Friday, December 23, 2016

Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

Title: Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales

Series: None

Year: 2016

~ Elisabeth Grace Foley
~ Rachel Heffington
~ J. Grace Pennington
~ Emily Ann Putzke
~ Suzannah Rowntree
~ Hayden Wand

Summary: A lonely girl plots revenge in the shadow of a mountain. A stolen princess fumbles a century backward. A dwarfish man crafts brilliant automatons. A Polish Jew strikes matches against the Nazis. A dead girl haunts a crystal lake. A terrified princess searches a labyrinth. A rich collection of six historically inspired retellings, Once is a new generation of fairytales for those who thought they'd heard the tales in all their forms. 

Featuring the novellas of Elisabeth Grace Foley, Rachel Heffington, J Grace Pennington, Emily Ann Putzke, Suzannah Rowntree, and Hayden Wand. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters: 
~ Rosa Jean and Quincy Burnett
~ Maria and Heath
~ Amanda and Byron
~ Kasia and Romek
~ Ruby Black and Max Moran
~ Nella and Benedict

Review: I loved this collection so much! If it's not already on your bookshelf or your Kindle, you need to add this one right away! I'd highly recommend for any fairy tale enthusiast! We've got fantastic retellings for Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Rumplestiltskin, The Little Match Girl, Snow White, and Rapunzel. Truthfully, I was really excited to see some of the lesser-known fairy tales instead of the usual two or three that everyone ends up retelling. Just a pleasant change. 

The Mountain of the Wolf ~ I loved the descriptions and setting of this tale, but I found it difficult to pick up on the Little Red Riding Hood references at times. The point of view shifted a lot, jumping back and forth between the two main characters (Rosa Jean and Quincy) and then sometimes leaping out to a few minor characters, and it was a little confusing at times. However, the pace was really nice, and I got wrapped up in the story fairly quickly. By the middle, I was completely captivated. I thought it a really neat twist on the usual red hood and wolf story. Overall, I'd rate this story at 4 stars. Not my favorite of the collection, but very enjoyable, nevertheless.

She But Sleepeth ~ This was probably one of the cleverest Sleeping Beauty retellings that I've ever read. Rachel Heffington really outdid herself. The setting and historical details were brilliant and so captivating. I loved the vivid colors and descriptions! It was like reading a fairy tale on a roller coaster, honestly; so many twists and unexpected turns. I will admit, the ending caught me very much by surprise, but I thought Rachel handled it well, considering everything. But yes, for the happily ever after lover in me, it was a little disappointing. The gypsy magic was a little uncomfortable for me to read personally, as it borders on actual occult magic. I won't get on my soap box here (for space reasons) but it was because of this that I'd give this story 4 stars. Magic aside, it deserves 5 stars, but sorry, folks. That's just me.

Rumpled ~ This one ties for my favorite of the collection. I love the story of Rumplestiltskin, and this was just a brilliant retelling. Honestly, I'd reread this whole collection just for the enjoyment of devouring this tale. Fairy tale retelling + steampunk. SERIOUSLY. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT? It was amazing. The tale was wonderfully paced, with twists that were so unexpected, yet crafted so beautifully into the story. SO Rumplestiltskin. Amazing. Really. I loved the steampunk references. The characters, too, were so brilliantly shaped -- instead of just slapping stereotypical fairy tale peoples into the story and calling it good, J. Grace Pennington really took the time to flesh her characters out, making them seem so real and believable. 5 stars. Hands down. No questions asked.

Sweet Remembrance ~ This story had a really interesting concept: The Little Match Girl set during World War II with Jews as the main characters. I began it hungry to get into the story, but kinda floundered a bit while reading it. The chapters alternated between present-time, present-tense action and memories in past tense. Normally, it's hard for me to read in present tense, and it was difficult for me here. But that could just be a personal thing. I thought it went well with the story, considering the emphasis on the memories, but it isn't my favorite style. The story was a sweet romance, but almost a little too sappy and moody for my taste. Knowing the original fairy tale, I began the tale knowing exactly how it would end, and while I enjoyed it, there wasn't a lot that kept me driving on until the end. The only other thing I'd say about this story is a caution about the language. Overall, good, but unfortunately not my favorite. 4 stars.

Death Be Not Proud ~ This one blew me completely away. I've never seen Snow White like this before, but it was AMAZING. I'll admit, at first I was pretty skeptical, because I couldn't see how Snow White was going to come through everything. By the end, I could only sit back in my chair and think, "That was more Snow White than Disney." 5 stars. The historical setting was difficult to follow, and that would be my main complaint. It was so cool to have a fairy tale set in New Zealand with tons of vibrant characters, but oftentimes I felt like the setting slipped into something more American and modern, making it not so completely believable. There is a lot of violence in this one (probably more than any other tale in this collection), but I thought it was handled well. In the end, I really have nothing else to do but to give it 5 stars. Thrilling, mysterious, odd, but so exciting.

With Blossoms Gold ~ If I didn't like Rumplestiltskin so much, this story would probably be my favorite. OF ALL TIME. Seriously, Hayden Wand did an amazing job. And I'm not just saying that. Rapunzel in Italy. I was skeptical, too, about this one, and I wasn't completely sold when I began it as the beginning was kinda cliche and slow. But since I love Rapunzel, I kept with it, and wow! Am I glad I did! The fairy tale details were so wonderfully woven into the story, and it just kept getting better. I found the main character Nella so realistic and believable -- and really easy to relate to. As an asthmatic, I've struggled in the past with panic attacks similar to hers, so it was so interesting to see how they were portrayed. I loved the brother scenes with Benedict and Orlando, and the whole "prince-becoming-blind" element from the original fairy tale WAS JUST SO AMAZING I CAN'T EVEN. I wish this story was a full-length novel, because I seriously need it to be. How many stars? Why ask? I wish I could give it 6. 

Did I already say everyone needed to read this collection? Yes? Okay, good.

Advisory: Romance (several kisses), language, and some violence. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Please note: I received a copy of this collection from the authors in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga)

Title: The Warden and the Wolf King

Series: The Wingfeather Saga (Book #4)

Year: 2014

Author: Andrew Peterson

Summary: All winter long, people in the Green Hollows have prepared for a final battle with Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang. Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli—Throne Warden, Wolf King, and Song Maiden of Anniera—are ready and willing to fight alongside the Hollowsfolk, but when the Fangs make the first move and invade Ban Rona, the children are separated. Janner is alone and lost in the hills; Leeli is fighting the Fangs from the rooftops of the city; and Kalmar, who carries a terrible secret, is on a course for the Deeps of Throg. Meanwhile in Skree, Sara Cobbler and Maraly Weaver care for the broken Artham Wingfeather as Fangs muster for battle across the Mighty River Blapp. 

Sea dragons lurk in the waters. Wicked Stranders crawl through the burrows. Ridgerunners and trolls prowl the land. Cloven haunt the forest. Monsters and Fangs and villains lie between the children and their only hope of victory—in the epic conclusion of The Wingfeather Saga. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Janner Wingfeather
~ Kalmar Wingfeather
~ Leeli Wingfeather

Review: This book. THIS BOOK! I have been waiting about four years for this book, AND NOW IT'S OVER! Completely over. It's gonna take me a while to recover from this book. IT WAS THAT AMAZING!

I know. I don't usually get into all caps when writing book reviews. But this book is different. I fell in love with this series a long time ago, and I don't think I know how to handle the fact that it's over. AND I DON'T WANT IT TO BE OVER! The three Wingfeather children, the Jewels of Anniera, have gone through every adventure possible, and now Andrew Peterson has stuck a "The End" on their story. *sigh*

Well, I suppose I ought to put together some sort of review here. After all, that's why I'm at my computer typing right now.

Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli are back for one final adventure. One final battle against Gnag the Nameless. One final push to end the evil destroying their country, their family, their friends, and everything else before it's too late. One final book. One final. Did you get that? 

Life in the Hollows is, at the start, pretty peaceful. Yeah, there's the threat of Gnag looming over everyone, and Fangs creeping where they're not supposed to be, and ridgerunners acting highly suspicious, but it's right where book three left us. However, things start going wrong right after Janner gets blindplopped for his thirteenth birthday. And then everything goes to the Blackwood from there (except for when it all comes back from the Blackwood).

Meanwhile, across the sea, Artham, Sara, and Maraly are having troubles of their own. The book cuts for a bit to follow their storyline, and although there was a big part of me that wanted everything focused on the Wingfeather kids, I really liked how this second story was weaved in. All the action in Dugtown, the horrible Stranders, the devious Fangs... it was like getting to read an epic story within an epic story. [Highlight for spoilers] And I sincerely say that I love the growing father-daughter relationship between Maraly and Gammon. That's all I have to say on that account, because... spoilers.

I also love the development that Janner and his siblings go through. You would think that after everything they've been through, they couldn't get any better. But they do. Janner in particular grew up considerably, and I loved following his journey from selfish boy to sympathetic man (even though he's only thirteen). And, of course, those of you who know the end of this story... FEELS. SO MANY FEELS. I just can't even.

The dragons were so cool. Oskar was perfect, as always. Thorn made me smile every single time he showed up. Leeli was so sweet, and I'm adding a whistleharp to my wish list. SARA -- don't argue, but we need more of Sara Cobbler. Maraly was hilarious. And I even liked the troll. Honestly, there is so much good about this story that I could say, but I don't think you want to hear all that. It really is a good and awesome book -- with illustrations! A wonderful adventure, with epic pictures to boot. Can't get better than that. An awesome end to the Wingfeather Saga.

Although I wish it wasn't the end. But THANK YOU for the epilogue. I needed that. Seriously. Wait 'til you read it. You'll completely agree with me. BUT SO MANY THINGS UNANSWERED.

In the words of Amila Hooperstat, "I won't get on my soap box."

Put me on record for saying that I love Andrew Peterson's narrative and story style for these books. It's so awesome and total fun. Easy to read, but real right down to the core. And hilariously funny. Just what you want in an epic adventure about three siblings. And just what you want to mimic in the book review. 

Advisory: Lots of fantasy action. As the book centers around a war, there are multiple battles in which people (and creatures) are bit, injured, killed, or turned to dust. There are also scary and ugly things, like Stone Keepers, toothy cows, Bat Fangs, and the thirteenth honeymuffin. 

In addition, Gnag uses powerful stones to meld people with animals into Fangs or cloven. There are a lot of scenes centered around the melding and its results, but I thought it handled very well. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Robbers' Tunnel (The Princess Castle Series)

Title: The Robbers' Tunnel

Series: The Princess Castle Series (Book #1)

Year: 2015

Author: Abigail L. Pollack

Summary: A new castle in the forest bring much excitement to Abigail and her friends, but when robbers invade, things get dangerous. A robbed bank, a robbed library, and a hidden valley bring things they never wanted anything to do with. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Abigail
~ Charity
~ Matthew
~ Dan
~ Elijah
~ Sammy

Review: This young author is a particular friend of mine, and when she first told me she was writing a book, I was so excited. We'd shared book ideas and talked about our stories, and I was eager to get my hands on anything that she wrote. She contacted me a few times for help with formatting and publishing, and it was such a pleasure to be a part of helping her get this story out. This book is the first in her Princess Castle series, a series that is quickly opening up to be the adventure of a lifetime. In truth, it's not very long, but it is so much fun! 

Abigail is a young girl who has a castle in her backyard. And as any true and kind princess, she wants to share the castle with her friends. So, she has a whole bunch of girls come to live with her at the castle. At first, everything seems just peachy. But that's before things start going missing. A royal stay at the castle quickly turns into a dangerous quest for all involved -- including the boys and men who arrive to become the castle's army. 

I really like Abigail's style of writing. It's a little rough at certain spots, as is usual for young authors, but I'm really eager to see her mature her writing in further books. But she writes in a fun and easy-to-read narrative, and her characters know just how to make you smile! Abigail wrote herself in as the heroine, and the friends and family she has in real life are portrayed as the same in her book. I love how she did that - especially since it's so much fun to see the names of people I know in an actual book. And for those of you who enjoy Easter eggs, some of my own family is mentioned in this book. *grins* I'll leave you to figure that out. 

For anyone who wants to live the adventure we all dreamed about as kids -- this is it. It's not a heavy story, not overly complicated, but it's truly a story unlike any other. I felt myself transported back to my childhood and all the make-believes. Abigail captured the world of any child's dream and put it all on a few pages. 

Advisory: Some violence, as our heroine and her friends have to fight the bad guys. Guns and swords are involved and some people get hurt, but I would still think this book appropriate for most young readers. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Iliad

Title: The Iliad

Series: None 

Year: around 800 B.C.

Author: Homer

Summary: The Iliad is one of the two great epics of Homer, and is typically described as one of the greatest war stories of all time, but to say the Iliad is a war story does not begin to describe the emotional sweep of its action and characters: Achilles, Helen, Hector, and other heroes of Greek myth and history in the tenth and final year of the Greek siege of Troy. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Achilles
~ Zeus
~ Hera
~ Athena
~ Hector
~ Aphrodite
~ Odysseus
~ Diomedes
~ Paris
~ Helen
~ Agamemnon
~ Menelaus 

Review: Even if I hadn't had to read this book for a class, it was on my to-read list of books. It's a classic, a book of prestige, a key to understanding all of the Greek allusions in pretty much all of literature. I wanted to read it at first mostly just to be able to say that I read it, but I didn't actually realize I was going to enjoy it.

And no, I didn't read it in the original language. The translation I read was done by Richmond Lattimore, and I really enjoyed how he put it. He tried to keep it as true to the original tale as possible, even down to the number of feet (or beats/syllables) in each line. I will admit, I haven't read other translations, so I cannot tell you which is the best, but this one was definitely good.

Ever since reading Percy Jackson, I'd had a growing interest in the old Greek/Roman mythology. As a Christian, I don't believe that the gods of myth are real (hence the "myth"), but the stories surrounding them always sparked something of wonder. They really are a bunch of cool stories (until you read the Metmorphoses by Ovid). I love seeing how a culture comes together, and you really get a taste of what the Greek culture was like while reading this book. 

I won't say much of the story itself since the classic tale is pretty well-known. More than likely, you can get the whole plot on Wikipedia or some such nonsense. I really enjoyed getting to follow the characters (my favorite was Diomedes!) and taking a part in the action. Parts of the battles felt like following along with the fighting in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Yes, there are a lot of words to get through, but once I got used to the terminology of the book, it was easy to get lost in the story. 

Why should you read this book? Because it's got great bragging rights. Because it is a well-referenced classic. And because it actually is a cool story. I'm still not quite over the ending. You know... Greek feels. 

Advisory: Violence/fighting/people dying/people getting injured. Another title for this book is: "101 Ways How to Die Like a Greek." Also, some references to romance/love. That's the thing the Greeks do best after fighting. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Monday, September 5, 2016

The King's Scrolls (Ilyon Chronicles)

Title: The King's Scrolls

Series: Ilyon Chronicles (Book #2)

Year: 2015 

Author: Jaye L. Knight

Summary: Following the harrowing events that brought them to Landale Forest, Jace and Kyrin have settled comfortably into their new lives and the mission of protecting those under the emperor’s persecution. The fast approach of winter brings with it the anticipation of a quiet few months ahead. That is until the arrival of four mysterious, dragon-riding cretes who seek aid in a mission of great importance—not only to their own people, but to all followers of Elôm.

Hidden in the vast mining valley north of Valcré, a faithful crete has spent years sharing his knowledge with the destitute miners and their families and is known to possess what may be Arcacia’s last surviving copies of the King’s Scrolls—the Word of Elôm. Joining the cretes, those in Landale must find the crete teacher and bring him to safety, but it is a race against time. Should Daican’s men find him first, execution and the destruction of the Scrolls is certain.

When disaster strikes, all seems lost. Could Elôm have a plan even in the enemy’s triumph? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Kyrin
~ Jace
~ Kaden

Review: Everything we knew and loved about Resistance, book one of the epic Ilyon Chronicles, just got bigger, and better, and deeper, and more amazing. After finishing the first book, I wasn't sure if Jaye could hold the rest of the series up to that awesome standard. But she did. I was completely blown away, and this book basically hit my favorites list... pretty much right after I opened the book and started reading.

And now I need Samara's Peril and the rest of the series. Like... as soon as possible. You're not going to want to wait to read these books. 

Again, I'm really not sure how to pen this review just because this book was THAT AMAZING. The story was full of twists and heart-wrenching moments that make you fall in love with the whole thing more and more after every page. Once you start reading this book, you're not going to want to stop, so make sure you're stocked up with a good cup of coffee and something to snack on. This book is thick, and fantasy, and marvelous, and amazing. 

