Monday, February 12, 2018

A Faraway Island (A Faraway Island)

Title: A Faraway Island 

Series: A Faraway Island (Book #1)

Year: 2009

Author: Annika Thor

Summary: It's the summer of 1939. Two Jewish sisters from Vienna—12-year-old Stephie Steiner and 8-year-old Nellie—are sent to Sweden to escape the Nazis. They expect to stay there six months, until their parents can flee to Amsterdam; then all four will go to America. But as the world war intensifies, the girls remain, each with her own host family, on a rugged island off the western coast of Sweden.

Nellie quickly settles in to her new surroundings. She’s happy with her foster family and soon favors the Swedish language over her native German. Not so for Stephie, who finds it hard to adapt; she feels stranded at the end of the world, with a foster mother who’s as cold and unforgiving as the island itself. Her main worry, though, is her parents—and whether she will ever see them again. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Stephie
~ Nellie
~ Aunt Marta
~ Vera

Review: Anyone who knows me knows I love all things Swedish, and when I saw this book -- well, I knew I had to read it. And as far as Swedish expectations go, it did not disappoint. I loved the settings and descriptions, the character names. I mean, take a look at the author's name -- Annika Thor. How more Scandinavian can you get than that?? (Confession: I also have a biased attraction to the name Annika right now, so that was also a big part of my picking up this book.)

Anyway, this tale reminded me in many ways of stories like Pollyanna, The Secret Garden, Emily of New Moon, and the like. Young girls flung out of everything they're familiar with to go and live in a strange, new place. Stephie and Nellie are Jewish sisters who leave the dangers of German-controlled Austria to seek safety in Sweden. When they first set out, they believe that they're going together to a nice hotel with sandy beaches and a grand piano, but upon arriving at a faraway island, they discover nothing of the sort. Stephie and Nellie are to reside with two different families, and Stephie thinks she got the worst end of the deal. Aunt Marta is strict about rules and chores, and Stephie struggles with trying to fit in. 

The backdrop of WWII felt very real, even though this is only a children's novel. Multiple times, we're treated to one of Stephie's flashbacks as she remembers life before in Vienna or life when the Nazis came in. The horrors the Jewish people were exposed to are only mentioned in passing and in a tone appropriate for younger children, but they still felt very real. You spend the whole novel wondering and worrying about Stephie and Nellie's parents -- because they're still in Austria and you have no idea if they're even going to get out. *sadness* 

Stephie was an interesting character to follow, but she frustrated me sometimes. In her emotional moments, she'd fight with her younger sister, say stupid things, and clam up whenever someone tried to comfort her. More than once, I felt like she just needed to break down and have a good cry and let someone know what she was feeling. But, emotions aside, how she reacted made sense. As much as I'm not a fan of moody/broody people, I'd probably clam up too in her situation. 

This story was actually originally written in Swedish (too cool, huh?), and then translated into English. A fact that brings up two last things: First, I'm not sure if it's just how the translation worked, or if Annika Thor wrote the story this way, but it's all in present tense. That threw me off a little bit at the beginning, but it flowed fairly smoothly all the way through. Second, the author wrote a total of four books (read it: FOUR [4] BOOKS) in this series following Nellie and Stephie's Swedish adventures, and only two of theses books (read it: TWO [2] BOOKS) have been translated into English. *le sigh* Add it to my list of reasons why I need to learn the Swedish language. 

Advisory: Some violence as Stephie remembers the Nazi takeover, but not very graphic in the way of explanation. Stephie also encounters bullying at school. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Last of the Mohicans (The Leatherstocking Tales)

Title: The Last of the Mohicans

Series: The Leatherstocking Tales (Book #2)

Year: 1826

Author: James Fenimore Cooper

Summary: The wild rush of action in this classic frontier adventure story has made The Last of the Mohicans the most popular of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales. Deep in the forests of upper New York State, the brave woodsman Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo) and his loyal Mohican friends Chingachgook and Uncas become embroiled in the bloody battles of the French and Indian War. The abduction of the beautiful Munro sisters by hostile savages, the treachery of the renegade brave Magua, the ambush of innocent settlers, and the thrilling events that lead to the final tragic confrontation between rival war parties create an unforgettable, spine-tingling picture of life on the frontier. And as the idyllic wilderness gives way to the forces of civilization, the novel presents a moving portrayal of a vanishing race and the end of its way of life in the great American forests. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Hawkeye (Natty Bumppo)
~ Chingachgook
~ Uncas
~ Cora Munro
~ Duncan Heyward
~ Alice Munro
~ David Gamut
~ Magua

Review: This was my first time ever reading a Cooper novel. I'm really not sure why I haven't picked up one of the Leatherstocking Tales until now, but my appetite has been awoken. Now I want to read all of Natty's adventures. 

Honestly, I feel like the summary this classic novel gets from Goodreads and Amazon and pretty much anywhere else is super boring. The blurb on the back of the book I read wasn't even accurate to the story's contents. Fail right there, folks. This novel deserves a lot more praise from its summary writers. I mean, c'mon -- it's a classic! It's been an American favorite since it was published in the 1800s! There's a reason it's lasted this long, so give it a little extra effort to help us to a satisfying summary. 

Okay, sorry. Rant over. Yes, I loved this book. Once you found your way through the sometimes long and confusing passages of the American frontier, it was easy to get hooked on the story. Cora and Alice certainly have picked the wrong time to travel. It's the third year of the French and Indian War, and getting to their father's fort means that they have to somehow survive the Indian wilderness en route. Accompanying them is the faithful, romantic soldier Duncan Heyward (whom I feel like involuntarily becomes one of the main focuses of the story, even though he's not even the hero), the mysterious Indian guide Magua, and the lovable but clumsy singer David Gamut. 

So that's where the story begins. From there, it's a spiral straight into betrayals, Indian attacks, chases, hideouts, battles, kidnappings, and so much more.

As much as I loved following Hawkeye's perspective, I enjoyed getting into Duncan's head, too. Hawkeye is very much a bridge between the white man and the Indian, being a pure-blooded white man himself, but living with the Indians has helped him understand their culture and traditions. Duncan, however, jumps into the action with the perspective of a solider -- brave, but completely out of his element when it comes to trekking through the wilderness. But he learns a lot and so you can't help but root for him (and his lady). I think I gave a little cheer when he correctly identified the sound of the horse in the night when Hawkeye and Chingachgook couldn't.

David Gamut is downright hilarious. Although, like some of the Indians, I'm not completely convinced he's wholly sane. Even though he is an idiot, it was fun to watch his character develop.

I don't know that I could write this review without saying something about Uncas. Because he IS the last of the Mohicans. This once-amazing bloodline has come down to him and his father, Chingachgook. I wish Cooper had let us seen a bit more of Uncas, because I felt like he spent the first half of the book barely there. He was super important, as he was the best tracker when it came to finding the girls or the Indians, but it was almost as if Cooper suddenly remembered he was there and went, "Oh, yeah, I gotta include him, too." Uncas really stood out in the last few chapters AND I CAN'T TELL YOU BECAUSE SPOILERS EVEN THOUGH IT'S A CLASSIC. Just know, the full meaning of the book's title hit me smack dab in the face and it hurt. SO MUCH.

Magua is despicable. I don't know that I've ever hated a book's villain with such enjoyment as I've hated him. I will end the rant before I begin it. 

Advisory: Lots of blood and violence. We are talking about the middle of war here, people. Indians scalp/maim/kill/torture/etc. Please expect some blood and death. 

