Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Pale Assassin - Patricia Elliott

Synopsis: Spoiled, beautiful, and orphaned fourteen-year-old Eugenie de Boncoeur is accustomed to outrageous privilege. The French Revolution may rage around her, but Eugenie is far more interested in her over-the-top life of fancy parties, gorgeous dresses, and doting governesses. What Eugenie doesn't know is that her guardian has promised her in marriage to a wealthy revolutionary. Called Le Fantome for his ghostly white skin and chilling manner, he has long nursed a secret grudge against her family.

As the Revolution becomes increasingly violent, Eugenie dusts off her lightly used brains and rises to the challenge of survival. Soon she is in the thick of turmoil and romance, discovering shocking secrets and surprising loyalties in her desperate quest to get out of France alive. But wherever Eugenie goes, the pale assassin is never far away . . .

Review: The first thing that I must assure Readers is that Eugenie is not nearly as annoying as the synopsis makes her out to be. Eugenie certainly isn't my favorite heroine. I would not call her resourceful, practical, or even especially clever. But she really doesn't complain often, she tries to have original and successful ideas, she grows to understand that the political upheavel in France is important and that she cannot ignore it, and she is not scornful of the lower class. She's just young and hasn't had to work for anything. She still possesses a great innocence, which is probably realistic for a fourteen-year-old aristocratic girl.

My main complaint is the story. It takes what seems an unnecessary length of time to get to the storyline concerning Le Fantome, who felt like a minor background character to me. I didn't think him terribly threatening or mysterious; just kind of . . . there. Le Scalpel, his "right-hand man" seems more imposing and someone to avoid than Le Fantome, and I have to say that I liked Le Scalpel and who he ends up being.

I know that The Pale Assassin will have a sequel, and if it doesn't, I will be very much surprised and my opinion of said story will go down, because that is a very sudden place to end it. Despite the fact that it's going to have a sequel, The Pale Assassin doesn't didn't pull me in. The entire time it felt lethargic, probably because Le Fantome had very little to do with the story. The best way I can describe it is it felt like a very long prologue. I hope that the sequel will pick things up. Maybe it will better explain why Patricia Elliott wrote the first book like she did.

Of writing style, I have nothing critical to say, other than the Author didn't seem to quite understand when the work "most" should be interjected and when it should be left out. Just because "most" is put into a sentence doesn't mean it sounds old-fashioned. But other than that, The Pale Assassin was well-written, and I was especially fond of the character Julien.

I am looking forward to seeing what happens next to Eugenie.

Overall Rating: {{{{

Others in the Pimpernelles Series:
1)The Pale Assassin
2)The Traitor's Smile

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: Iqbal - Francesco D'Adamo

Synopsis: For Fatima and the other children of Hussain Khan's carpet factory, Iqbal Masih's arrival is the end of hope and its beginning. It is Iqbal who tells them that their family's debt will never be canceled, no matter how many inches of progress they make in their rugs, no matter how neat the knots or perfect the pattern. But it is also Iqbal who is brave enough to talk about the future. "Fatima," he promises, "next spring you and I are going to go and fly a kite. Remember that, whatever happens."

This is the story of the real Iqbal: a courageous thirteen-year-old boy who knew that his life was worth more than a rug, that chaining children to looms to work hours without rest was not right, and that there was a way to stop the abuse.

Review: Iqbal is a very quick read - 120 pages long. It was very interesting and heart-wrenching at the same time, for while it's told from a fictional girl's point of view, it's a true story nonetheless and thousands of children are still enslaved like the ones in Iqbal around the world. And if you already know the story of Iqbal, then you already know that the book has a bittersweet ending. But I would encourage people to read it. It is considered juvenile fiction, but anyone of any age would enjoy it.

Overall Rating: 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Peril on the Sea - Michael Cadnum

Synopsis: It is the summer of 1588 and the privateer Vixen is sailing directly toward the Spanish Armada. At the helm is Brandon Fletcher, one of England's most notorious pirates. On board are the aspiring young author Sherwin Morris and the beautiful noblewoman Katharine Westing. Although most Englishmen are willing to battle the Spanish and defend Queen and country to the death, Captain Fletcher is leading Sherwin and Katharine on a voyage of a more lucrative nature. But when the scores of heavily armed warships of the Spanish Armada sweep in from the Atlantic, every ship and every mariner are pressed into the fight to save England from a foreign invasion. In spite of vowing to avoid the conflict, Fletcher finds his ship, her crew, and himself bracing for battle alongside other English vessels. The fight will be harrowing and bloody, and the unfolding tumult will challenge the character of everyone on board - including Sherwin and Katharine, who are about to discover the deeper meaning of both strife and honor.

Review: This really surprised me. The entire time, I was waiting for Cadnum's trademark blood and gore. When you read a Michael Cadnum book, you automatically expect there to be blood - and lots of it. There was hardly any in Peril on the Sea and I actually felt disappointed. I know, I've always complained about the often excessive blood and gore in his books, but when you're expecting it . . .

Once I got over my surprise, I have to say that I ranked Peril on the Sea as one of Michael Cadnum's best - if not his absolute best. The characters are quite likable, even Sherwin. He flirts quite a bit with Katharine, but he seems quite sincere. Katharine is a brave and bold young woman who doesn't make herself annoying by getting in the way, and by the end of the book, the Reader is left feeling a little sorry for Fletcher - even if he if was pirate. But that is partially the beauty of fiction: pirates are never depicted as horrible and wicked and just downright nasty as they were in real life. And the storyline, while a little aloof at first, is very good once it makes itself apparent.

I will be adding Peril on the Sea to my small collection of Michael Cadnum books.

Overall Rating: 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Review: The Stolen One - Suzanne Crowley

Synopsis: Katherine's true identity is a secret, even from her. All she has ever known are Grace and Anna and their small village. Kat wants more - more than hours spent embroidering finery for wealthy ladies and more than Christian, the gentle young farmer courting her.

But there are wolves outside, Grace warns. Waiting, with their eyes glowing in the dark . . . and Grace has given Kat safety and a home when no one else would.

Then a stranger appears in their cottage, bringing the mystery of Kat's birth with her. In one night, Kat's destiny finds her: She will leave. She will journey to London, and her skill with the needle will attract the notice of the magnificent Queen Elizabeth - and of the wolves of the court. She will discover what Grace would never tell her. Everything will unravel.

Review: Katherine isn't the most likable heroine, nor is any of the romance in this satisfying (as in you want the characters to end up together). Anna is the only one who truly is innocent in this whole mess, unwillingly pulled into Kat's pursuit of her birthright and wrongly hurt along the way.

But this isn't one of those stories that you read to become attached to the characters. You read it because it is an interesting "what if" historical-fiction. Unfortunately, I cannot tell my Readers what the "what if" is, because then I'll ruin the ending. If you are very much up-to-date on your Elizabethan history, you'll definitely appreciate Ms. Crowley's spin on one of history's smaller, yet just as intriguing, mysteries.

Content-wise, there's nothing explicit to complain about. Plenty is alluded to - in the world of Queen Elizabeth's court, illegitimate children were springing up everywhere. But the Author never presents the Readers with any actual scenes, and all references are when someone's background/reputation is being explained to Katherine.

The Stolen One will eventually be added to my shelves. Though I cared little for anyone except Anna, it's a story I would enjoy re-reading someday.

Overall Rating: 

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Review: A Tale of Two Castles - Gail Carson Levine

Synopsis: Elodie's parents, simple farm-folk in Lahnt, send her to the magnificent city of Two Castles to apprentice as a weaver. But head-strong, sensible Elodie has other ideas. She wants to become a mansioner - an actress - and she's willing to do whatever it takes to get an apprenticeship.

Despite her obvious skill, Elodie's dreams are quickly crushed when the mansioner master sends her away. But Meenore, Masterness of deduction and induction - and the resident dragon - takes Elodie in as an assistant. Elodie isn't sure what such a life will bring, and she certainly isn't prepared to go disguised as a kitchen maid in Count Jonty Um's (the resident ogre's) castle and solve the mystery of who's threatening his life - and who kidnapped his dog?

Review: A Tale of Two Castles (which, by the way, has no resemblance to Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities) isn't what I expected - and I mean that in a good way. I love Gail Carson Levine's stories. I love how she's inspired by old fairy tales (in this case, Puss in Boots) and how witty and self-reliant her heroines are. And I love how she actually weaves a plot into love stories. I was expecting A Tale of Two Castles to be like all her others.

It isn't; not exactly. Elodie is certainly witty and self-reliant. I like her just as much as Ella (from Ella Enchanted). But this isn't a romantic story; it's a mystery story with a dragon version of Sherlock Holmes. It was quite unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable. Jonty Um is not your typical ogre. He's polite and quiet, appreciates honesty, and not green or particularly ugly. And Menoore is just awesome. He (in Elodie's world, one does not refer to a dragon as he or she, but IT. However, I maintain that Menoore is a he) hit an immediate chord of likableness with me, and being a Sherlockian, I could appreciate his deduction and induction abilities.

A Tale of Two Castles comes highly recommended. I was pleasantly surprised by this new type of story and I'm thoroughly glad that I bought it.

Overall Rating: 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Paradise Red - K. M. Grant

Warning: may contain spoilers

Synopsis: As winter falls upon the Occitan, Raimon carefully plans his attempt to recover the Blue Flame from the hands of the evil White Wolf. But Aimery's scheming could lead them all to the pyre - and Raimon might not be so lucky to escape from it again.
Meanwhile, Yolanda - unwillingly married to Sir Hugh des Arcis - is threatened by her husband's desire for a son. As Sir Hugh prepares to lay siege to the Cathar stronghold where the Flame burns, Yolanda flees his castle in a blizzard to find Raimon, a journey that could end in disaster. But could Raimon's passion for the Flame cause him to lose Yolanda and even himself?
Review: An excellent and fitting end to the Perfect Fire Trilogy. One cannot say that it's a happy one. Paradise Red, like the other two books in this trilogy, is based on actual historical events, and the taking over of the Occitan by the French king and the purging of the Cathars was not a bloodless occurrence. Have tissues on hand and definitely don't read Paradise Red when you're feeling depressed.
But that really isn't what makes this particular book so depressing, even though the mass burning in the end is certainly a hard part to read (especially if you are eating roasted chicken). I have never liked Raimon all that much. I've tolerated him and for the most part agreed with him, and I've always supported the attachment between him and Yolanda. But Raimon often acts far too selfishly, using people for his own gains, and Paradise Red is no exception. While I can understand what made him use Metta to get close to the White Wolf and the Flame, I couldn't accept it. Poor Metta; Raimon is almost her undoing. In White Heat, I felt sorry for Sir Hugh, but in this one, I hate him - even though he redeems himself a little bit in the end - but only a little, in my opinion. And even Yolanda makes decisions that had me despising her tremendously, but she does end up making the right decision in the end and I liked her again, though not as much as before.

I can't say that K. M. Grant could have written it any other way, though. There are very few characters to like in the finale, but none of their choices were out-of-character, and while Raimon never redeems himself enough in my view, he does realize that he did wrong and must repent. I can never find myself disliking K. M. Grant's decision to make her main characters less-than-spectacular; she manages to write "only human" heroes and heroines in a way that doesn't leave the Reader feeling disappointed in a bad way, and the characters do, in the end, always make the right decision, or see their faults and try to amend.

There must now be some words lent towards content. I am sorry to give anything away in this part, but I'll do my best not to give too much away. Sir Hugh, as it says in the summary, wants a boy, while Yolanda is quite adamant that it not happen - at least, not by her. As far as she's concerned, Sir Hugh has broken their marriage contract by burning her home in White Heat. Hugh does end up having his way with Yolanda, but the Author deals with this in the most delicate language. She doesn't even actually write the scene; it goes from Hugh's arrival at the manor to after he's done the deed and left again. This event is alluded to throughout the book, but always in the fewest words possible, and never in detail. So my Readers can be assured - if a scene seems that it is going in an undesirable road, don't worry - there are no details. K. M. Grant cuts it at the right moment.

I cannot say that Pardise Red was my favorite out of the trilogy, but it was a good ending. Bittersweet. As always, K. M. Grant's writing is truly wonderful and I look forward to any other books she intends to write in the future.

Overall Rating: 
Others in the Perfect Fire Trilogy:
1)Blue Flame
2)White Heat
3)Paradise Red

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: The Floating Islands - Rachel Neumeier

Synopsis: After a terrible volcano eruption destroys Rounn, killing Trei's family, Trei makes his way to the stunning and majestic Floating Islands, to live with his uncle. There, he first sees the kajuraihi - men who soar the skies with wings. Trei is instantly sky-mad, and desperate to be a kajurai himself. The only one who fully understands his passion is Araene, his cousin, who has her own dreams of becoming a chef. But she is a woman, and on the Islands women can only marry and have lots of children.

But Araene's dreams take an unexpected turn when she discovers that she has a great gift that she shouldn't have. With Trei's help, Araene makes it come true, and just in time, for the whole fate of the Islands may rest on their shoulders.
Review: I wish I had better things to say about The Floating Islands, but I don't. Chapter 1 dumps the Reader right in the middle of the story, waiting until Chapter 3 to explain anything at all. Good luck trying to figure out which country is which, or who is who. The names of places and people are just thrown at you, and to make them more confusing, they almost all have an "ei" or "ai" ending, and there is no pronunciation guide in the back. So you'll spend over half your time slurring through everyone's vowel-infested name.

The writing is at best amateur. The Author uses the same word twice or more in one paragraph, so it reads very redundantly and blockishly. She does not believe in the period, but she's a strong believer in describing every single little movement a character makes. These she then strings together in one very long sentence with tons of commas and no end in sight. Now, Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, and Jane Austen can do unending sentences, but only because their style is witty and they aren't stringing together every single little movement a character is making. Okay, Charles Dickens does that sometimes, but it's purely for humor. On top of her run-on sentences, Ms. Neumeier's transitions are horrible. A character will be talking and then suddenly they're in a different room. And things also just happen for no real reason. For instance, Araene is making her way home in one scene along a street she knows very well. The Author goes on a long splurge of descriptions, and then suddenly Araene is lost. It reminded me of the writing exercises I used to do when I was younger. I would start a story with no apparent storyline. Things happened just so I could practice at phrasing, transitions, ect. And that's what it felt like reading this book - it felt like a storyboard.

Past the first five or seven chapters, things do improve. It's like this is where the Author originally started writing the story, and then someone told her that she needed to put something before it, so she cobbled a few earlier chapters together and didn't put much thought into them. Her writing improves a little bit, there's a more tangible storyline, and the Reader finally gets some of the world's politics and situations explained. The Author still suffers from an acute obsession with spices (though it feels as if her knowledge of spices is pretty limited, for she only talks of a very few over and over again), and there is still no pronunciation guide, but it doesn't feel quite so . . . storyboardish.

The Floating Islands
was relatively interesting once you get past the annoying chapters, but I don't think I'll be adding it to my collection.

Overall Rating: