Her hair has been burnt off, but she craves it. It makes her feel alive. Then one day, after something bad happened as a result of the stored energy in her body, they moved from Arizona to LA. Somehow, lightening, in a huge storm, struck again, and it triggered a fault under the area she was living in. Her mother was trapped in rubble at work for days,and hasn’t been the same since. Now she watches the TV evangelist, Prophet, who promises if the believers come to him, when the final storm comes, to break the 6th seal, they will be protected. He and his followers wear white. Standing against them, since Prophet and his minions want to bring lightening to the city, and trigger the apocalypse, are the Seekers – those who merely want to contain the power of the other group and somehow divert the disaster looming, while seeking out others with the same energy. Mia is caught in the middle of it all, both groups believing that her great power, and the energy she not only stores, but can call forth, is essential to their goal. Standing against both groups is a boy she just met, Jeremy, who wants her to stay away from both groups, but there is more to Jeremy as well. This is a slam bang right to the wall, edge of your set thriller for teens. Other than a shortened version, and with a paranormal twist, it’s your basic adventure/thriller in disguise. Set in a rubble strewn LA, with not everything working, and having to go to school just to get ration cards for food handouts, it reminds you of what lengths people will go to and what they will believe, to make things right again. Good – wonder if there will be more.

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Review: Pure

Pure by Julianna Baggott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I wasn’t sure this book would live up to the hype on the back of the book. Set in a world in the not too distant future, after a few wars, including the war of civility, when the country tried too hard to stamp down on dissenters and go back to a more god-fearing life, some bombs were detonated, and life is measured as before the Detonations, or after. Some people survived into an experimental Dome, where they live in peace and comfort, with everything taken care of for them. Partridge is one such young man. Hs father is high up in the Dome’s governing board, and so he has special status, but he is just an ordinary teen. His older brother Sedge, who had been in the Elite Corps several years ahead of him, had been good at everything, and took to his “coding” or enhancements, well. But one day he committed suicide, which in the Dome, where resources are scarce, and only the fittest should survive to populate the New Eden, when they can return to the ravaged land outside and repopulate the earth, is considered nothing to be ashamed of. But for Partridge, his behavioral coding won’t take. His Dad keeps asking him if his mother, who died in the Detonations trying to get people inside the Dome, gave him anything. She had given him some small blue pills, but he didn’t know what they were for, and he didn’t want to tell his stern father, whom he ha always seemed to disappoint. So one day, he hatches a plan, after seeing some blueprints on the wall in his Dad’s office, to escape through the exhaust ducts, and go outside the dome, since something his father let slip makes him believe his mother may still be alive – that, and a box of personal mementos everyone who died is allowed to have kept after they are cremated. He steals the stuff in the box, and makes his way outside, where nothing is as he thought it would be.

Meanwhile, Pressia, a young girl, deformed by the blasts, lives with her grandfather in the burned out city, in an abandoned barbershop. She is almost 16, the age when the OSR, a group that trains soldiers to one day take down the Dome and be allowed their resources to medicines, etc. takes young teens away. Pressia has some burns on her face, and a plastic baby doll’s head fused to her hand. Her grandfather has a small handheld fan lodged in his windpipe. Others have pieces of glass, leather, or even other people fused into their bodies, as these were a new type of bomb that created mutations fast – in the first generation. Some are fused in groups of several people. Some with birds, or trees, or even fused into the ground. But they all manage to survive, at least the ones that made it past the first stage. Then one day a Pure, which is what they call the unblemished people of the Dome, comes into the city – Partridge, who is seeking his mother, and so begins a tale of adventure, comradeship, and a trip through the Wastelands, the Deadlands, and dangerous encounters with creatures that were never meant to be, as they follow what they hope are clues his mother left behind in the box of her personal effects. It is a story about love, loyalty, and beauty wherever you find it. One of my favorite parts of the book was a small filigree mechanical clockwork cicada, named Freedle, that Pressia kept a a pet. The book is charming, horrifying, but still lovingly painted, so that these are not monsters, but real human beings who just happen to be a bit different. Part of a trilogy to come. A keeper.