Kyrin and Jace and Kaden and everyone else are back for a new adventure, but the stakes are now twice as high. We're introduced more to the race of Cretes and learn of a national secret that has the power to tear apart families and countries -- which it does. The King's Scrolls, the word of the one true God, still exist, and everyone, bad and good, wants to find them. 

One thing I loved about this book was the dragons. *ducks head* Yes, I'm a huge fan of dragons, and I love whenever they appear in books -- appearing in my favorite books is just like the cherry on top of the sundae. Kaden interacting with the dragons was so much fun to read about. 

Kyrin and the others we're already endeared to undergo quite a bit of character development as their stories continue. Jace, in particular, changes as he steps further along the road of understanding he's not a soul-less creature that no one cares about. Usually, I'm not a fan of the brooding/moody/dark hero, but Jace is a rare exception. Jaye gives a really unique perspective on him, and you can't help but like him and root for him all the way. I'm eager to see how his story will continue in the series.

Kyrin's family!! Tons more about them in this book, and I loved getting to see more of her mother and younger brothers, as well as really getting to know some of her older brothers. AND HER FATHER! Strong family books always get me... and this book got me. Oh, did it get me. *looks at those who've already read this book* You know exactly what I mean.

Also, I really loved the Cretes. Timothy is an awesome new character, and although I was a little skeptical about following him at first, he soon grew to quite the favorite character. I am greatly mortified that I ever doubted him. Leetra, too, was such a complex character -- way more to her than met the eye -- and she's going to be a fun one to follow for the rest of the series.

There's so much more I'd love to say about this book, but I'm really trying hard to contain myself. That's probably why it's so hard to write reviews about books I love -- just want to rant and rave and talk about everything I loved, but SPOILERS! Ah, the life of a reader. *shrugs shoulders* Basically, I'll leave you with this: this book will sneak right into your heart when you're not paying attention, get you right in the feels, and then leave you dying of a hunger to have more. And when I say "feels" I mean it. Plot twists and emotional pain like you've never known. But, boy howdy, is it worth it!

Advisory: Fantasy action/fighting/injury/torture, but nothing overly graphic. Also, some romantic references. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Rose and the Balloon (Once Upon a Twist Tales)

Title: The Rose and the Balloon 

Series: Once Upon a Twist Tales (Book #1)

Year: 2016

Author: Kirsten Fichter

Summary: In a kingdom where fauna and flora are held in higher esteem than breakfast, Dmitri is a prince who yearns for change and plans it in a single daring act that will alter his life forever. However, when his demented mother accidentally causes the destruction of a prized garden of roses, Dmitri is horrified when she proposes his hand in marriage to make up for it. Not only will a wife hamper his glorious plans, he doesn't even want one. 

Janelle has spent her whole life on her father's rose farm, tending the roses and staying simple. But she really yearns for something greater than the flower beds. But now there's a wrench thrown in the works – the crazy Queen Maeva wants her to marry the prince, and all for ruining her father's beloved roses.

This is Beauty and the Beast with a twist like you've never seen it before. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Janelle Roux
~ Prince Dmitri

Review: Is there a law against writing a book review for a book you wrote yourself? I surely hope not, because here I am doing just that.

Most Beauty and the Beast stories start off with Beauty's father plucking a single rose from the Beast's garden. This story, however, takes everything you know about the classic fairy tale and turns it upside-down on its head. Right off the bat, we're introduced to our Beast character, the Crown Prince Dmitri, who stands in the shadow of his mentally handicapped mother, affectionately dubbed "Crazy Maeva." Her latest, childish obsession is hot air balloons and she's quite determined to fly one day. Unfortunately, the science has not been quite perfected so that she can. 

But instead of the Beast catching Beauty's father in theft, it's the Beast's own mother who commits the crime with the rose. Or roses, rather. An accident with the balloon leads to the destruction of Beauty's/Janelle's home and her father's garden of prized roses. From there, it's just a tumble downhill and upside-down into the rabbit hole world of Rohesia, where roses are held in the highest honor. Janelle, for herself, doesn't think much of roses. And she thinks even less of the prince... who ends up her sudden betrothed. 

My favorite characters hands down are Dmitri's younger siblings, the twins Nicolas and Nicoline. They are the most mischievous twelve-year-olds you ever saw, and they have a competition between the two of them to outprank/kill each other. Of course, the entrance of Janelle only makes the competitions better, and both enlist her in the efforts to top the other. This leads to one of the best scenes (which just so happens to be a jab back to the original Disney classic film with a dancing feather duster). 

So, who needs to read this book? Well, I hope everyone would need to read this book. I wrote it, after all. It's a short, fun, family-friendly, fairy tale adventure with roses and hot air balloons (duh -- that's literally the title), that holds all the classic elements of Beauty and the Beast but twists everything into a completely new story. 

When sitting down to read this story, I suggest you bring along a hot cup of your favorite beverage (I prefer coffee, but you may go for tea or hot chocolate) as well as a sturdy helmet. Nicolas may be hiding somewhere above you with a cream pie. 

Advisory: Mild peril. A few characters use the expression blast/blasted

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Beautiful Pretender (A Medieval Fairy Tale)

Title: The Beautiful Pretender

Series: A Medieval Fairy Tale (Book #2)

Year: 2016

Author: Melanie Dickerson

Summary: The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters: 
~ Avelina Klein
~ Lord Thornbeck

Review: After the adventure of The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest, Melanie Dickerson has brought us back for another fairy tale romance. I can't say that this book has topped Huntress for my favorite of this author's novels. Definitely an interesting story, but it had its ups and downs.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn't more of The Princess and the Pea in this tale. I know that this is technically a retelling of that fairy tale, and you can definitely see the connections (the margrave actually talks about putting a pea under the bed mattresses with one of the prospective brides -- a cool touch, I thought), but I wouldn't define this as a strict Princess & Pea retelling. In truth, there's more of Beauty and the Beast than anything else. And on that note, I loved all the nods to that fairy tale (i.e. the wolf attack). So, satisfying, but I do wish there could have been more of Princess & Pea. 

Avelina surprised me as a heroine. Normally, you'd expect her to be the typical heroine of these type of novels. While she does have her share of sappy thoughts and wishes for true love, she has backbone where a lot of heroines don't. AND she keeps that backbone even after she's entirely and completely smitten with the handsome margrave -- which is something that these books don't normally have. That, I will admit, surprised me and scored bonus points in my book. Avelina knows her own mind, and she isn't afraid to speak it. Even as a servant, she isn't afraid to tell it to Lord Thornbeck bluntly how things are and what she thinks of them. 

Lord Thornbeck, the Margrave Reinhart himself... I can't say that I was entirely impressed with him. He was a likable hero, but I didn't feel that there was anything exceptional about him. Magdalen was lively and fun to follow. I loved how she was incorporated; her subplot really was excellent. 

It was really fun to see Jorgen and Odette return from Huntress. You didn't need to read their story first in order to understand this book, but I would recommend reading Huntress, because you understand bits more and because that's my current favorite of Melanie Dickerson's stories. Jorgen and Odette reminded me a lot of Lumiere and Mrs. Potts from Disney's Beauty and the Beast -- trying to counsel the gruff master on the best way to treat a lady. I'll admit it readily -- that made me laugh more than once. 

Advisory: Romance, as usual. It annoyed me a little that Avelina was thinking emotionally about the margrave almost as soon as she met him. I think she had known him for about a day, and she was already wondering what it would be like to marry him. [Highlight for spoilers] After Avelina nearly freezes to death, the margrave holds her to help get her warm again. Twice. And then some physical contact as well (hand-holding, kissing, etc.), but in the normal tone of Dickerson's stories. 

Avelina takes Lady Dorothea's place because Dorothea is pregnant with the child of one of her father's knights and then runs away to marry the aforementioned knight. In addition, a character talks of his brother sleeping with a woman. The situations are not dwelt on long, but the few uncomfortable references are something to take note of.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Wish Thief

Title: The Wish Thief

Series: None (currently)

Year: 2016 (first published in 2012 under the title Glory Alley and the Star Riders)

Author: C.D. Verhoff

Summary: A girl on a quest for the perfect stone finds more than she ever imagined. A modern tale about the power of hope, courage and persistence.

Glory Alley is a young caving enthusiast on a personal mission. Since Mother's death, Father started drinking again and can't find employment. Her siblings constantly quarrel with each other, making home feel like a war zone. Labeled a loser by her peers, school isn't much better. Thinking money will solve their many problems, she sets off to find the legendary treasure of Queen's Mesa. Just as the prize appears within reach, otherworldly beings arrive to take it away, but they have met their match in Glory. 

A battle of wits versus magic ensues, unraveling the order of the universe. Only the girl who started the trouble can return things back to normal. Considering her unhappy situation back at home, surely there's a better option than 'normal', but can she find it before time runs out? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Glory Alley
~ Clash
~ Bone
~ Needle
~ White Feather

Review: In truth, this review should have been up a month ago. Shame on me for finally getting to it.

The author contacted me about reviewing this book for her a few months ago. I will admit, I was instantly interested in this book based on the title alone. I mean, come on! The Wish Thief! Isn't that just epic? I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its title, but I think I may have. It sounded awesome. And then I went and looked it up, and judged the book by its cover, too. It sounded even more awesome. Of course I agreed to review it. 

All in all, this was one really cool adventure. Bits of it reminded me of Narnia, as Glory underwent tests and met interesting people in a new world. Other parts reminded me of a dystopian novel. There was even some sci-fi flair in there as well. Basically, a little bit of everything to please any reader.

Glory Alley isn't your typical heroine. In fact, for most of the book, she's not even the heroine. She's the bad guy. But the good guy all at the same time. Fascinating how that works. The fate of a world and perhaps much more of the universe rests in her hands, and her thoughts are for her family. That's one thing that I really liked about Glory. She's got a very keen love for her family, despite the hard times and arguments. Whatever she does, she does for her family.

The whole concept of the wish thief is so cool, and it got cooler with every page. Seriously. I could rave about that, but I won't. You'll just have to read that to figure it all out. Spoilers, ya know.

Most of the action goes along pretty quickly, and it's easy to get lost in the adventure. There was a section toward the middle where Glory is learning of the other worlds and the Elboni that is a lot of talking and information. There, the pace does slow down, and it gets a bit difficult to wade through, but its worth getting through. Trust me.

Also, shout-out to fantastic secondary characters! Clash was awesome. Which is why we need a sequel to this novel. And more of George. Which is also another reason for a sequel. *cough*

Advisory: Various characters use "fake profanity" and swear and cuss. Also, some adult comments from time to time. 

In addition, there is a scene where a character appears before people naked. Nothing is described, but following are multiple comments related to the unfortunate event. Just something to be aware of. 

As far as the magic is concerned (because magic is a big part of this story), it was the same as the magic in Narnia and similar stories. Glory comes from a world that doesn't use magic, so she doesn't know anything of it. It's not until she visits another world that she becomes aware of its existence. And even there, magic has strict regulations.

This book is categorized as "Christian Fiction" because it contains a lot of symbolism. At the end of the book, the author included a section explaining the symbols in depth. While I can't say I personally agree with all of it, I really enjoyed reading through that and understanding the story at a deeper level. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot)

Title: Murder on the Orient Express

Series: Hercule Poirot (#10)

Year: 1933

Author: Agatha Christie

Summary: One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express was inspired by two real-life crimes and the author’s own experience being stranded on the Orient Express during Christmas of 1931. While traveling to Paris, a wealthy American is stabbed to death in his cabin on the Orient Express. With the train stuck in a snowdrift, there is no easy escape for the killer. Fortunately, detective Hercule Poirot is aboard and launches a clever investigation into the curious assortment of passengers, of whom each seems to have a motive. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters: 
~ Hercule Poirot 

Review: To be completely honest, it took me years to get around to actually reading this book (which I can blame on the long time it took me to hunt down a copy of the book). I'm a new-ish fan of Agatha Christie, muchly provoked to read her works by one of my best friends. And yes *ahem* I say provoked. But Agatha Christie is well worth the read, provoked or not. However, I began reading this book with a complete knowledge of how it ended (i.e. who the murderer was). Thank you, creative writing teacher first semester. Despite knowing the outcome, I was eager to see *how* everything wove together.

I was not disappointed. 

It was amazing. 

I've always loved mystery novels, but for the most part, my experience with them has been limited to Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins (Boxcar Children really don't count). Sherlock Holmes didn't enter my life until high school. I didn't even know Agatha Christie existed until after I'd turned 20. I didn't realize how much I'd missed until one of my sisters gave me an Agatha Christie novel for Christmas. Murder on the Orient Express is my third AC novel (but my second Hercule Poirot), and it was thoroughly and absolutely amazing.

I won't say much about the story itself as it is hard to write a summary without giving too much away, but I will say that this definitely deserves the reputation it has garnered. A classic mystery, classic Agatha Christie, classic everything. I'll stop fangirling now. But I really want to go read more of her novels now. If you're any fan of mystery, read this book. If you're any fan of Agatha Christie, read this book. If you're any fan of classic and clever stories, read this book. You won't be disappointed. 

Hercule Poirot is a fantabulous detective, and I loved following him about as much as I've loved following Sherlock Holmes. While Murder on the Orient Express is the tenth book Agatha Christie penned about him, you don't necessarily need to read the previous nine books to understand what's going on. This novel stands completely on its own, so make sure you go read it.  

Advisory: Some typical murder mystery details of dead bodies and whatnot. Nothing alarming to report. Also, if my memory serves me correctly, there may have been a choice word or two to watch out for. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Friday, May 27, 2016

King's Folly (The Kinsman Chronicles)

Title: King's Folly

Series: The Kinsman Chronicles (Book #1)

Year: 2016

Author: Jill Williamson

Summary: The gods are angry.

Volcanic eruptions, sinkholes, ground shakers--everything points to their unhappiness. At least that is what the king of Armania believes. His son, Prince Wilek, thinks his father's superstitions are nonsense, though he remains the ever dutiful heir apparent to the throne.
When a messenger arrives and claims that the town of Farway has been swallowed by the earth, the king sends Wilek to investigate. But what Wilek discovers is more cataclysmic than one lost city. Even as the ground shifts beneath his feet, Wilek sets out on a desperate journey to save his people and his world. But can he do it before the entire land crumbles? (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Wilek 
~ Trevn 
~ Mielle
~ Charlon
~ Hinckdan 

Review: If I were to try to explain this book in one sentence, I'd say it was most like a parody of the End Times or Noah's Flood. The world has turned wicked in so many ways, and the one true god (Arman) is punishing the realms with the Five Woes, leaving a remnant behind and turning hearts back to good. 

This book is divided into three parts (Darkness Reigns, The Heir War, and The End of All Things), each of which was previously published in an ebook form. It was so nice to have the whole thing together in one book (bonus bragging points for getting to tote around a thick novel). In a nutshell, I have to say I really enjoyed reading this, and I'm hoping to get my hands on the next three parts, which are collected together under the title King's Blood

Wilek is a young prince (called a "sar") and in line to be named Heir by his father the king. However, his half-brother Janek is also a contestant in the Heir War. This begins as the central conflict of the story, yet the plot grows to include so much more. The false gods play a big part in this story, as each person, upon reaching maturity, picks five gods to serve out of a rather lengthy list. 

My favorite character, hands down, was Trevn. Energetic, fun-loving prince with a knack for running the roofs and annoying his mother in every way possible. Grayson, too, was pretty epic. I loved the character development, the easy-reading style, the action. Definitely all a plus! The abnormal amount of fragments on every page, I will admit, bothered me. Yes, it added to the fast pace of the book but, as a writer, my brain rebelled against reading all those incomplete sentences. *rant over*

There were, however, multiple things that made it really difficult to rate this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the characters and the world, but I struggled with putting the rating possibly at 3 stars or even 2. For two main reasons.

Advisory: First off, this book is of a world that has gone insanely wicked and against the teachings of truth. That being said, there is an awful lot of talk about prostitutes, concubines, and immoral affairs. It is common for the king and his of-age male heirs to have harems, and nobles at court talk about their different interactions with women. Nothing is described explicitly (other than a few kisses), but *much* is hinted at. I understand how the immorality was necessary to the plot, but reading about it made me uncomfortable. It was for this reason that I was tempted to rate this book at 2 stars. For this reason, I'd recommend this book for more mature readers. 

The other thing to take note of is the gods and magic. Yes, there is magic in this book. I was wary at first when it began showing up (and almost didn't finish the book because of it), but reading further helped me to understand how the author was using the magic. 

The gods that the people worship are shown as being false gods. Although the realms have turned away from Arman, he is the one true god over all. However, there is still demonic power in worshipping the false gods. The scenes describing the dark magic and spells I found really creepy, but they are all clearly shown in a very bad light. The people who use the demonic power/magic are called mantics, and they receive that power through the help of a god/goddess. To use the magic, the mantics have to ingest a poisonous drug (evenroot), after which they are able to see into the Veil (or the spiritworld). Demonic creatures known as shadirs help the mantics cast their spells from the Veil, although they cannot be seen by regular eyes.

So how do I stand on the issue of magic in this book? I do see it as necessary for the plot. In addition, I did think the author handled the issue very well. For most fantasy, it is difficult to use magic correctly without dabbling in something that our Lord condemns. The dark magic used in this book is shown clearly as being wicked, a power that is gained through complete submission to a demon. The magic cannot be used without the help of the demon and the consumption of the drug. It is excellently paralleled to the powers in our own world, the power of the Lord against the power of the devil. The devil does have power, and he does grant it to his servants for dark purposes, but in submitting to the devil, those people will never prosper nor receive the Lord's blessing. 

Also, please note fantasy violence. I didn't have a problem with any of it, but there are strange creatures who attack our heroes, people are injured/taken ill/killed, one man has his arm bitten off, but I thought it all handled well for the tone of the book. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

*Please note I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Daring Sacrifice (An Uncertain Choice)

Title: A Daring Sacrifice

Series: An Uncertain Choice (Book #2)

Year: 2016

Author: Judy Hedlund

Summary: In a reverse twist on the Robin Hood story, a young medieval maiden stands up for the rights of the mistreated, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. All the while, she fights against her cruel uncle who has taken over the land that is rightfully hers. Forced to live in the woods and hide with the poor people she's grown to love, she works to save and protect them, but she never anticipates falling in love with the wealthy knight who represents all she's come to despise. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Juliana Wessex
~ Collin Goodrich

Review: To be honest, I've gone back and forth with this review. Part of me really enjoyed this book, and the other part really didn't. I'll give you the low-down.

First of all, I really loved how the author twisted the beloved tale of Robin Hood to meet her own needs. Really. I thought it quite superbly done. There was a lot of recognizable Robin traits, and yet the novel had so much of its own spunk that it never tasted cliche. Definitely two thumbs up in that respect. I really do love it when novels claim to be retellings of favorite classics and then actually live up to that claim by holding onto everything I love so much about the aforementioned classics and also stand so well on their own that you don't need the original story to love the new one. So, if you're any fan of Robin Hood tales, put this one on your list.

The cast of characters were delightful. I actually liked our hero, Collin, when I fully expected not to. He's a great guy. Really. I loved watching how he grew throughout the story. Also, fantastic minor characters. I sense that's common for these types of books and me. 

This book is the second in a series; however, I haven't read the first. While it usually is a good idea to read books in order, I didn't find that I misunderstood anything in this book because I hadn't read the first one. Which was nice. *grins* I was a little worried at first to read the middle of a series first. 

Also: shout-out for the cover. It's just really cool and epic, and I really like it. Look at it again, folks. Don't you think so, too? Purple and green go really well together.

What I didn't like as much about this book was the romance. Yeah, I know. You guys are probably going to roll your eyes at me again and say, "We've heard this before." So, I'll keep my soap box short.

Lots of physical contact and mushy emotions as our two lovebirds got together. More than I found was comfortable for me. Juliana focused a lot on how Collin's touch made her feel, and I was, to be honest, disappointed. There's more to love than physical contact. *end rant*

Advisory: My romance soap box above, as well as some fantasy violence. Multiple characters are hurt/killed. If I recall correctly, there are also a few comments that I'd label for more mature readers.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Bark of the Bog Owl (The Wilderking Trilogy)

Title: The Bark of the Bog Owl

Series: The Wilderking Trilogy (Book #1)

Year: 2004

Author: Jonathan Rogers

Summary: Twelve-year-old Aidan Errolson comes from a long line of adventurers. His grandparents were among the first settlers of Corenwald’s Eastern Frontier. His father had been one of the kingdom’s greatest warriors. Aidan, on the other hand, lives the quiet, comfortable life of a nobleman’s son. He never has any real adventures, and that, he believes, is the one great injustice of his otherwise happy life. All that will change the day he first hears the bark of the bog owl and meets Dobro Turtlebane. Dobro is one of the feechiefolk—a tribe of half-civilized swamp dwellers who fight too much, laugh too loud, cry too easily, and smell just terrible. But another meeting on that remarkable day may change Aidan’s life even more profoundly. Bayard the Truthspeaker arrives with a startling pronouncement: Aidan Errolson will grow to be the Wilderking—the long-prophesied wild man who will come out of Corenwald’s forests and swamps to lead the kingdom back to its former glory. There’s just one question: Is Bayard the Truthspeaker a prophet or a madman? This initial installment in The Wilderking Trilogy is sure to capture the hearts of young and old, boys and girls alike. Written in the same fashion as The Lord of the Rings or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Bark of the Bog Owl, as the author says, will help “direct a God-fearing boy’s sense of adventure and warrior spirit – his God-given wildness.” (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Aidan Errolson
~ Dobro Turtlebane
~ Arliss

Review: I'd seen this book floating around in a few of my favorite reading circles, and with such a strange title it picked up my interest. However, it was one of those books that seemed to be too difficult to procure right away, so I pushed it off as a "I-want-to-read-it-but-perhaps-later-if-I-find-a-copy-somewhere" type of book. I never expected to read it until years in the future.

Ha. I found it a few months ago at Goodwill. Gorgeous, like-brand-new copy. Just waiting to be read. Don't you just love Goodwills? And boy howdy, was this a good book!

First off, Aidan is your typical gotta-love-him-from-the-start hero. His opening letter of introduction to King Darrow immediately placed him on my favorite characters list -- and that was only on the first page of the book! And it only got better after that! He's funny, and smart, and reckless at times, and his adventures are so much fun to follow!

This story is based off of the Biblical account of David and Goliath, yet there's a lot more added in with Aidan's adventures with the feechiefolk, miners, alligators, and thunder powder. Yes, we all know the traditional tale of David and Goliath, but Jonathan Rogers did a superb job at taking the greatest tale of a little hero and twisting it so that the Biblical account is still very clear, yet at the same time, still feels incredibly fresh. Two thumbs up there in my opinion.

I loved the subplot that wove around the feechiefolk. They're a swamp people who really don't have much to do with the political affairs of the "civilizers." Even when war threatens the kingdom, they don't have much to do with the civilizers' war. And yet, when Aidan finds himself getting mixed in with them, and becoming great friends with one of their own, crazy things are bound to happen. And life in Corewald will never be the same again. I can promise you that. The rollicking tales of Aidan's adventures will keep you equally in suspense and in stitches. 

I also loved the miners. Plot twist. I did not see all of their importance coming. And it was amazing. Arliss definitely has that miner's head. If you want to understand that inside joke, go read the book.

If I were to complain about anything, it'd be just a little poke here at Jonathan Roger's style. The book is written in a very easy-to-read style, and I often got lost watching the movie playing inside my head, but there are a few parts that get a little bogged (no pun intended) down with details, and the story kinda stalls. A few awkward paragraphs and sentences, but they're easily forgivable, given the rest of the amazing novel.

Okay, I'm done gushing. Maybe. I have to go get my hands on the second book ASAP.

Advisory: Some fantasy violence/fighting scenes. True to the David and Goliath story, *spoiler alert* our Goliath here does die in the same way as the historic Goliath. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Dombey and Son

Title: Dombey and Son

Series: None

Year: 1848

Author: Charles Dickens

Summary: Mr. Dombey is a man obsessed with his firm. His son is groomed from birth to take his place within it, despite his visionary eccentricity and declining health. But Dombey also has a daughter, whose unfailing love for her father goes unreturned. 'Girls,' said Mr. Dombey, 'have nothing to do with Dombey and Son'.

When Walter Gay, a young clerk in her father's office, rescues her from a bewildering experience in the streets of London, his unforgettable friends believe he is well on his way to receiving her hand in marriage and inheriting the company. It is to be a very different type of story.

Dombey and Son moved grown men to tears (Thackeray despaired of ‘writing against such power as this’), but its rich, comic characters and their joyful explosions of language draw laughter with equally unerring magic. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Mr. Paul Dombey
~ Florence Dombey
~ Walter Gay
~ Captain Cuttle
~ Miss Tox

Review: This is probably one of the lesser-known of Dickens' work, but I wasn't very far in this novel when I realized it was quickly becoming one of my favorites. True, I am a huge fan pretty much of anything Dickens, but this story really captured my interest from the beginning. It may have been that one of the main plots was very similar to one of my own (one that I had completed prior to reading this novel, mind you), but Dombey and Son rates on my list close to Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit, my two favorite Dickens ever. 

Can I just take this moment to say how talented a storyteller Dickens was? 

Dickens was a talented storyteller.

Okay, I'm good. Let's move on.

Mr. Dombey is quite a severe man, and his ultimate goal in life is to make his business succeed as Dombey and Son. That title, of course, requires a son, and much to his joy, after the disappointing birth of a healthy and beautiful daughter, he has a son. And then his wife dies. And his son, his pride and joy, isn't nearly as healthy as would be hoped. While doting on his sickly son, Mr. Dombey brushes aside his daughter, Florence, who grows up with the hope of one day earning her father's approval and love. 

Florence was one of my absolute favorite characters. She was so sweet and good, and with everything that she came up against, it was heart-wrenching to watch her struggle through. Walter, too, was a favorite. His uncle Sol and family friend Captain Cuttle were so much fun to follow as they plotted Walter's rise to wealth and prestige - all by becoming the next Dick Whittington. Many obstacles try to blow their plans apart, but the two old men love dear Walter too much too give up hope of his advantageous marriage. Walter, for his part, was content in merely being a friend to one who had no other friend. 

Susan Nipper was phenomenal. The Carkles, I'll admit, were a little confusing, as the two brothers (obviously) had the same name. I was forever trying to keep them apart. It was slightly easier to keep track of their sister. I wept (metaphorically) for poor Bunsby and his fate, but laughed (not so metaphorically) at how he accepted it. 

Writing a review of a Dickens' novel isn't always easy to write since there is so much that goes into one of these novels. Instead of just one main plot, Dickens weaves usually two main plots together with another ten subplots tied in the mix as fringe benefits. And, no matter how complicated the weave, and no matter how intrinsic and unique each plot is, every one of them manage to tie up nicely together at the end. It always baffles me how Dickens did it. Dombey and Son is no exception. You have a father who ignores his daughter, a "good" old woman bent with evil desires, a midshipman, a beloved dog, a grinder called Rob... and each one of their stories is connected to the others. 

Brilliant. Please go read it. That's all I have to say.

Advisory: As always, your typical Dickens advisory: some language, violence, deaths, and elopements. Nothing big to say, but I did feel that this novel was less dark than most of Dickens' works. 

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Click here to buy Dombey and Son on Amazon!