Monday, June 30, 2014

Sew, It's a Quest (The Bookania Quests)

Title: Sew, It's a Quest

Series: The Bookania Quests (Book #1)

Year: 2011

Author: Kendra E. Ardnek

Summary: Robin and Robert are royal twins. They are the only two to have received a Fairy Godmother gift in nearly a century, an amazing honor. Soon it was clear that their gifts had been switched and a search began to find the Fairy Godmother to right the mistake. When she is finally sighted by a knight, the family learns that the pair must find her for themselves and they only have until their 18th birthday ... only 4 months away. Will they be able to find her in time? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Robin
~ Robert
~ Rosamund
~ Doranna

Review: Sew, It's a Quest is the first in Kendra E. Ardnek's Bookania Quests, a series you're not going to want to miss. Right off the bat, we're introduced to two very usual royals - twins Robin and Robert Locksley - with unusual gifts. Much to everyone's dismay, their Fairy Godmother mixed up their gifts at their birth, and while Robert has impressed the court for years with his skill with a needle, Robin spends her days practicing expertly with a sword. When the emissary arrives and brings them news of the Fairy Godmother (Fallona), along with the announcement that if Robert and Robin wish to reverse their gifts, they must undertake a quest to find Fallona before their eighteenth birthday.

Kendra writes in a fun, easy-to-read, very fairy-tale-ish style that truly compliments the story, considering it is a sort of fairy tale retelling. But it's more than just one fairy tale... instead it's like two or three (or four) all mixed together in a fantasy land. Doranna's story brings in part of the Mountain Princess, Rosamund is the Sleeping Beauty, and even Robin Hood makes a very decided entrance. I rather liked seeing them altogether like that. Each subplot wove cleverly into the others, and by the end, you're really wanting the next book in the series, Do You Take This Quest?

Robin and Robert and their friends made excellent heroes/heroines. They start off by pretending to be your cliche princes and princesses, yet each one has his or her own quirks to make them unique. Personally, I love Doranna's math talk, and I laughed every time Robin stuck her opponents' swords into ceilings, or trees, or whatever might be on hand. I can't wait to read more of these characters further into the series.

This story is a light one, so don't expect much more than a fairy tale. At times the plot seemed to meander a bit; there were a few conversations or scenes that didn't add to the storyline, but that's just to be expected from such a book. What stuck out to me the most was the fact that Robert and Robin began the quest to seek out their Fairy Godmother, and while they do search for her, their quest seems to flounder a bit when they stay for days/weeks at castles and forest camps. If they were in such a hurry to find Fallona (they had merely four months in which to reverse the gifts), why did they spend the time so leisurely? That just seemed a little odd to me.

Advisory: Some light romance and fantasy action.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Sew, It's a Quest on Amazon!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Word Changers

Title: The Word Changers

Series: None

Year: 2014

Author: Ashlee Willis

Summary: Her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Fifteen-year-old Posy feels her life is falling apart with it. Retreating to an old library down the street, she selects a mysterious book in a secluded corner and is magically drawn into its story...

Posy finds herself in a kingdom ruled by a cruel and manipulative king and queen who have attempted to usurp the role that belongs only to the Author of their story. The princess has fled and the kingdom is teetering toward rebellion. Posy is joined by the Prince Kyran as they fight with the characters of the story against their slavery to the Plot.

Posy and the prince search beyond the borders of the story for the runaway princess. They visit mysterious places, face horrifying monsters, and fight fierce battles. They make both friends and enemies as their journey leads them into many dangers. But some of the worst dangers, Posy soon finds, lie deep within her own heart. 
Now Posy must find the courage and forgiveness needed to save the story and, most important, heal the heartache she knew in her own world. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Posy
~ Prince Kyran

Review: This book is right up there with some of the top fantasy, and it's a must-read for anyone who has ever called himself a fan of Narnia. Posy hates her life, with her parents always bickering, always fighting. One night when her own temper gets the better of her, she flees to a nearby library, intending to get lost in a book to hide from her problems for a while. And boy, does she get lost IN a book.

When she wakes up, she's surrounded by a whole bunch of people she doesn't know -- people who tell her that she is the Princess Evanthe. Even the owl in the corner treats her like the princess. Yet, she knows, just as they know, that she is not Evanthe. No, she is only Evanthe's replacement -- a girl called into a story so that the Plot would not be messed up. And what happened to Evanthe? Why, she ran away! It's going to take Posy's teaming up with the young Prince Kyran (a boy with whom she did not have a satisfactory first meeting) to go out beyond the Borders of the story to find the missing princess and bring her back.

Of course, that's just the beginning of the story. If I were to give you more, I'd be sunk in spoilers. Personally, I really enjoyed this book. I love the idea of characters being alive, doing things, living between the times readers pull their story off a shelf. Have you ever wondered why bits of a story seem different the second time you read a book? That's because the characters might not have acted it out exactly the same way as the first time you read it. And the whole theme of being word changers, someone who had the power to change the words within a story... from within the story. Amazing!

