Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Michael Vey: Battle of the Ampere

Title: Battle of the Ampere

Series: Michael Vey (Book #3)

Year: 2013

Author: Richard Paul Evans

Summary: Michael, Taylor, Ostin and the rest of the Electroclan have destroyed the largest of the Elgen Starxource plants, but now they’re on the run. The Elgen have teamed up with the Peruvian army to capture them, and only Michael remains free. With his friends due to stand trial for terrorism—a charge that may carry the death penalty—Michael will need all his wits and his abilities if he’s to save them.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Dr. Hatch and his loyal Electric Children have seized control of the E.S. Ampere—the super yacht the Elgen use as their headquarters. With the seven ships of the Elgen fleet now under his control, Hatch heads back to Peru to gather his army and begin his quest for global domination.

Michael must free his friends then find a way to stop Hatch, but Hatch knows Michael and the Electroclan are coming. And he’s ready for them. Can the Electroclan win the battle of the Ampere
? Or has Michael’s luck finally run out? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Michael Vey
~ Taylor Ridley
~ Ostin Liss
~ Tessa
~ Jack
~ Zeus
~ Abigail
~ Ian
~ McKenna
~ Dr. Hatch

Review: *rubs hands* Well, well, well. Where to begin? Another epic novel describing the further adventures of electric Michael Vey. Just so we're clear, Rise of the Elgen is still my favorite book of the series. Don't get me wrong -- this was a fantastic continuation of the Electroclan's adventures. I really can't wait for book four, Hunt for Jade Dragon, which... doesn't come out until later this year. This is the first time I've had to wait to read the next book, and I'm not very happy about it. Not happy at all, Bob. {edit: I originally wrote this review during the summer and waited to post it; Hunt for Jade Dragon is now out}

Whew! Talk about a quick pace! Michael awakens in the jungle with no knowledge of his friends' whereabouts. With Hatch still searching for him, he can't really stop in one place. Nope. First, he's got to escape the jungle, rescue his friends, and then hop a ride to their newest mission: the Ampere, the Elgen's gigantic, luxury ship which acts as their main headquarters. There's never a moment to be bored.

Okay, let me say here that I applaud Mr. Evans for writing a believable hero/adventure series. Sure, it's all about the kids, but they act like kids. They joke, they get upset with each other, and they all don't automatically know how to drive an army truck or have high class explosives they can pull out of back pocket. They take care of themselves, yet they're not afraid to admit fear or ask for help. In fact, oftentimes they act with the advice/assistance of an adult, making the plot a lot more believable, in my opinion.

Advisory: There was more in this book that I need to point out than the first two in the series. For one thing, this is probably so far the most violent as there are kidnappings, chases, explosions, shootings, deaths, etc. etc. I didn't find anything overly graphic, but Battle of the Ampere definitely had some darker themes than the previous two books.

One thing that really bothered me (and the main reason this book only got 3 stars) was the relationships between the romantic couples. More than once, as the boys and girls were traveling together and staying in close quarters, a couple would sleep next to each other or sleep in the same bed/couch. It remained innocent, but I have to say the idea bothered me. There are at least three couples that are identified in this book, but (other than a kiss or two) each romance is downplayed as the main plot of the novel is the kids' mission with Dr. Hatch's ship, the Ampere.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Related Reviews: Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25
                           Michael Vey: Rise of the Elgen

Click here to buy Battle of the Ampere on Amazon!

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Modern Cinderella

Title: A Modern Cinderella or, The Little Old Shoe and Other Stories 

Series: None 

Year: 2012 (republication) 

Author: Louisa May Alcott 

Summary: This book contains four short stories by Louisa May Alcott: A Modern Cinderella, Debby's Debut, The Brothers, and Nelly's Hospital. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Nan
~ Debby Wilder
~ Miss Dane
~ Nelly

Review: This collection of short stories from Louisa May Alcott is sweet. It didn't take me long to read through the entire Kindle version, and I enjoyed it. Usually, I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but I'm glad I picked this one up. My main interest in this collection came entirely from its title: A Modern Cinderella. Looking up whatever Cinderella retellings I could, and being a fan of L.M. Alcott, I decided this should go on my list.

A Modern Cinderella tells the tale of... well, a modern Cinderella. Nan is our heroine, and her story is very much in the style of Alcott's most famous work, Little Women. It's light and sweet, and the differences played from the original Cinderella tale are refreshing. Nan's father is still alive, yet suffers from health problems; her sisters allow her to play the servant, but that's only because they're so busy in their own hobbies/interests that they don't often notice her working hard in the background. But for all their faults, they love her to pieces. One of my favorite things about this short story was the portrayal of the shoe. No, Nan didn't lose it at the ball, but I really enjoyed how Alcott worked it into the plot.

Debby's Debut is basically a coming-out story, and I think it's safe to say that this was my favorite of the four. Yes, they were all good, but this one seemed to have a little more wit and spice than the others. Debby, or Dora, as her aunt Pen calls her, is a young lady getting ready for grand society. She's used to being a country girl but now faces the arduous task of coming out at the beach under Aunt Pen's strict eye. Debby's not very good at flirting, and her country manners, though charming, and not refined enough for society's taste. Even though she appreciates her aunt's intervention, Debby doesn't agree with everything that society wishes her to do.

The Brothers is the darkest tale of the collection, pulling some of Alcott's wartime nursing experience into the plot. Miss Dane is an accomplished nurse to whom the doctor entrusts the care of two wounded men when the hospital beds overflow. One man is a white Rebel who is broken down with a horrible fever; the other, a mulatto man with some facial wounds. Miss Dane cares for them both, but finds surprise when she discovers the two men are connected in a very strange, but bitter, way. She thought she was to save their lives from their illnesses/injuries... not from each other.

Nelly's Hospital brings the collection to an end, and such a sweet end it is, too. Nelly is a young girl whose only desire is to lend a hand at the hospital. Her brother has just come home from the war and, seeing how he suffered, Nelly wants to offer compassion and assistance to others like him. She's too young to help in a real hospital, but her mother heartily approves of her setting up a miniature Sanitary Ambulance to help ailing creatures and other small pets. Together with her friend Tony, Nelly becomes the nurse she's always dreamed of being and makes a bigger impact than even she thought possible.

Advisory: Some profanity in The Brothers as characters vent their emotions.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy A Modern Cinderella on Amazon!
It's currently free on Kindle!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Spirit Fighter (Son of Angels)

Title: Spirit Fighter

Series: Son of Angels (Book #1)

Year: 2012

Author: Jerel Law

Summary: Your mom always said you were an angel. What if she was right? 

Jonah Stone has always thought of himself as average, but in seventh grade he learns a fascinating family secret, and his world turns upside down. Jonah’s mom is a nephilim, the daughter of a human and a fallen angel, which makes Jonah one-quarter angel. When his mom is kidnapped by fallen angels, it’s up to Jonah and his sister Eliza to rescue her. Guided by prayer and a guardian angel, Jonah and Eliza embark on an epic adventure through the streets of New York and come to understand that God plans in ways they never could have imagined. Spirit Fighter, Book 1 in the Son of Angels: Jonah Stone series, is an imaginative adventure that is based on scripture in the book of Genesis. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Jonah Stone
~ Eliza Stone

Review: I found this book via Goodreads, and as it was advertised as a "Christian" Percy Jackson, I'd thought I'd try it out. And as far as the advertising goes, I think it's right on the head. Jonah Stone is just what you'd want him to be.

Jonah just wants to be a normal teenager. However, being normal is far from the family he was born into. Nope, his mother is half angel (what is called a nephilim), and Jonah and his two siblings are quarter angels. And then his mom is kidnapped, and Jonah learns that he and Eliza have been chosen to go after her. They each have their angel powers to help protect them, and accompanying them is their family's guardian angel, Henry.

In some ways, this book reminded me greatly of Percy Jackson. Ready for some similarities? 
  • Kidnapped mother (duh, that's a given)
  • Super cool powers (Percy has water powers, while Jonah has super strength and speed)
  • Fights with creatures no normal person can see (Percy - mythological creatures; Jonah - fallen angels)
  • Creepy old ladies with knitting needles
  • New York
  • Trouble in school
  • And so on...
See? Very Percy Jackson-ish. Even the writing style was light and fun like Rick Riordan's. But for Jerel Law's credit, he did a good job in creating something that seemed familiar, but was unique in a special way. The whole plot revolved around the kidnapping of Jonah's mother, a nephilim. The fallen angels have a dark plan in which they require her specifically, and Jonah and Eliza must rescue her before that big plan can go into action. No, I'm not going to tell you the plan, because that would be spoilers, and because only half of the plan is released in book one. I need to read the second book, Fire Prophet, and discover what happens next!

From what I've heard about Frank Peretti's Piercing the Darkness (I have yet to read that book, but I will get around to it one of these days), I think this book would fall under that same sort of genre. It's set in the real world, yet it clearly shows that there's a spiritual battle going on that not many people are aware of. Within our world is a spiritual realm in which angels battle the Fallen. The motive? Men's souls. The angels guide and encourage, while the Fallen yearn to bring men down into the pit of darkness. It's a very deep topic, yet I think the author did a wonderful job here introducing this to young readers. 

Now, I did give this book only three stars. Please note that I thoroughly enjoyed it, but... well, it just wasn't a favorite for me. I liked it well enough to want to finish the series, but I don't know that I'll re-read them. But that's just me. I've read some reviews in which readers had no qualms about giving this book a full five stars.

Advisory: Action as Jonah and Eliza battle angels of darkness and their cohorts. In one scene, they encounter a large octopus of sorts (I forget what it was called -- it's pictured on the cover). 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 
Click here to buy Spirit Fighter on Amazon!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Just Ella (The Palace Chronicles)

Title: Just Ella

Series: The Palace Chronicles (Book #1)

Year: 2001

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Summary: "Princess, nobody can stop those rumors. People would rather believe in fairy godmothers...than think that you took charge of your own destiny."

Like every commoner in the land, Ella dreams of going to the ball and marrying Prince Charming. But after she is chosen to marry the prince, life with the royal family is not the "happily ever after" that Ella imagined. Pitiless and cold, the royals try to mold her into their vision of a princess. Ella's life becomes a meaningless schedule of protocol, which she fears she will never grasp. And Prince Charming's beautiful face hides a vacant soul.

Even as her life turns to misery, the stories persist that Ella's fairy godmother sent her to the ball: How else could the poor girl wear a beautiful gown, arrive in a coach, and dance in those glass slippers? But there is no fairy godmother to help Ella escape the deadening life of the castle. Can she do it on her own?

Margaret Peterson Haddix's reconstruction of the Cinderella legend without the magic -- how a commoner could have married the prince -- is a story as richly fascinating as the classic tale. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Ella Brown
~ Madame Bisset
~ Prince Charming
~ Jed Reston

Review: Just Ella is a popular retelling of the fairy tale everyone loves: Cinderella. I was pretty excited when I discovered it and added to my growing list of Cinderella stories to read. The plot sounded really good -- after the ball, Cinderella discovers that "happily ever after" may not be all that it's cracked up to be. What could be more interesting?

But reading this book, I found myself quickly disappointed. Ella does nothing but complain in the palace, and though you can hardly blame her (she suffers through hours of needlepoint, boring conversations, and iron corsets, for cat's sake!), it quickly got on my nerves. She was only fifteen years old, but alternated between acting like a five year old and an old grump. The life of the royal court was greatly exaggerated for the sake of the fairy tale, but at times (in those rare instances when luck finally won out), it grew to be humorous. Most of the characters were really shallow, and it was hard to connect with them. I got irritated with some of the plot twists, as characters were doing things out of character, in a sense. 

I've seen other reviews of this book that say this story would have been more satisfactory if the author had given more of a decided ending. Haddix continues a bit of Ella's story in the second book of the Palace Chronicles, Palace of Mirrors (which I read a few years ago). I didn't even know it was part of a series, as both books tend to stand alone, save for a few mentions of Ella in the second. On the whole, while I found the ideas very interesting, I wasn't very impressed with either of the books.

Advisory: There were quite a few crude and "adult" comments that I was greatly displeased over, and for that, I don't think I could recommend the book for readers under 14. I'm 20 and I was disgusted reading them.

For romance -- there is one kiss when Ella "falls in love" with the prince, and she thinks about cuddling a lot, but I didn't notice anything other than that.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Just Ella on Amazon!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Cindy's Story (An Amish Fairy Tale Novelette)

Title: Cindy's Story

Series: Amish Fairy Tale Novellete (Book #1)

Year: 2013

Author: J.E.B. Spredemann

Summary: He's running from his past. She's hiding from her present. But God has a plan for their future. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Cindy
~ Nathaniel

Review: I surprised myself in picking this book up. I found it free on the Kindle one day, and since it was portrayed as a fairy tale retelling/novelette, I decided I'd give it a go. Personally, I don't prefer romance novels, and I've never actually ventured into the Amish genre for multiple reasons. But it was based on Cinderella. Another retelling? I'll try it!

Cindy is an Amish girl who is treated like a servant by her stepmother and two stepsisters. She does her best not to complain about her circumstances, but who would want to live like that forever? She's not allowed to go out, so it's a surprise to young Nathaniel when he meets her in the woods. They start up a friendship and Nathaniel soon finds himself in love with Cindy. Yet, she doesn't seem to know what love is. She's rather backwards on most Amish customs. Nathaniel doesn't understand why Cindy's stepmother is so insistent that Cindy remain invisible. Selfishness or love? Which will win out?

In truth, it's a short, sweet, modern tale of Cinderella. But, in comparison to the original tale, there's not much that links Cindy to Cinderella save for the typical rags-to-riches plot. Cindy had an old dress of her mothers, but if my memory serves me correctly, there was no mention of any shoes. If you like a sweet romance, a short Amish story, or just everything Cinderella in general, then this is a story for you. Personally, I liked it, but not enough to garner a second read.

Advisory: A kiss or two, but the romance doesn't really go farther than that. 

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Cindy's Story on Amazon!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Five Glass Slippers

Title: Five Glass Slippers

Series: First in Rooglewood's series of retold fairy tale collections

Year: 2014

Author: Elisabeth Brown, Emma Clifton, Rachel Heffington, Stephanie Ricker, Clara Diane Thompson


What happens when Cinderella is so painfully shy that she cannot bear the idea of attending the royal ball? Or when the slipper fits . . . but on the wrong girl? What happens when Cinderella is determined to oust an imposter prince from her rightful throne? Or when she is a cendrillon miner working from a space station orbiting a cthonian planet? What happens when Cinderella, a humble housemaid, is sent with a message for a prisoner trapped in a frightening fairy circus?

Here is Cinderella as you have never met her before, wearing glass slippers and off on unforgettable adventures!

WHAT EYES CAN SEE: Elisabeth Brown
Painfully shy Arella begs her stepmother to let her stay home from the prince’s ball. But kindly Duchess Germaine is determined that her beautiful stepdaughter should be presented at court along with her own two daughters. So, dressed in a gorgeous gown and a pair of heirloom slippers, Arella catches the eye of the crown prince . . . and finds her life suddenly far more complicated than she ever desired.

BROKEN GLASS: Emma Clifton
The slipper fits . . . but on the wrong girl! Rosalind never once danced with Prince Marius at the ball, for she is in love with his brother Henry. If only Rosalind and Marius would stop bickering long enough to invent a scheme, perhaps the three of them can find the real mystery lady. But they must work quickly, for dark deeds are afoot, and the kingdom is poised on the brink of disaster.

THE WINDY SIDE OF CARE: Rachel Heffington
Alisandra is determined to have her rights. She knows that she is the king’s secretly dispossessed daughter, the true heir to the throne. Prince Auguste is an imposter, and if she plays her cards right, Alis will prove it to the world! That is, if charming Auguste doesn’t succeed in winning her heart before she gets her chance . . .