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Review: Gunpowder Empire

Gunpowder Empire
Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have never read any of Turtledove’s work, since they often center on the Civil War or WWII, not my favorite topics. But this sort of YA series intrigued me – it is about the multiverse. A way to cross over to alternate timelines was discovered, and Crosstime Traffic established to train people to go to various timelines, and trade and barter to bring things back. Some timelines have no people yet, even though it is the same “time.” Others are ones where Hitler won WWII, or Germany won WWI, or the South the Civil War, or China rose to prominence, etc. In this book (the other books in the series seem to focus on other families and timelines), is set in a timeline where the Roman Empire never fell, and is still strong. They have developed gunpowder, but not much else. The world contains only a few great empires, like Persia, China, and Rome. And while they have skirmishes along the border for land, the empires themselves, in the middle of these vast kingdoms, are basically safe from invasion, since it would take a miracle to plow through the whole of the Roman empire and still have enough forces left to take on Rome. Turtledove gives some great arguments and reasons for the strength of these empires, and why they haven’t progressed as much as some. Rome is stuck with bureaucracy and “paperwork.” There are rules and laws and tariffs for just about everything. Jeremy and his sister Amanda, both teenagers, spend their summers with their parents in Agrippan Rome, in a small border town, where they bring in items of small cost, but high value to the Romans. Items that are just a small step above what they can produce,and so are sought after – straight razors, combs, mirrors, and winding pocket watches. They take payment in grain which they ship home through a transportation chamber hidden in the subbasement of their house.

While there, they must play their parts, with Roman names, clothing, and use only what is available in that timeline,and speak what has become a more modern form of Latin, neoLatin. They make friends, and trade. But then their mother gets ill, and their father takes her back for a checkup, to see what is wrong, since medicine is crude and basically non-existent in this timeline. All seems well, and their mother is recovering, known through messages that can be sent back and forth – no video, since it takes too much bandwidth. But one day, right in the middle of a text messaging session with his best friend, stationed in a Chinese timeline, the machine suddenly stops, and says that there is no connection to the home office. They keep trying, but nothing. No transportation chamber is in the house, since it was never sent back, but was waiting for their parents to return. There is another one outside of town, which is how they arrive, as if “from a different town,” but when Jeremy checks, it too isn’t working. So they are cut off from their timeline, with no way of knowing when or if it will be fixed. And meanwhile, their northern neighbors, the Lietuvans, or lithuanians in their timeline, decide to try and seize their town, and so the kids are on their own, in a small ancient town under siege. How they cope with it, while trying to maintain their cover, and stay alive makes for a rousing adventure. Turtledove does a great job of making the world seem real and alive, and the explanations of the political systems are interesting and make great sense. I am looking forward to the next one, sitting in my TBR pile from the library. I will try and look for these at the used bookstores., as I would like to own them

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Review: Surrender

Surrender by Lee Nichols
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series, of which this book is the last, is charming, warm, sweet and funny. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the others!! This last book starts out with Bennett, her one-time “guardian” and boyfriend hooked on Asarum, an herb that boosts ghostkeeper’s abilities. Two ghostkeepers can’t be together, as one, the stronger, will drain the other’s powers. Emma mother’s gave up her powers for her father, and Bennett’s dad for his mom. But Bennett believes he needs to be at his most powerful to help fight the evil ghost Neos, so as he and Emma can’t stand to be separated, he is taking this drug, which is turning him into an addict. In the very beginning, Bennett’s parents arrive home to find them making out in his bedroom, and Bennett an addict. They are not happy, and do not seem fond of Emma. They banish him back to New York, to the headquarters of the Knell,the ghost keeping society, which is decimated after their last battle with Neos. So the Sterns move back into their house, and Simon, their previous guardian in Betrayal goes back to run the Knell with Bennett’s help. Lukas stays behind, and she and Natalie, another ghostkeeper whose parents repudiated her, all become nominal wards of the Sterns and return to classes at Thatcher Academy. But they know more than before, and have the help of more earthly and non-earthly beings in their fight against Neos. She brings her “normal” friends into the picture, and they all work on this. By now, her friends have forgiven her for the part she played in their friend Coby’s death in Book One, and their subsequent shunning of her for part of book two, and it’s all for one, and one for all. Retaining the charm, and quirkiness of the other two books, together all three books make a satisfying concoction, a truffle if you will, made by Anatole, their French chef. Lots of little details help build the characters, and Nichols has a strong hand with that – every person is not cookie cutter, and has problems and baggage of their own. And she understands that some of us want our minor characters to have as well-drawn a character as the main ones. And that is a big plus for me. These are comfort food. My big complaint is that knowing what is on the line – basically the forces of darkness from the Beyond against the normal world, and still Emma can’t keep her hands of Bennett, and he off of her, and so he takes the Asarum, and starts doing things he shouldn’t. Even knowing all that, she still makes moves on him, and can’t keep her hands off him. Makes for a strong love story, but things like that always bother me. I’m like to think I’m the kind of person who would put aside my feelings for the betterment of mankind should it be needed, and the only exception would be my kids who I would die to protect. But I wouldn’t make things worse for them or us by continuing behavior that isn’t necessary right now. Wait a while until the crisis is resolved. Then decide if you want to proceed with losing powers on one side. But wait a few months? Teen hormones at work.

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Review: Betrayal

Betrayal by Lee Nichols
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book two in this slight, but charming series. Once again I find that they could have been one book, but they are broken into discrete books, and although this one is sandwiched, it does stand on its own, although not as well. Warning: Spoilers if you haven’t read book two. When the story opens, Emma is now a full fledged Ghostkeeper, and attending a prestigious private school in Massachusetts. It is the funeral of the boy she had been dating, who died trying to save her from the evil ghost Neos. The rest of the book, and I’m keeping this short, so can combine the two reviews of the final two books in my blog on WordPress, deals with her learning more about her powers, with her relationship with Bennett, and with the arrival of Bennett’s parents, whom Emma has never met, although she is staying in their house. Another encounter with Neos leaves them reeling, and they search for answers on how to defeat them, with a new guardian, Simon, and a new guy Lukas. And she has to deal with the betrayal of someone close to her. It retains the charm of the original book, the ever changing “family” that they have put together, and an assortment of interesting and caring side characters, along with humor, and typical teen concerns. The books are sweet, warm, and like a cup of hot chocolate at night.

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Review: The Obsidian Blade

The Obsidian Blade
The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is book one of a planned series, and my main complaint is that it shows it. I would have given it three and 1/2 stars , but decided to be generous today and round up. Since I’m writing this two days after I read it, and have already forgotten most of it, that’s not a great sign even if I do have a faulty memory. That said, it is the story of a young man living a fairly normal life – his father is a preacher, and his mom bakes cookies. Then one day, while up on the roof, he sees his father disappear, and a disc of some kind hovering in the air. He tries to tell his mother, who is always busy with her Sudoku puzzles, what happened, but she told him not to be silly – his dad just probably went into town. Later that day his father comes home, clothes dirtier, and with a young girl at his side, named Lahlia. She doesn’t speak English. His dad says he found her in town when he went. And being a good man, decides to take her in until a family can be found for her. But now his father no longer believes in God. His dad, who used to run a bible-thumping church, is an atheist, and won’t explain how or why he made this transition. Lahlia and Tucker get a long well, but she is soon adopted into a conservative Christian family and he rarely sees her any more. Then his mother starts changing too – she becomes distant, withdrawn, obsessed with her puzzles and numbers, until one day both his father and mother disappear into a disc that appears again. His dad left a cryptic note that he was talking his mother to get healed, and that Tucker couldn’t come, and that he was sending his uncle to look out for him. The next day, up comes Kosh, a tattooed, leather clad biker, who isn’t that happy about taking in a teenager, but does so, as blood is blood. The rest of the book deals with his trying to find his father and mother by using these strange discs, of which there are two in town that come and go. He learns a lot about the “diskos,” and as he tries to right the past, he is drawn into greater conspiracies. So many threads left handing, my greatest complain was that so much was not revealed that this book has a hard time standing on it’s own. I personally would wait for more in the series. And the ending just drifts of. But the premise is interesting, and the origin and use of the diskos also, so it shows promise. I’d wait until at least Book two is out.

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Review: The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall
The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting, if somewhat quiet book about the effects of a naturally mutated virus that swept a small Canadian maritime island. The island is quarantined as soon as hey realize what is happening, and the story is one of grief, sacrifice, good and bad people, and how they cope with mounting losses, lack of supplies, and no cure in sight. It is a human interest and behavior study for the teen sector. Nicely done, although as it was told in journal form, it had the effect of removing you from the direct action, as she was merely relating what had already happened earlier that day. Good, but just average for me, for the above reasons. If a devastating illness is sweeping my community, I want more outpouring of grief, more action, more anger, other than a few misguided teens, and I want serious consequences. She said she read a number of books on plagues and infectious diseases, including Preston’s The Hot Zone,and in some ways it comes off as semi-documentary. But really, where is the government in all this? The mainland seems to have had a small but contained outbreak, so why isn’t the Canadian equivalent of the CDC swooping down to work on this, since it has a high mortality rate, very high. All they get are some drops of supplies from helicopters. Some WHO type doctors were there at the beginning, but they left on the last ferry out as they were scared, and some caught the virus. But still, if it’s that contagious, everything should be done in the hospital to contain it – heavily quarantined populations, bio-suits with air supply, etc. Here, the heroine, daughter of a microbiologist, is allowed to walk into the hospital, with only a small face mask. Not practical in a real setting as I know from my own readings of such NF books on the subject. There would be labs set up to test it, although there is a lab on the island that her dad goes to, but no luck on the virus, (and we never “see” the lab)  even though they know a common thread that the ones who survived have, and they have their blood. Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, was similar (although TheAS was alien), and was much more a heavy breather type. And then it just sort of ends – not knowing what happened to some people, and still no cure, although it is winding down, as there are fewer people to infect.

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Review: Deception

Deception by Lee Nichols
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This light YA book is the first in a series of at least 3. Personally I think they could have been made into one larger book, but I guess they like to keep the teen books shorter at times. Series are big. This was a nice entry into the paranormal world, since it involved the ability to see ghosts, but also manipulate them, although Emma, the main character, doesn’t know this. All she knows is that one day her parents, who away on a trip, can’t be reached and she is taken by her “guardian,” a guy she knows only as her older brother’s friend” to Boston, from SF, and enrolled in a private boarding school there. But something has happened, and she starts seeing more and more things she can’t explain. Nice romance, details about a different aspect of the ghost business, and charmingly and lovingly told, esp. about the ghost themselves. Set in a museum of a house, in a New England town just outside of Boston that prides itself on it’s “dunking chair,” there is a bunch of history, and a lot of action. It rarely lets down for a moment. Esp. as she comes to realize her powers, and that in turn leads to more problems and encounters with strong forces of evil.  I have the 2nd book ready to go, after the one I’m reading now.  Slight, but amiable, and warm-hearted. I enjoyed it.

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Review: The Rope

The Rope
The Rope by Nevada Barr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I used to love Nevada Barr, and read all of her books, and when I went out of my mystery phase, I kept picking up books, so I could restart where I left off. So there are several recent ones I haven’t read. But since this was a prequel, I felt safe in reading it. I thought it harkened back to some of my favorites, like Firestorm and A Superior Death. Like those, I was there, at Glen Canyon. Not just looking over the author’s shoulder, but there – in the desert heat, in the cold waters of the lake. She has a knack of placing you squarely in the middle of the action – in Firestorm I was in a “shake and bake” and in A Superior Death I was freezing in the lake (I grew up around there in Minnesota). She has the ability to transport me to places unknown unlike any other author I have read. That said, it was a wonderful glimpse into how Anna Pigeon got to be who she was, and why. What fires forged the Anna of the later books. The action was real. There as some foul language, but not that much, and in character I thought, and some lesbian lust, never acted on, by her roommate, but all in all, it kept me guessing as to who the real villain was. Not many to choose from really, but which one of those that fit the bill – back and forth. The action ranged from a solution hole (a big sinkhole in the mesa), to the depths of the slot canyons in Lake Powell, at Glen Canyon. Freezing in the waters at night. There wasn’t much real violence, as is true for the series in general, but what little there was was visceral. Terrifying. And the addition of “Buddy” the baby skunk, was a nice touch of lightness. At least one of the reviews on Amazon thought it was a farce or comedy, but I never got that impression at all. I thought it straightforward, although with some lightheartedness to balance the evil. Amazon readers gave it a 4 overall, but there were a lot of 5s. And I never found it not credible. My father worked as a fire ranger at Yellowstone, and my sister and her husband worked at the Grand Canyon, he was a Park Ranger, so I have some background in the parks, esp. since I got dragged to most of the ones in the Western U.S. at least once in my growing up years. 😉

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