The characters themselves I found very unique for a fantasy. With these types of books, authors tend to stick cliche characters into their works, yet Ashlee Willis didn't. The prince was dashing, yet not perfect. The heroine struggled with emotions that linked her both to the story-world and her own. The owls were not typical of owls anywhere that I've read. Beginning the book, I got a deep sense of deja vu -- someone from our world called into a fantasy where they team up with an individual from that world to find missing royalty at the request of owls. "It's The Silver Chair all over again," I thought, but I was wrong. While this has elements that reminded me of Narnia, there's so much... more, for a lack of a better word. It was just a smashing read. And yes, I was glued to the pages and I finished it all in one day. 

Advisory: Just some of your usual fantasy violence. As certain characters let loose their evil intentions, others stray from the Plot, fights and battles ensue. Centaurs, ipotanes (centaurs with only two legs), mermaids, owls, and men fight and are killed/injured. Nothing is overly graphic, though, so I'd recommend this book for readers twelve and up. 

At one point, Posy looks into a mirror and notices her curves. While remaining clean, I found those paragraphs to be a bit awkward and would have preferred them left out. The author also later describes a mermaid -- again, clean, but just something to take note of.

Also, since it is a big part of the story, I need to mention it here: the romance angle. While I thought on the whole it was a sweet romance, I got a little annoyed with the physical aspect of it. The couple shared (if my count was correct) five kisses, and the description of his muscles or their holding hands (or other physical contact) I didn't like. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

Click here to buy The Word Changers on Amazon!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Life Behind the Wall

Title: Life Behind the Wall

Series: None

Year: 2014

Author: Robert Elmer

Summary: Cut off by the Iron Curtain. This epic tale extends across generations and unfolds against the backdrop of a dangerous Cold War Berlin. This historically accurate, action-packed, three-books-in-one edition features three generations of resourceful teens living in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. Titles include: Candy Bombers: In spring 1948, teenage cousins Erich and Katarina are simply trying to survive in war-ravaged Berlin when the Soviets blockade the east side of the city, isolating its citizens---and starving them---behind the Iron Curtain. Beetle Bunker: In August 1961, Sabine discovers a forgotten underground bunker. Though she first uses it to escape her crowded home, she soon realizes her hideout could possibly take her family under the wall to West Berlin and freedom! Smuggler's Treasure: In spring 1989, life is good in West Germany, and even the Cold War seems to be thawing in the warmer weather. But as Liesl works on a class project about the history of the wall, she stumbles onto a startling secret no one will talk about. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Erich Becker
~ Sabine DeWitt
~ Leisl Stumpff

Review: When I first picked up this book, I expected three tales, relatively the same, about life behind the wall -- the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. And while it was all I expected historically (and more besides, I might add), everything in Life Behind the Wall exceeded my every hope. For one thing, it's not three separate tales. Well, technically it is, but it emcompasses the story of one family, in three parts. Each one is cleverly connected to the others, and I finished the book feeling very satisfied, as if I'd just read a full novel rather than three simple tales. Exciting, dangerous, fun, and rich -- this is one book you're not going to want to miss.

Candy Bombers starts things out with thirteen-year-old Erich Becker who is eager to help his starving family in any way he can. And that includes sneaking onto an American air base and bringing home a chocolate candy bar. One successful mission encourages him to do more, but his second attempt turns around in a manner that he never expected. Erich is a wonderful hero, and I really enjoyed his story. I sympathized with his struggles, and I was really glad to see that he was a more-or-less prominent character in the other two stories.

Beetle Bunker picks up the story with Erich's half sister, Sabine, a young girl with polio. She can get around with crutches well enough, but her whole world changes when the Berlin Wall appears almost overnight... separating their home directly in half. The bunker she finds later on seems at first to be a safe haven, somewhere she could read Black Beauty in peace without having to worry about someone becoming offended for her reading an inappropriate book. She befriends a young boy who shares her dislike of the Wall, but what can two teenagers do against the cold hearts of their government? Sabine knows life on the wrong side of the wall is getting harder, and it's only a matter of time before danger envelopes everyone she loves. 

Smuggler's Treasure tells the last part of the tale, starring Sabine's daughter, Liesl. There is nothing more that Liesl wants in the world than to understand the past. Her mother and her grandmother won't speak of the days gone by, and even her beloved Onkle Erich doesn't really want to tell her what she yearns to know. When a school paper presents her with the opportunity to do a little research, Liesl dives right in. Finding out her family's greatest secret (or perhaps the greatest secret kept from her family) might take Liesl into strange places... even on the wrong side of the Wall where the Communist rule contradicts everything she believes. 

Advisory: Some violence; characters get into fights, get arrested and jailed, etc. but nothing graphic.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

*Please note: I received a copy of this book courtesy of BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.*
Click here to buy Life Behind the Wall on Amazon!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Test of Loyalty (The Loyalty Trilogy)

Title: A Test of Loyalty

Series: The Loyalty Trilogy (Book #2)

Year: 2014

Author: Jack Lewis Baillot

Summary: Upon learning he is one of the sons of the now dead king, Prince Lachlan is forced to leave the only home he has ever known. Fleeing for his life, his step-brothers a step behind, Lachlan finds safety and friendship with a young seamstress named Magda, a hermit, an Elf, and two Dwarf brothers. Determined to keep the young prince alive, Magda and the others seek out help in the surrounding Nations.

Everywhere they go, the fugitives are constantly turned away. They are followed by Lachlan's half- brothers who are determined to kill him so that one of them might take their father's crown and become the next king. With every place Lachlan is taken, his brothers close in and when the finally catch up Lachlan is forced to face the question that has been haunting him since he left home.
Lachlan was saved in the hopes he would become a better king then his father and his brothers. But the last thing he wants is to sit on the throne. If he refuses the crown, will there be anyone willing to fight to keep him alive? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Magda Kalmyk
~ Stefan Haulier
~ Prince Lachlan
~ Ennion
~ Golon
~ Cordon

Review: Another epic tale from Jack Lewis Baillot! Lachlan is still on the run from his brothers, yet everywhere he and his small band of companions go, they are met with danger or dismissal. No one seems to want to help the little prince, and those who do can only do so much. Safe-havens are no longer safe, and conflict is brewing much faster than anyone might have realized. Lachlan knows his half-brothers seek his life, but just how far can he run from their evil schemes? And is there someplace where he can truly be safe from them? 

Okay, did I love the first book? Yes. Did I love the second book? YES. Am I going nuts waiting for the third book in the trilogy? Double YES. This has all the flavor of Lewis or Tolkien, but in a completely new way. From what I expected from this book, Jack took all of that and threw it away. The epicness of the tale remains intact throughout the entire novel, but there was so much that jumped out at me unexpectedly. I just don't know if 5 stars do these books justice. Do I recommend this book and its predecessor? Triple yes.

A Test of Loyalty brings back all the fun characters we knew and loved in A Stretch of Loyalty. Magda -- the young seamstress; Stefan -- the one-handed hermit who is finally learning how to laugh; Ennion -- the "funnest" elf ever since Legolas; and then Golon and Cordon -- two very untypical dwarf brothers. And they are all banded together to help the little prince Lachlan. I really like the way Jack portrays her characters. They're not the best of friends (Golon and Ennion hardly ever see eye-to-eye, and that's not even because of their height difference), yet they still work together to help Lachlan. Learning to trust each other is no easy task. Humor is high, danger is around every corner, secrets are discovered, loyalties are tested (huh... now why would that sound familiar?), and it's a non-stop ride from start to finish. 

Now I realize this review must not make much sense, but I don't intend it to. I'd get too easily wrapped up in giving away all the spoilers if I tried to be sensible, so I'm just letting my fingers do the typing right now. Seriously, I've read a lot of fantasy over the years, and if there was one book/series that showcased everything I loved about that genre, it'd be this one. Dwarves, elves, journeys, hermits, jokes, adventure, swords, etc. What more could you ask for?

Advisory: Some fantasy violence (creatures, fighting, etc.), but nothing graphic.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Related reviews: A Stretch of Loyalty

*I received a free advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. A Test of Loyalty will be released on July 14th. Please click HERE to visit the author's website to learn more.*

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Forsaken Dreams (Escape to Paradise Series)

Title: Forsaken Dreams

Series: Escape to Paradise (Book #1)

Year: 2013

Author: MaryLu Tyndall

Summary: Embark on a seafaring adventure in a brand-new series from bestselling author MaryLu Tyndall... 

They left everything behind to build a new Southern utopia. 

After witnessing the death and destruction caused by the Civil War, Colonel Blake Wallace is eager to leave his once precious Southern homeland for the pristine shores of Brazil and the prospect of a new utopian community. Widow Eliza Crawford seeks passage on Wallace’s ship harboring a dirty secret—and a blossoming hope for a fresh start. But once the voyage begins, troubles abound. Dangers at sea and enemies from within threaten to keep Blake and Eliza from the new life—and love—they long for. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Captain Blake Wallace
~ Eliza Crawford

Review: I usually don't read this type of book, due to my dislike of so-called modern Christian fiction, but being sick in bed and finding this book for free on the Kindle, I'd thought I'd give it a shot.

On the whole, this book surprised me. There was a true feel of Christianity about it, more references about God, as if the author truly intended Him to be in the book, rather than mixing a bit of prayer in before publishing it to classify it as a Christian genre. The adventure around the ship, the well-developed characters, the mysteries, the riveting history around the end of the Civil War... it was you would define as page-turning. The book left many things unsolved, leaving a great desire to read the second book, Elusive Hope.

However, I'm not totally pleased. There were many descriptions of what I would label of the "mushy" kind that I didn't like at all. There was a lot of focus on physical appearance between characters falling in love, and while I'll agree that appearances can attract, we don't need to hear about his bulging muscles ten times! The touching between the man and woman before they were married I didn't approve of, either. Can we not have wholesome Christian fiction anymore?

So overall... torn feelings.

Advisory: While this is a romance book, there are a lot of kisses, so be warned. Other than that, some mild action as the characters encounter storms, villains, and other hardships.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Forsaken Dreams on Amazon!
It's currently free for Kindle!