A CINDER’S TALE: Stephanie Ricker
It’s a dangerous life, yet Elsa wouldn’t trade this opportunity to work at Tremaine Station, mining cendrillon from the seething surface of planet Aschen. Nevertheless, when a famous deep space explorer and his handsome son dock their starcraft at the space station, Elsa finds herself dreaming of far galaxies beyond Aschen's blistering heat. There is no time for dreaming, however, when danger threatens the space station, and Elsa and her fellow miners are tested to the limits of their courage.

THE MOON MASTER’S BALL: Clara Diane Thompson
After her terrifying experience there several years ago, the one place young housemaid Tilly longs to avoid is Bromley’s Circus. But when kindly Lord Hollingberry begs her to deliver a message to the mysterious Moon Master hidden away among the circus dwellers, Tilly can’t refuse . . . and finds herself ensnared in a web of enchantment cast by the loathsome Mrs. Carlisle and her beautiful goddaughter.
(from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
What Eyes Can See ~ Arella, Drusilla, & Frederick
Broken Glass ~ Rosalind, Marius, Henry, Evelyn, & Darcy
The Windy Side of Care ~ Alisandra & Auguste
A Cinder's Tale ~ Elsa, Bruno, Jaq, Gus, Marraine, & Karl
The Moon Master's Ball ~  Tilly, Lord Hollingberry, Caroline, & the Moon Master

Review: With all the fantastic-ness that surrounds Cinderella retellings, Five Glass Slippers should be on every fairy tale lover's bookshelf. Seriously. Last year, Rooglewood Press and Anne Elisabeth Stengl hosted a contest in which five Cinderella stories would be selected for the ultimate collection. I, among many, began a story for the contest, and I fell among those who didn't finish in time. Yet, I'm not complaining. There was no way I could have entered my 198,000 word Secret of the Hazel Tree into a contest which sported 20,000 words as the greatest limit. *winks* Who knows? Maybe this year I'll manage a decent entry into the new contest -- Beauty and the Beast!

What Eyes Can See has been labeled the "romance" of this collection, and I'd have to agree. While the others tend to have aspects of romance, Elisabeth Brown made the romance the focus of her story -- which is not a bad thing! It's very sweet, and a quick tale for those who want a little something more from the usual Cinderella tale. Arella, our seemingly heroine, is painfully shy and wishes to keep to herself. Her stepfamily, far from the cliche horrors of the original tale, do their best to help her in whatever ways they can, even taking her to the big ball thrown in Prince Frederick's honor. My only complaint with this story would be a certain plot twist (which I won't reveal here -- spoilers, you know) that had absolutely no foreshadowing. Normally, I don't mind being caught off guard, but this seemed a little too sudden. The ending was marvelous, and extremely satisfactory.

Broken Glass was an excellent read; I considered this my favorite of the collection until... well, you'll see. But this was wonderfully crafted. It's basically Cinderella turned upside-down when the slipper fits on the wrong girl! Rosalind wants to marry Prince Henry but finds the king forcing her to marry the elder brother, Marius, instead. Meanwhile, Marius longs for the girl he danced with, but no one seems to know who she is nor indeed where she happened to get Rosalind's glass dancing slippers. I loved reading the scenes with Marius and Rosalind, for both knew they hated the other, yet their arguments were always so hilarious! Throw in some exploding carriages, fairy godmothers who really don't know what they're doing, and this tale just gets even better. The magic aspect of this story was light, and just as you'd want magic in a fairy tale.

The Windy Side of Care was actually the only tale I was familiar with before picking up Five Glass Slippers. I've followed Rachel Heffington's blog for a while now, and from the moment she posted snippets from her entry, I knew it was going to take a place in the final five selections. No doubt about it. Alis is a young servant in her stepmother's household, just as we'd expect of our Cinderella. However, unlike Cinderella, she knows she's the rightful heir to the throne. She looks exactly like the king, and that's only one of her arguments. Alis teams up with the Lord Humphries, a "godfather" she's never actually met, to undertake the task of proving her lineage. This story felt very Dickens-ish in character, what with plotted murders, tangled webs, and not-as-you'd-expect courtroom cases. Rachel has taken everything we love about Cinderella, shaken it out, flipped it inside-out, and given it all back to us on a silver platter. 

A Cinder's Tale... ah, the more I think about this story, the more I realize it was indeed my favorite out of the entire collection. And thank the stars Stephanie Ricker is writing more set in this world, because I want to know more about Elsa and her crew! Cinderella set in space, eh? Really, it's amazing. To be truthful, I thought it odd that this story should be placed among this collection, as it has no glass slipper in it. True, the famed footwear is mentioned, but no one, and certainly not our Cinderella, wears any during the length of the tale. Stephanie gives us more than just a ball in this story, for this story is also presents a good deal of action and danger. I'm usually not a sci-fi type of gal, but I must say, this particular genre is growing on me. If you haven't read A Cinder's Tale yet, you need to. Just sayin'.

And here we come to the last chapter in which.... Oh, no, sorry. Wrong Disney movie. Bonus points for anyone who recognizes that. *coughs* The Moon Master's Ball is the last of this collection, and let me say, it really wraps things up with a bang! To be truthful, this was probably my least favorite of the collection just because of its darker themes. Tilly, our Cinderella for this story, gets wrapped up in the magic surrounding Bromley's Circus, the annual event most people of Winslow village look forward to. But for Tilly, the circus holds only painful memories, nightmares that haunt her. And her neck bears the scars to prove it. Nothing would induce her to return to the circus.... unless it be kindly Lord Hollingberry's express order. The magic gets deeper with every new page, and Tilly discovers a lot more about fairy godmothers and curses than she wants. The only thing I found confusing was why it was Tilly herself that got roped into the adventure. She was chosen out of a household of maids to deliver Lord Hollingberry's letter and then called upon several times to help again -- why Tilly personally? Never really got that answer.

Advisory: Broken Glass and The Moon Master's Ball both contain magic, for those concerned on that account. While both are technically based on fairy tales, the magic in TMMB seemed just a little too dark for a fairy tale, in my opinion. I didn't care for how heavily the story was steeped in it.

Some romance, obviously, yet it was all light. A few kisses, some handsome men... you know how it goes. And along that note, there were some less-than-desirous circumstances surrounding Alis's and Auguste's births in TWSoC. While nothing is described, I found it just a tick uncomfortable.

TWSoC also includes some (what I'd call) mature language (i.e. "egads," "deuce," etc) -- just something to take note of.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Five Glass Slippers on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ballet Shoes

Title: Ballet Shoes

Series: The Shoes Series (Book #1)

Year: 1936

Author: Noel Streatfeild

Summary: Pauline, Petrova and Posy are found as orphaned babies in different parts of the world by eccentric fossil collector and explorer Gum. He adopts them, takes them to his London home and leaves them in the care of his niece Sylvia and the family Nurse. Then off he goes to continue his exploring, saying that he'll be back in five years' time. When the three little girls are old enough, they choose the surname Fossil for themselves and vow to make the name famous. At first they lead privileged and sheltered lives. But when Gum fails to return after five years, Sylvia's money begins to run out. First she is forced to take in some boarders - an engaging and eclectic mix of characters - but then she decides that the girls should go to acting school. This way they will be able to earn some money before they grow up. Pauline adores the school, as she dreams of becoming an actress. Petrova hates it, all she wants to do is learn about cars and planes and engines. Posy loves it too - she is born to be a dancer and the school is the perfect place for her. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Pauline Fossil
~ Petrova Fossil
~ Posy Fossil
~ Sylvia Brown 
~ Nana

Review: Pauline, Petrova, and Posy are three little girls who haven't a family to call their own. Each from a different part of the world, they find a home with Gum (Great Uncle Matthew) who collects them as playthings for his grown-up niece, Sylvia. As he's always bringing home fossils to exhibit, it is decided that the children be given the surname "Fossil." And that's where their story begins.

I was introduced to Ballet Shoes at a very early age, as our library had a VHS copy of the 1975 series and my family borrowed it several times throughout the year. It was one of my favorite films, but I didn't know it was based on a book until I was much older. Otherwise, I'd have read it a lot sooner. The novel is quite charming, if you're looking for a sweet read about three sisters. It's not the gripping type of modern fluff, but it's the perfect book to just relax with and enjoy or read aloud with your family. Personally, I thought the 2007 film adaption closer to the original plot of the novel, but for sentimental reasons, I still like the 1975 one better. 

My favorite Fossil has always been Petrova, and that didn't change upon reading the novel. Petrova is so selfless; even when her two sisters get wrapped up in their stardom, she's content to let them be. She doesn't care for dancing or acting at the academy, yet she continues on, knowing that the jobs she can get with her experience, she can bring home more money to Sylvia, the girls' beloved guardian. Pauline thrives on acting and her success on the stage definitely gives her a big head. But the author does not pet her vanity; no, for Pauline learns to be humble when her self-obsessed attitude gets her into big trouble. Posy dances, loves dancing, and wants to do nothing else. She gets special lessons with Madame Fidolia and quickly focuses all her attention on the art of ballet. I liked Posy in the beginning of the novel, but as she became more and more selfish about her dancing, I thought her annoying. I just found out that Ballet Shoes is the first book in a series by Noel Streatfeild, and while Pauline, Petrova, and Posy are not continuing main characters, they do appear in book four (Theater Shoes). I'm hoping to read it sometime soon and see where their futures take them!

Advisory: Nothing that I can think of.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Ballet Shoes on Amazon!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Before Midnight

Title: Before Midnight: A Retelling of "Cinderella"

Series: Once Upon a Time Fairytales

Year: 2007

Author: Cameron Dokey

Summary: Etienne de Brabant is brokenhearted. His wife has died in childbirth, leaving him alone with an infant daughter he cannot bear to name. But before he abandons her for king and court, he brings a second child to be raised alongside her, a boy whose identity he does not reveal.
The girl, La Cendrillon, and the boy, Raoul, pass sixteen years in the servants' care until one day a very fine lady arrives with her two daughters. The lady has married La Cendrillon's father, and her arrival changes their lives.
When an invitation to a great ball reaches the family, La Cendrillon's new stepmother will make a decision with far-reaching effects. Her choice will lead La Cendrillon and Raoul toward their destiny -- a choice that will challenge their understanding of family, test their loyalty and courage, and, ultimately, teach them who they are. (from Goodreads)
Main Characters:
~ Cendrillon
~ Raoul
~ Anastasia
~ Amelie 

Review: I love fairy tale retellings, and Cinderella stories (particularly at the moment) fascinate me. Sure, I'm not a huge fan of the original Cinderella tale with the dorky prince and sparkles everywhere, but hey! There's a lot of potential there! There are sooo many ways Cinderella can be retold, and this, Before Midnight, is just one of them.

First off, I really like how the author included Cinderella's father. In the original tale, he lived and was still around, but he kinda disappeared in the middle, only to pop up back at the end and dumbly remember he had a daughter named Cinderella. Cameron Dokey took his character and really fleshed him out. Definitely a plus.

The brother/sister relationship between Raoul and Cendrillon is not typical of most fairy tales, but I loved it. Usually, fairy tales get too wrapped up in describing the romantic love between couples, yet they miss out on some of the most rewarding love of all: the love of a sibling. Their banter was wonderful, and truthfully, I was glad that the author didn't stick them together at the end in romance. Also, I liked the different approach on her stepfamily. They treated Cendrillon like a servant, true, but there was character development involved, and the novel ended with multiple redeeming qualities and a noble kinship between Cendrillon and her stepfamily. 

There are three romances that pop up in the novel -- Cendrillon's and then also her stepsisters'. Personally, the relationship between Cendrillon and the prince I found horribly shallow. It was BOOM! they were introduced, interrupted, then met again, danced, and fell in love. Seriously, five minutes and they were sharing a kiss! *shakes head* There was a lot of talk about true love and love at first sight, but I felt they talked about it too much and never actually explained it. I'm not a proponent of insta-love, so it all seemed rather weird to me. Yes, I know this is a fairy tale, but... *sighs* Her stepsisters' romances, though, I found much more enjoyable. They took a little more time to known their prospective suitors, and their relationships were much more believeable. 

Advisory: Obviously -- romance. I believe there were three light kisses mentioned, but nothing really goes farther than that. 

There is a magical aspect to this novel that isn't really magic, but I thought I'd mention it. The weather, the garden -- certain things are described as being harsh, unproductive, etc. based on the treatment/attitude of Cendrillon's father. Characters make wishes, and those wishes are shown as coming true, though if some power was involved or if it was just coincidental, I cannot say. That was never fully explained, and on the whole, I thought all of that odd.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Before Midnight on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lizzy and Jane

Title: Lizzy and Jane

Series: None

Year: 2014

Author: Katherine Reay

Summary: Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen’s famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast’s financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone—including herself—when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane's needs, Elizabeth's powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister’s Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?
(from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Elizabeth Hughes
~ Jane
~ Nick
~ Cecilia

Review: I've had my eye on this book for a while, after loving P&P for over a dozen years and after hearing all the raving reviews for Katherine Reay's Dear Mr. Knightley. I haven't read that one yet, but when I was offered a chance to read an advance review copy of Lizzy and Jane, I jumped at it. Inspired by one of my favorite novels, how bad could it be?

In a nutshell, I was disappointed. I'm not exactly sure what I expected, but this book wasn't it. I guess I envisioned something along the lines of a modern-day P&P retelling, yet even reading the first chapter, I could see that wasn't it. So don't expect a retelling. In all regards, this is more of a Persuasion retelling with bits of Sense and Sensibilty thrown in. We've got a broken hero, a heroine who lost her bloom, and a letter in the end -- sound familiar? In addition, Lizzy and Jane are not the soulmates that Austen's famous sisters are; they fight, and share many, what are described as, Elinor-Marianne moments in the course of the novel. I really appreciated all the Austen references, though. The author is a true JA fan, and it shows. Two thumbs up.

Elizabeth is a successful chef in New York, and she loves her job. Well, that is until her boss tells her she is not up to her usual standards and suggests she take a holiday... after he hires a new sous chef for the restaurant. Feeling replaced, Elizabeth makes the cross-country trip to visit the family in Seattle in she hasn't seen in I-don't-recall-how-many years. Her sister Jane is battling cancer, the same horribleness that stole their mother from them when Elizabeth was still in high school. Returning to Seattle isn't easy for Elizabeth, nor is it easy for Jane to accept her sister back after the hard years between them. It isn't until Elizabeth finds peace helping out in a new way, with the food she loves in blends she never expected, that she feels she's finally doing the right thing. 

Now you'll notice that I only gave this book three stars. Why the three stars? It was a well-written book, the plot was interesting with a few surprise twists, and people interested in this genre will love it, I'm positive. However, it just didn't fit in my definition of a favorite book. I'm not a moody hero/heroine fan, and I really didn't care for all the brooding in several chapters. People feeling sorry for themselves a lot tend to get on my nerves. I liked the minor characters probably the most -- Kate and Danny, Elizabeth's niece and nephew, were fun to read about. The three stars mainly are explained in my advisory later on. Just little things that added up to mount a sour taste in my mouth. And no, that wasn't intended to be a pun or an insult to Elizabeth's potpie.

What I did like was the food references. Elizabeth knew her food, and although there were times I questioned her cooking skills (she adds cinnamon to enhance tomato flavor in sauces and adds black pepper to applesauce; who puts pepper in applesauce? cinnamon - yes; sugar - yes; we even do maple syrup at times, but black pepper? sorry, rant over), I couldn't help but get hungry during the many cooking passages. And Elizabeth made the cooking even more enticing for me by mixing in stuff from classic works. For instance, she crafts Jane's meals out of a love for Jane Austen, using Austen's novels as inspiration. Other meals get Ernest Hemingway inspiration, and she's always quoting something on food from famous works of literature -- including The Wind in the Willows! I thought that especially neat.

Advisory: Romance, obviously. Our romantic couple shares a few kisses and admires each other's physical attractions. Blech. One man talks about an immoral relationship he had years ago and how it's affected him until present day. Umm... there were a few "adult comments" and a word or two of language, so please read with caution. Various characters are described as having cancer, and as Elizabeth visits the hospital, she sees the treatment they undergo. One character accidentally cuts her hand badly (cue blood), but it's not handled too graphically. Just little things here and there that put the book down overall in my opinion. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 

Click here to buy Lizzy and Jane on Amazon!

*Please note that I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This novel will be released on October 28th.*

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Captive Maiden (Hagenheim)

Title: The Captive Maiden

Series: Hagenheim (Book #4)

Year: 2013

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Summary: Gisela's childhood was filled with laughter and visits from nobles such as the duke and his young son. But since her father's death, each day has been filled with nothing but servitude to her stepmother. So when Gisela meets the duke's son, Valten--the boy she has daydreamed about for years--and learns he is throwing a ball, she vows to attend, even if it's only for a taste of a life she'll never have. To her surprise, she catches Valten's eye. Though he is rough around the edges, Gisela finds Valten has completely captured her heart. But other forces are bent on keeping the two from falling further in love, putting Gisela in more danger than she ever imagined. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Gisela Mueller
~ Valten, Earl of Hamlin

Review: On the whole, I can't say that I'm overly pleased with all of Melanie Dickerson's books. Some of them present a fresh take on the old-fashioned fairy tales we all know and love, yet they almost have a cliche taste to them. I'll save reviews for the other books later (I'm hoping to get around to reviewing them all one day), but let's see what I've got for The Captive Maiden, Melanie's retelling of Cinderella. The good and the bad. Ready?

First of all, I did enjoy the whole of the tournaments. Charles Perrault's original Cinderella tale shows our little cinder girl going, not to one, but three balls, and Melanie Dickerson kept that alive in her three tournaments, adding a ball in at the end to wrap everything up. My favorite scenes were probably those in which Valten mounted Seiger and got hammered at with lance and sword in the tournaments. The action was paced nicely, and the descriptions almost made me feel like I was there. Plus? Definitely.

Gisela... well, I wrestled with my feelings for her. Having just written my own Cinderella retelling (Secret of the Hazel Tree, once I get around to publishing it), I'm quite in love with all things cinders, so I was determined to like Gisela from the start. And at the start, she did not disappoint. She was riding horses, standing up to bullies in the street, and quite a different take on the usual timid Cinderella. I was so happy. And then she met Valten and became... (how to put this?) ... annoying. She lost most of her spunk and ended the book as a weeping damsel in distress. Mind, I don't like the modern I-can-do-anything-a-man-can-do heroine, and Gisela wasn't, yet I thought her character development could have been bettered. Valten was an interesting hero, to say in the least. But after a while, he annoyed me, too. The author emphasized the point that he wasn't a ladies' man, and he didn't know what to do when around them. Yes, that point was perhaps made a little too clear. I got tired of hearing how he didn't know what to say to Gisela and how he wasn't like his brother Gabe.

The minor characters were excellent. I loved Ava and wished there could have been more of her in the novel. Even Gisela's stepfamily were well written. When Gisela becomes competition to her wishes of a marriage with the duke's son to her daughter, the stepmother sells Gisela off to a not very nice man to get her out of the way - stab at Ever After? I think so. {highlight previous for spoilers} There was a lot of captures and chases going on, and I find I have to echo another reviewer (Jaye Knight on Goodreads) who said that the characters escaped multiple times only to be recaptured. While I understand how it was important to the story, it got old the more times it happened. Personally, I would have liked to see other obstacles rather just another recapture hinder our daring characters. 

Advisory: Some violence as tournaments and kidnappings take place; one character breaks a bone and gets it set; but nothing is described in an overly graphic tone. 

Also, the romance. While nothing got out of hand, I grew quickly irritated with the number of times the word "kiss" was mentioned in the novel. The characters seemed to dwell on thoughts of kissing and actually kissing a lot, and I found it awkward. Especially between two characters who were not married. Sorry, folks, but there's more to love than smooching. While I did appreciate the fact that the author did put in mentions of their falling in love with each other's personalities (i.e. he/she was brave, fierce, etc.), I did not enjoy the "bulging muscles" comments. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy The Captive Maiden on Amazon!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Around the World in Eighty Days & Five Weeks in a Balloon

Title: Around the World in Eighty Days & Five Weeks in a Balloon

Series: None

Year: 1873 (first published)

Author: Jules Verne

Around the World in Eighty Days: One ill-fated evening at the Reform Club, Phileas Fogg rashly bets his companions £20,000 that he can travel around the entire globe in just eighty days - and he is determined not to lose. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, the reserved Englishman immediately sets off for Dover, accompanied by his hot-blooded French manservant Passepartout. Travelling by train, steamship, sailing boat, sledge and even elephant, they must overcome storms, kidnappings, natural disasters, Sioux attacks and the dogged Inspector Fix of Scotland Yard - who believes that Fogg has robbed the Bank of England - to win the extraordinary wager. Around the World in Eighty Days gripped audiences on its publication and remains hugely popular, combining exploration, adventure and a thrilling race against time. (from Goodreads)

Five Weeks in a Balloon: There was a large audience assembled on the 14th of January, 1862, at the session of the Royal Geographical Society, No. 3 Waterloo Place, London. The president, Sir Francis M -, made an important communication to his colleagues, in an address that was frequently interrupted by applause. This rare specimen of eloquence terminated with the following sonorous phrases bubbling over with patriotism: "England has always marched at the head of nations" (for, the reader will observe, the nations always march at the head of each other), "by the intrepidity of her explorers in the line of geographical discovery." (General assent). "Dr. Samuel Ferguson, one of her most glorious sons, will not reflect discredit on his origin." ("No, indeed!" from all parts of the hall.) (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
(Around the World in Eighty Days)
~ Phileas Fogg
~ Passepartout
~ Aouda
~ Detective Fix

(Five Weeks in a Balloon)
~ Samuel Fergusson
~ Dick Kennedy
~ Joe

Review: Well, well! Would ya look at that! This here's a two-for-one special review! To be honest, I thought I should split this up since it is technically *two* reviews, but couldn't persuade myself to do so. After all, it's all in one book. While I love my copy, it's kinda a shame I don't have the stories separately. *shrugs* Anywho...

Around the World in Eighty Days was awesome and far better than I had ever hoped! I loved it so much, I read the entire thing and went around the world myself in less than ten hours. *nods* Yup. This was my first-ever, unabridged Jules Verne, and I was not disappointed in the least. Phileas Fogg was an admirable hero, and Passepartout was the epic sidekick/servant. It's non-stop adventure from page one, and the ending is completely unexpected and wonderful. One of my absolute favorite quotes from this book described Passepartout -- His hair, which was brown, was somewhat ruffled. If the sculptors of antiquity knew eighteen ways of dressing Minerva's locks, Passepartout knew but one for the disposal of his: three strokes of a large toothcomb, and the operation was over.

Five Weeks in a Balloon was a bit more of a mouthful. Don't get me wrong; I still really enjoyed it, but the idea of going around the world, to me, was much more interesting than flying over a jungle and desert strewn continent. Dr. Fergusson merely wanted to go over Africa in a balloon, not around the world, and he leisurely allows the balloon to float how it will. But many unexpected happenings send some excitement into the trip. Lions await at yearned-for oases in the desert; treacherous birds and native arrows threaten to throw the balloon out of the sky. Joe was my favorite character, with his loyalty, sudden love of gold, and willingness to sacrifice his own interests so that his master (Fergusson) could get the greater gain. For those who love the culture/geography of Africa, or aeronautics, or a good adventure, or if you just enjoy Jules Verne, then you should read this book. 

Advisory: A bit of language; also some violence. FWiaB contains some descriptions of the African tribes Dr. Fergusson and his partners encounter, and they stray toward the unpleasantly graphic. While I realize cannibals and warring tribes are not light topics, do be warned that Jules Verne does not take them lightly. Those particular chapters are not for the faint-of-heart.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy this book on Amazon!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Lunar Chronicles: Cress

Title: Cress

Series: The Lunar Chronicles (Book #3)

Year: 2014

Author: Marissa Meyer

Summary: In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 
When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Linh Cinder
~ Emperor Kaito
~ Iko
~ Crescent Moon
~ Captain Thorne
~ Jacin Clay
~ Dr. Dmitri Erland

Review: Rapunzel is one of my favorite fairy tales (and no, I'm not biased because I myself have long, blonde hair), so I was pretty excited when I heard that Marissa Meyer's third book in The Lunar Chronicles would be based off that character. And in many ways, Cress did not disappoint. There were plenty of references back to the original fairy tale, yet the author wove a lot of the unique into the novel. Honestly, it was hard to put down.

Among the things that I liked in Cress was its complexity. It was true to the books earlier in the series (Cinder and Scarlet), yet it had a style all its own. Cinder was once again my favorite as she battled internal and external enemies to try to save Kai and, ultimately, the world from the evil clutches of the Lunar queen, Levana. From the dark regions of space to dry, desert towns in Africa, the plot weaves around splendidly, never giving you a moment's peace. Of course, more secrets come to light, and all you can think about at the end is, "When is book four going to be out?"

Cress was a sweet girl, but I found her at times to be a little on the annoying side as she daydreamed. Yes, she reminded me a lot of Disney's Rapunzel, and I'll admit, with other readers, that there were several things in the novel that made me think of Tangled. While it was fun to be reminded of one of my favorite films, I did think the author could have been a little more original. Scarlet disappeared for most of the book, as her actions took her in a different course than both Cinder and Cress. While I was a bit saddened that she didn't have a bigger role, I did enjoy the time I got to spend learning more about the other girls.

Advisory: Violence is a given, knowing that Cinder and her company are pretty much outlaws and have armies from both earth and Lunar after them. It's all set in a fantasy-type setting. The plague that terrified everyone in Cinder is back, and is again taking its toll. Highlight for spoilers: One character gets part of a finger chopped off, but it's not described graphically. 
I think there's more romance in Cress than in either Cinder or Scarlet. Personally, I didn't care much for the amount of time Marissa Meyer spent on Cress's romantic imaginings and thoughts, but nothing gets out of hand. I counted two kisses, no more. Highlight for spoilers: There is also a scene in which a girl is taking a bath and a blind man walks in on her. Nothing is described, but I found that highly uncomfortable to read.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Related reviews: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)
                        Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles)

Click here to buy Cress on Amazon!