Also, please note that this book has a lot of racial content. I think it's important to read it within the context of which it was written: 1800s when differences between Indians and Caucasians/Europeans were naturally accepted by all. Cooper, I believe, did not intend for this novel to be a word on the racial differences we see today, but he merely portrayed the differences as he saw them played out in his time. For most of the characters and the plot itself, race plays a big part. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Exiles (Ilyon Chronicles)

Title: Exiles

Series: Ilyon Chronicles (Book #4)

Year: 2017

Author: Jaye L. Knight

Summary: Exiled after their defeat in Samara, the Resistance struggles to find allies in their quest to restore King Balen to his throne and put an end to the emperor’s tyranny. When the crete people refuse to lend their aid, Balen leads a group to Dorland to reason with them and win their support. However, enemies prove to be everywhere, and they find themselves in a fight to keep Dorland from becoming Daican’s latest conquest. 

Back in Landale, the arrival of a new enemy forces Trask and Anne to tread more carefully than ever. Tensions are rising, and the enemy is determined to test Anne’s loyalty and root out the location of Trask and the Resistance once and for all. 

Feeling trapped within the walls of Valcré, Prince Daniel must contend with an ever-eroding relationship with his father. As their clashes escalate, the situation becomes potentially life threatening when his loyalty is called into question. His sister seems bent on branding him a traitor and actively seeking to condemn him to the fate of those put to death in their father’s new arena. Daniel is certain his father would never execute his only son and heir, but with other forces at work, it might not be that simple. 

One small misstep could prove fatal for all. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Kyrin
~ Jace
~ Daniel
~ Anne

Review: First off, this book came out on my birthday. How. Cool. Is. That. Of course, I had to buy it for myself as a birthday gift. 

This series just keeps getting better. I think book #2 may be my favorite overall, but this one definitely almost topped that one! I loved getting to follow Kyrin, Jace, and their friends all over the map -- in an effort to get allies against Daican, they visit the cretes and Dorlanders. Personally, I really enjoyed getting to see the different cultures. There are familiar aspects to each one, but they are all so unique. And the new culture -- *jaw drops* Ilyon fans, rejoice. Saul and his band are everything we wanted them to be. 

However, we're not just with Kyrin and Co. Anne and Trask, I felt, played a bigger role in this book as they fight the battle at Landale. Not a real fight, mind you, because Anne still has to keep up her family's facade and Trask has to keep the whole camp a secret. Goler was despicable, as always. Charles was the best. I thought this book opened a new perspective on Anne; she became more real as I got to see further into her life and struggles. The sensibility she showed in putting others' needs above her own really stood out to me. Plus, she and Trask are just absolutely adorable. Just sayin'. 

My favorite character of the whole series is quickly becoming Prince Daniel. I loved getting to start his story in the last few books, but this one took him to a whole new level. And at the end -- PLOT TWIST -- Can't say I saw that one coming! Jaye is keeping all of us on our toes and I need book #5 ASAP. I hate Davira with an intense, passionate hate. More than I hated her father. That's all I can say. 

Shout-out to Kaden and some epic dragon action. That would probably be the one thing lacking in this book. Not enough of Kaden and dragons. It was fun getting to see more of Kyrin's other brother, Michael, though. 

Overall, this was an amazing continuation of the Ilyon Chronicles. I have been recommending this series to basically everybody since I read the first book, and I haven't stopped yet. 

Advisory: Violence/blood/fighting, but all in Jaye's usual style. Characters almost drown/are threatened to lose fingers/get beaten/get executed/etc. Because most of the book centers on battles/fights, I would recommend this book for readers over 12. 

Another portion of the book focuses on the ryriks and their wild tendency towards abusing women (i.e. rape). The subject is broached in the book as characters come into contact with the ryriks, but it is well-handled and not explicit. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Silent Songbird (Hagenheim)

Title: The Silent Songbird

Series: Hagenheim (Book #7)

Year: 2016

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Summary: Evangeline longs to be free, to live in the world outside the castle walls. But freedom comes at a cost.

Evangeline is the ward and cousin of King Richard II, and yet she dreams of a life outside of Berkhamsted Castle, where she might be free to marry for love and not politics. But the young king betroths her to his closest advisor, Lord Shiveley, a man twice as old as Evangeline. Desperate to escape a life married to a man she finds revolting, Evangeline runs away from the king and joins a small band of servants on their way back to their home village.

