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!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Series: None


Author: Victor Hugo

Summary: In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmeralda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo's sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Quasimodo
~ La Esmeralda
~ Dom Claude Frollo
~ Pierre Gringoire
~ Captain Phoebus de Chatepeaurs

Review: For those of you who think you know the story of the hunchback, think again. One does not simply base all knowledge on the Disney film. The filmmakers took more than one liberty in putting this onscreen, yet I can't say that I abhor the changes. For one thing, I really love Alan Menken's score, so that's a plus. And yes, I had the soundtrack stuck in my head as I read the book.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a deep, dark story about love and vengeance. First off, Quasimodo, the ugly hunchback bellringer, grows up knowing no love; he's got only one eye, mismatching legs, a crooked spine, a shock of red hair, and he's also deaf from the sound of the bells. Frollo is his master, the only person who can bear to look upon him, and he only took Quasimodo in because of his younger brother (he couldn't bear to think what would happen to his brother should something happen to him and Jehan was thrown out in the streeet). Esmerelda is the young gypsy dancer with a goat for a best friend and a lonely baby shoe that is the only connection to her lost mother. Captain Phoebus is an amorous young fellow with a passion for women and good drink. And then, not from the movie, we've also got the poor poet Pierre Gringoire who, by unlucky chance, falls into the unruly gang of Paris' street people. 

You know all those sappy love triangles that pervade our YA genres? Yeah, HoND left them all behind. We got a love sextet over here. Get ready for this -- [Highlight for spoilers] Gringoire first falls in love with Esmeralda. He later "marries" her in a gyspy-type ceremony when she agrees to "wed" him to save him from the gallows. As she is indifferent to him, they agree to keep their relationship very brother-sister-like, and Gringoire eventually falls out of love with her as he discovers new pursuits. Then Frollo sees her dancing in the street and falls in love with her with a rather lustful passion. When Frollo tries to get Quasimodo to kidnap her, Phoebus jumps in and saves her, resulting in Esmeralda falling in love with Phoebus. Phoebus, meanwhile, is engaged to a young lady of some wealth for whom he only feels love when he is actually with her (the same feelings apply to his regard for Esmeralda). After Quasimodo is punished publicly for trying to kidnap Esmeralda, she takes pity on him and gives him water. Quasimodo then falls in love with Esmeralda. Complicated, ain't it?

In comparison with the Disney film, this novel hardly compares. The names and places are the same, with some of the same events, yet its themes are a lot darker. I really enjoyed the character of Phoebus in the movie, but he is absolutely dreadful in the book. [Highlight for spoilers] He's pretty much the character you want to die, but ends up being the only one who lives. He allows Esmeralda to fall in love with him, encouraging her affection in a rather *cough* ungentlemanly scene, but all the while only enjoying himself at her expense. He doesn't even love the girl he's engaged to! All he thinks about is scandalous, lustful images. Not good, not good. 

Pierre Gringoire, I thought, was probably my favorite character from the book. He's a poor poet (poor in both meanings of the word), and he's rather funny. One of my favorite parts came near the end when he enacted a rescue mission with two others who, lamentably, remained silent during that time. He says, "What unpleasant moods you two are in! I must do all the talking alone. That is what we call a monologue in tragedy." Too epic. 

Esmeralda is portrayed a a feisty heroine in the Disney film, yet in the book she's greatly different. In the film, I understood clearly why she took pity on Quasimodo and the horrible treatment he received ("God Help the Outcasts" anyone?), yet in the novel, I puzzled at why she'd take pity on him at all. She was a flighty, fifteen/sixteen year old girl who'd faint dead away at the sight of that much ugly on a man. Even after Quasimodo saved her and proved he was kind, she still couldn't bear to look at him. She's got little backbone, and her heart is swallowed whole in the adoration of her Phoebus. She permits him to place her in a compromising position in regards to her reputation (disgusting scene), and then is later called a witch and blamed for a murder she did not commit. 

Frollo? Um... let's not go there. I found him a loathsome creep. Just the sort of villain you relish hating. 

Oh? And folks? This is Victor Hugo, so expect one or two or several chapters on the history and architecture of Paris. Some of it I found interesting, but other parts.... well... let's just say it was typical Victor Hugo. 

Advisory: Some language as well as violence (characters are beaten, hung, mistreated, killed in many different ways, etc.). 

One of the things that brought this novel down in my estimation was the amount of immoral love that went on during the course of the story. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic, true, but I would not recommend it for readers under 15 or even 16 years of age due to some of the scenes. I was uncomfortable reading about all of that, and I would have enjoyed the story a lot more if Victor Hugo would have left that out. For that, I can only give this book 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 
Click here to buy The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Amazon!