To keep her identity a secret, Evangeline pretends to be mute. Evangeline soon regrets the charade as she gets to know Wesley, the handsome young leader of the servants, whom she later discovers is the son of a wealthy lord. But she cannot reveal her true identity for fear she will be forced to return to King Richard and her arranged marriage.

Wesley le Wyse is intrigued by the beautiful new servant girl. When he learns that she lost her voice from a beating by a cruel former master, he is outraged. But his anger is soon redirected when he learns she has been lying to him. Not only is she not mute, but she isn't even a servant.

Weighed down by remorse for deceiving Wesley, Evangeline fears no one will ever love her. But her future is not the only thing at stake, as she finds herself embroiled in a tangled web that threatens England's monarchy. Should she give herself up to save the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters: 
~ Evangeline
~ Wesley le Wyse

Review: This book honestly surprised me. It thoroughly reawakened my interest in Melanie Dickerson retellings. Yes, I very much enjoy her stories, but some of them were getting to the point where they felt bitterly cliche. However, this one had some new life to it. For those of you who know me, you know I love fairy tale retellings. But there haven't been very many good, *clean* Little Mermaid retellings that I can get my hands on. So, when I saw that Melanie Dickerson was working on a story inspired by the Little Mermaid, I actually got a little bit excited. And so when I could get a copy, I read it. 

In about a day.

It's not perfect, granted. But it was exactly what I was hoping for in a Little Mermaid retelling by this author.

Evangeline is the king's ward, and while that entitles her to a fine life, she hates it. Along with being noble and rich comes imprisonment. But she's able to content herself with singing out the window (hence the title of Songbird) and watching life go by without her. That is, until the king informs her that he's betrothed her to an older and somewhat dangerous man. Evangeline fears this marriage, and thus makes the decision to flee the castle. Because her voice is so remarkable and recognizable, she pretends to be mute. 

In some ways, this felt very much like Little Mermaid. I was skeptical at first how some of those elements would fit into the story - I mean, come on. This didn't have mermaids; it didn't have a sea witch; it didn't even have an ocean! But Melanie pulled it off quite nicely. True, she had to chop out those mermaid-y things, but even so - I was impressed. There are still several distinct nods to the fairy tale. Even some almost-subtle hints toward the original fairy tale - NOT the Disney version. Imagine that, folks. But I will refrain from spoilers.

Anywho, lots of action, good characters, etc. so I'll let the high praise stop there. If you're looking for a non-sea, non-fish Little Mermaid retelling, put this on your list. 

Advisory: Some violence, but typical of this author's stories. 

Also, romance. Evageline, true to her original character inspiration, thinks a lot about kissing the guy. There were some scenes when I'm fairly sure I could hear Sebastian singing in the background. It got on my nerves a little, just because it came up so much. However, I can read that as a nod to the original, given the infamous kiss the little mermaid has to obtain to stay human. As far as actual kisses go, there weren't many that I could remember, but obviously a few to take note of. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 2, 2017

Theodora's Children (Tales of Hope)

Title: Theodora's Children

Series: Tales of Hope (Book #2)

Year: 2016

Author: Rick Nau

Summary: Gretchen is her name. She’s the heroine of the story. Some people call her Gretch the Wretch. Not a very nice thing to say about someone, especially if they suffer from a loneliness so intense it could blow the roof off the sky. Certainly she’s not the only person in the world who’s felt this way. You might have felt this way yourself. Or you might feel this way at this very moment, just as Gretchen felt at the beginning of her story. This isn’t to say she’s not a wonderful person. If you get to know her, you’ll find out how wonderful she is. If you don’t, you’ll never know. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Gretchen

Review: This book, honestly, is very hard to describe. In some ways it felt like a fairy tale; in others, an allegory. It was a family story; it was a Christmas story. It was a story about loneliness; it was a story about companionship. 

The beginning for me started a little rough. We're introduced to an older gentleman who loves to tell his grandchildren stories - and that's the whole book. Him telling the two grandkids a story. I was a bit skeptical how that would work for an entire novel, seeing as the entire content was dialogue, but I think once you got used to the idea, it wasn't bad. In fact, I kinda forgot he was still speaking as I got caught up in different parts of the story. 

The story he tells is of a young girl named Gretchen. She's really not Gretch the Wretch because she's got everything she could ever want - a fancy house, a big room, books, candies, a pony, toys, yada, yada, yada. Anything a child would ever dream to ask for, Gretchen already has. Except the one thing she's always wanted: a brother. She even asks for a brother for her birthday. And, even though she's not a drama queen, she dissolves into tears when a brother doesn't appear in all of her birthday gifts.

When she finally comes to terms about not getting a brother, she decides to make one up. And that's where the main portion of her adventures start. There's a definite Christmas feel as a big portion of this novel takes place in the snow and involves the dreams of little children.

The ending, though I won't reveal any spoilers, was not expected. Realistically, it took me by surprise, but it was truthfully right in the tone of the book. This is a fantasy world of sorts. I will say that I loved the final big moment at the end when everything culminated into a wonderful boil. *grins* Read it and find out.

One thing that I would complain about was the author's style. While definitely story-teller-like and fun, I thought it was often too wordy. When three sentences would suffice, the author used three paragraphs and sometimes three pages to give an explanation. A few places also were awkwardly worded with multiple adverbs.

Overall, I'd recommend this book to families, kids, and anyone looking for a quick but sweet read. I think I finished the entire book in one evening and enjoyed it. But I also think that it's definitely something you'd opt to read-aloud to story-hungry kids. 

Advisory: Some violence directed towards children; nothing graphic, but basically child abuse. Some scary situations. 

Rating: 4 stars

*Please note: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.*

Monday, September 4, 2017

The False Princess

Title: The False Princess

Series: None (There is a prequel short story)

Year: 2011

Author: Eilis O'Neal

Summary: Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court.  But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection.  Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.

Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks.  But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control - she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.

Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history, forever. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Sinda/Nalia
~ Kiernan

Review: First, I was intrigued by the title. Second, the cover art. Third, the synopsis. It didn't seem like the type of book that I'd be dying to read, but it looked interesting enough that I knew I *had* to pick it up sometime.

And in a lot of ways, it didn't disappoint. Princess Nalia (a.k.a. Sinda) finds out the life she's known for sixteen years is a complete lie, and she was only a fake to save the life of the real princess. I mean, come on -- how cool is that? Terrifying, yes, to poor Sinda, but what a set-up for a fantastic story! While many authors would focus on what Thorvaldor's people focused on - the new, real princess - this author has chosen to follow the path of the deserted, outcast ex-princess. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was, and I would like to get my hands on the prequel short story - just to see how that compares. 

Sinda is a likable heroine. She's clumsy, realistic, and funny. She has the most bizarre adventures, but it was a lot of fun to read and "tag along." Even Kiernan was incredibly fun and intriguing, which I actually found surprising (I was honestly expecting him to be a complete bore). Philantha was eccentric and a hoot. All the characters were really great. 

Except the villain. I found that one to be a little cliche. Honestly, I'm sorry. Maybe I felt that the whole, wicked plot was revealed a little too early? I would have preferred a little more oomph there going into the final showdown. 

Also, just something funny I noticed -- all the female characters had names containing an "a." Sinda, Nalia, Orianne, Melaina, Mika, Varil, Philantha, etc. I liked the names, but it was just funny to keep seeing the "a" trend pop in again and again. I can't remember if there were any female names without the "a." Many of the male names, too, had an "a." Random tidbit - you're welcome. 

Advisory: Some romance, as the main characters are the perfect, fairytale age of just over 16 years old. Nothing too over the top, which I thought was nice. Some parts I felt like the author was going to lead to more I really didn't want to read, but it never went very far. And along that line, there is a comment about someone wanting to "bed" a girl. Nothing comes of that either, thankfully.

Violence. People get injured/die/etc. Nothing terribly graphic, but enough to take some note of. 

There is also a lot of magic in this book, and I wanted to take some time to address that. Magic, it seems, is not a completely common thing for most people in Thorvaldor. It is described as being a talent - some people are born with it, and some people aren't. (Except royalty. They never receive that talent.) However, those who use it must learn to control it, otherwise they risk never gaining control over it. There is a wizard school for those who have this talent, but it is only open to people with titles and money.

When she first finds out she has magic, Sinda accidentally chars a vine and then creates a windstorm inside. She has to undergo magic training, and while her training is described in the book, it is a magic that cannot be duplicated as she is working only with her own talent. As in most fantasy stories, this magic can be used for good or bad, but using it takes up energy, as performing with any other talent/skill would. Honestly, since the "magic" is viewed as a talent (meaning it cannot be learned or performed by someone without that talent), it didn't bother me a lot. I felt that the magic was well-balanced with the rest of the story, and it didn't overpower any important elements.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Out of the Shadows (The Tacket Secret)

Title: Out of the Shadows

Series: Tacket Secret (Book #1)

Year: 2017

Author: Emma Carrie

Summary: Haunted by a past she didn't choose. Desperate for a future she can redeem.

Three years ago, teen assassin Emily Brelin escaped the rogue general who trained her. She fled across the globe to Golden City, New York, where she met a professor who offered a home and a new start. The professor guarded Emily's secrets—but now the teen's murky past is about to catch up with her.

When the professor dies, the will names best friend Detective Victoria Tacket as the new guardian. Emily worries her secrets will be exposed and her location leaked. She plans to run away because the general will kill anyone to recapture her, and she won't risk the detective's life.

Scarred by loss. Driven to protect.

Detective Vick Tacket is shocked when she learns her best friend has died. She's even more stunned when she learns her friend had a hidden dependent and named Vick—a single woman with no maternal interest—as the girl's guardian. Convinced she'd be a terrible mother, Vick plans to decline guardianship, until the teen disappears.

Vick scours the streets of Golden City, searching for Emily—but what she discovers threatens both their lives.

Main Characters:
~ Emily Brelin
~ Vick Tacket

Review: This book, honestly, is not a tremendously long read. I finished the whole thing in an evening. But I warn you: it will leave you wanting more.

Emily Brelin is a teenage assassin looking for a new chance at life. She's had to live off the grid to hide from her old employer, a general of some violent and evil tendencies. Desperate to stay out of his employ, Emily's found refuge and a new name with a college professor. However, when that beloved professor suddenly dies of cancer, it's up to Emily's new guardian to keep her off the grid.

Which, Vick really isn't good at. AT ALL. Even if she's basically a world-class detective with an odd obsession for chai in Styrofoam cups. 

In some ways, I feel like the book blurbs offered for this series basically outlines the entire plot. But then again, it is a novella, rather short, and so you can't write a long blurb anyway without giving away most of the story. 

BUT this book is so perfectly titled. Seriously. 

Emily was a wonderful puzzle. I was never quite sure what she was going to do next, but she kept me on my toes. She has her secrets, her faults, but she's still a real person. I loved being able to follow the details of her mind -- her analysis of everything around her, her determining the next best move to make, her photographic memory. She's really a trained assassin, and you definitely get that picture. 

Honestly, there was nothing big that I disliked in the book. The action was very fast-paced, so as a reader, one is never bored. My only complaints would be the length (remedied, I realize, by getting the next 6 novellas in the series), and the quick, almost shallow, nature of the book. There was a connection between Vick and Emily, definitely, but I was sorry to see it not more developed. Vick, too, had a host of secrets that seemed like they'd eventually come clear throughout the novella, but they never did. Perhaps in later books. 

In conclusion, if you're into superhero-ish, sciencefiction-ish, suspense-ish fiction, this would be an excellent series to pick up. And happy day -- all 7 books, it seems, have already been released. You don't have to wait until next year to find out what happens. 

Advisory: Some violence, blood, and shooting. Characters discuss police cases, but nothing terribly graphic. 

*Please note I was given a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars