Monday, June 27, 2011

Review: Ring of Fire - P. D. Baccalario

Synopsis: A mix-up with their reservations forces Harvey from New York, Mistral from Paris, and Sheng from Shanghai to share a room with the hotel owner's daughter, Elettra from Rome. Soon the four kids discover an amazing coincidence - they all have birthdays on February 29, Leap Day. That night, a strange man gives them a briefcase and asks them to take care of it until he returns. Soon afterward, the man is murdered.
The kids open the briefcase. In it they find a series of clues that takes them all over Rome, through dusty libraries and dark catacombs, in search of the elusive Ring of Fire, an ancient object so powerful that legend says even a Roman emperor couldn't control it.

Review: I'll say it right now: this wasn't as good as the Ulysses Moore books. For one thing, it's written in present-tense, and unless I am just utterly losing my head, Ulysses Moore wasn't in present-tense. Sometimes present-tense can work, but very, very rarely, and in this case, it just made everything so very movie-ish, and anyone who has read my reviews before knows how much I dislike the movie feeling in literature.

On top of that, there just wasn't a single character that I particularly cared about. None of the four kids is especially annoying, but there's nothing to really like about them, either. Harvey's name gave me reason enough to mildly wish him dead; his attitude gave me more of one: whiny and not wanting to pursue anything. I kept wanting to call Elettra "Elektra" - especially since she affected electronics. And absolutely everyone's dialogue almost always trails off with ". . .", even when the character has actually finished a thought and isn't trailing off. The Author just writes it like that.

The storyline itself is interesting, but due to the present-tense and lack of likable characters, I had a very hard time becoming engaged and staying that way. Which is a complete pity, because I love Baccalario's other series. The Century Quartet isn't a good judgment of his books; I would encourage Readers to check out his Ulysses Moore series before condemning all of his writing.

Despite the shortcomings of Ring of Fire, I will read the next three books, if only to discover what happens, and maybe things will improve as the story continues.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Century Quartet Series:

1)Ring of Fire
2)Star of Stone
3)City of Wind
4)Dragon of Seas

Friday, June 24, 2011

Review: City of Stars - Mary Hoffman

Synopsis: Georgia loves horses and hates Russell, her stepbrother. It seems Russell's goal in life is to make Georgia miserable. All Georgia wants is to go horseback riding whenever she can - and to avoid Russell. When Georgia finally saves up enough money to buy the little model of a winged horse she has admired in the window of an antique shop, she knows she has to keep it out of Russell's way. But what Georgia doesn't know is that the little horse offers her an escape to another world and another time, that of sixteenth-century Remora, a city that is similar to Siena, Italy, but that has evolved quite differently.

Review: The second book in the Stravaganza Series is every bit as fun and exciting as City of Masks, though I admit that I liked Lucien's character a tad bit better than Georgia. City of Stars has a wide variety of wonderful characters, both new and old, and the Author does a tremendous job in making the Reader hate, love, and pity them. I was certainly filled with hatred towards Georgia's stepbrother Russell, and I pitied Falco's father, while I absolutely loved Falco and Cesare. The horse race in the end is thoroughly exciting, even if its result is predictable, and even if the Reader is not a horse-person like myself.

I look forward to the next book!

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Stravaganza Series:

1)City of Masks
2)City of Stars
3)City of Flowers
4)City of Secrets
5)City of Ships
6)City of Swords

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Player's Ruse - Hilari Bell

Synopsis: Sir Michael Sevenson and his squire, Fisk, were just beginning to enjoy the quiet life. They really should have known better. When Lady Rosamund runs away from home to marry a traveling player, former knight errant Michael makes a noble promise to help the object of his unrequited love. The quest takes our would-be heroes to the coastal town of Huckerston, where savage sea pirates called wreckers terrorize the coast. With the help of a reluctant Fisk, Michael plans on catching the wreckers and winning back his lady; but when mysterious murders and dangerous accidents threaten the town and its players, love might be the least of his problems.

Review: These stories just grow better and better with each new installment. The humor is ramped up even further than the last two, though some of them are bawdier than Rogue's Home (however, they aren't excessive), and the mystery all the more intriguing. I thought I had it all figured out, but I quickly turned out to be incorrect about a major part of my theory, much to my delight. I always love it when authors can make one solution seem obvious while planting clues to the true answer that are obvious if the Reader looks hard enough. Hilari Bell also manages to keep a good balance of humor and danger. One moment things are pretty light-hearted, then something happens that sends a chill right down the Reader's spine. Few authors can pull that off without making events seem schizophrenic, but she does it.

I dearly hope that Player's Ruse is not the last Knight & Rogue Novel. I absolutely love this series, and I would hate to see it end only after three books.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Knight & Rogue Series:

1)The Last Knight
2)Rogue's Home
3)Player's Ruse

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Alchemy and Meggy Swann - Karen Cushman

Synopsis: "Ye toads and vipers!" Thus says Meggy Swann, newly come to London from the country village where she was raised. She's not happy to be there, and why should she be? Her mother was glad to see the back of her. Her father, who sent for her, doesn't want her after all. The city is awash in dirt and muck, teeming with thieves and rogues, and very wearying to walk around in - especially for Meggy. She is the alchemist's daughter, though. Just as her father seeks to transform base metal into gold, Meggy sets out to change her condition for the better. In doing so, she finds herself to be braver and stronger and friendlier than she ever thought possible, and a competent rhymer as well.

Review: I absolutely love Karen Cushman's stories, even though she sometimes likes to go into detail about the lack of hygiene in the Renaissance a bit too much at times. And Alchemy and Meggy Swann has to be one of her best, if not the best. Meggy is a girl who, no matter the situation, lands on her feet and will fight her way to survival. She has a sharp tongue, but that sharp tongue keeps her alive and she is genuinely witty.

The dialogue, too, is wonderfully authentic without being just impossible to read. And the Author writes of the horrors and filth of Elizabethan London streets in such a matter-of-fact manner as to render it humorous, actually rather reminding me of Charles Dickens.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann comes highly recommended for all ages. It's a very quick and enjoyable read that anyone would like.

Overall Rating: 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Steel - Carrie Vaughn

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade - a real sword. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure. The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate's life if bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home - one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.

Review: I had complete misgivings even before I started reading this book, and my misgivings only proved to be correct - not in all instances, mind you, but in many of them. In the Afterward, the Author claims that she did a lot of research regarding historical piracy. I have to question how much research she thought "a lot" was, because hardly any of it made itself known in the story. To be fair, she also admitted that she ignored some of what she researched because clearly she wanted her pirates to be heroic and moral.

Um, well, there is her first mistake. Pirates were - and still are - criminals; no better than today's street gangs. There was no pirate code or pirate's honor (true, captains made rules according to their individual standards. There was no specific code, like the Articles of War, that all pirates followed), their voting system was anything but fair or civil (again, look at today's street gangs and how they replace leaders; it was no different then), and pirates were, in fact, known to be terrible seamen. While the Author does mention in her Afterward that pirates who captured slave ships would sell the slaves for profit, it just illustrates further her poor attempt to make heroes out of villains when her pirates free the slaves they capture. So what is it exactly that makes them pirates?

Ah, yes, and female captains . . . Now, I can understand why the Author made the "good" pirate captain - Margery Cooper - a female. If she hadn't, then it would have been a prime setup for bad, but accurate, things to happen to Jill among "rogue and tumble" men who certainly had no regard for a woman's virtue. And Captain Cooper could have been extremely unbearable as most female pirate characters are in stories, but I still protest at how unlikely it would be in real life for Cooper to become - and then maintain - her position as captain. There is a reason that history only knows of two famous female pirates (not counting the few in the Orient; Chinese piracy was an entirely different kettle of carnivorous eels); women were considered bad luck.

To top this off, there's the name of the "bad" pirate captain. I don't know what made the Author think that Blane was a threatening name. I kept picturing a Californian surfer Ken-doll whenever I read his name. He made Captain Shakespeare from Stardust seem threatening. But then it all made sense, when it was revealed that the whole premise of the story was, in fact, much like a Barbie-and-Ken relationship. I'm afraid that I am not joking. Blane was the only unforgettable character simply because of his unbelievable name. Jill was not too annoying (she whined a bit much), but many times I mistook her for an inanimate object, she was so lacking in personality, and for someone who had just been launched from the 21st century into the early 1700s among a bunch of murderous criminals, she takes to it all very well - indeed, she takes to it so well and thinks so little about her family, that it actually bothered me. I hate it when characters take forever to come to terms with their situation, but she is too okay with it. And the romance between her and Henry (who was also another inanimate object) was so gradual that it came as a shock to me when they started expressing feelings for one another.

But all of this I could have handled fairly well (perhaps, even Blane's name) if there hadn't been the terrible fact that the Author made the worst mistake that so many modern sea-faring writers make: she didn't research her sailing terms and the workings of a ship in general, and she never actually went to sea on a tallship. In the Afterward, she says that she consulted someone on these things. Either she completely disregarded his information or he knew just as little as she did - or a combination of both. I have an actual tallship sailor living in my house to confirm any flaws the Author made - i.e. my sister -, and goodness, were there many. First rule for all people who want to write a sea-faring story: research, research, research! You have to immerse yourself in it; read books that historical sailors actually used, history, technical books - indeed, you need to make yourself seasick on it. There is nothing more painful, more horrid, than authors who insist on writing sea-faring stories and don't do proper sailing research. If an author is not willing to do this, then either find a different genre, or write the story in first-person; from the perspective of a character who knows absolutely nothing - and learns absolutely nothing - about sailing.

Steel by Carrie Vaughn was torturous. I didn't think I would get through it, honestly (had it resembled Pirates of the Caribbean any more - and thankfully it really didn't that much, to give the Author some credit - I would not have). Pirates simply cannot be cast as moral, heroic people. They simply can't. If they're moral, they're not pirates.

Overall Rating: 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Pegasus - Robin McKinley

Synopsis: Princess Sylviianel had always known that on her twelfth birthday she would be bound to her own pegasus. All members of the royal family have been thus bound since the Alliance was made almost a thousand years ago; the binding system was created to strengthen the Alliance, because humans and pegasi can only communicate formally, through specially trained Speaker magicians. Sylvi is accustomed to seeing pegasi every day at the palace, but she still find the idea of her binding very daunting. The official phrase is that your pegasus is your "Excellent Friend." But how can you be friends with someone you can't talk to?

But everything is different for Sylvi and Ebon from the moment they meet at her binding - when they discover they can talk to each other. They form so close a bond that it becomes a threat to the status quo - and possibly to the future safety of their two nations. For some of the magicians believe there is a reason humans and pesagi should not fully understand each other . . .

Review: It took me a while to become engaged in this story. The first chapter and a good deal of the second is pretty slow, laying down the background so the Reader may fully understand what is going on. Normally I don't like it when the Author takes several chapters to outline back-story, for it seems to show a weak writing style. Good authors can integrate the necessary background while they keep the story moving, but in this case, Robin McKinley was right to take a few chapters to orientate the Reader.

Pegasus really does not have a definite storyline. The whole thing felt like an introduction (and judging by how this one ended, there will be at least one sequel), and while it was an interesting introduction, I still wish it had had a more tangible story. The characters were all acceptable and likable. Sylvi was not irritating, and though a lot Ebon's modern slang irked me, as a character, he is still quite an adorable pegasus. It was hard, though, to take the majority of the characters seriously, for it seems that Pegasus was the "dumping ground" for all of those horrible and annoying names that all authors have lurking at the bottom of their Possible Names List. There was one character who was referred to as "the tall, expressionless footman." I kept wishing that I knew his name, but as soon as it was discovered, I immediately wished that I hadn't, for I could no longer keep a straight face when he was present. The pegasi names were not so bad, but over half of them were unpronounceable - as were some of the pegasi words, and there is no pronunciation key.

However, Pegasus was overall quite interesting and mostly enjoyable. Just don't expect anything entirely exciting. I do warn, however, that you will want some tissues nearby towards the end of the book, for it does end quite sadly (but with the promise of a sequel, so do not despair!). I love Robin McKinley's writing - she is one of those fantasy writers who actually does a good job. I wouldn't say Pegasus is her best work, but it is still quite fun. It will be added to my small collection eventually.

Overall Rating: 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: A Golden Web - Barbara Quick

Synopsis: Alessandra Gilianti is desperate to escape. Desperate to escape her stepmother, who's locked her away for a year; to escape the cloister that awaits her and the marriage plans that have been made for her; to escape the expectations that limit her and every other girl in fourteenth-century Italy. There's no tolerance in her quiet village for Alessandra and her keen intelligence and unconventional ideas.

In defiant pursuit of her dreams, Alessandra undertakes an audacious quest, her bravery equaled only by the dangers she faces. Disguised and alone in a city of spies and scholars, Alessandra will find a love she could not foresee - and an enduring fame as the world's first female anatomist.

The story of Alessandra Gilianti is widely debated among historians. There is no solid historical proof that she existed, but there are plenty of stories about her and where her remains can be found. Barbara Quick chose to write this story as if all these stories were true, and I like to believe that she did exist.

Review: After reading The False Princess, Alessandra was quite refreshing. Resourceful, intelligent, and willing to deal with situations as they come, she's an entirely likable heroine. And her brother, Nicco, is every bit as likable. The romance between her and Otto got a little bit on my nerves, but overall I did not mind it too much. It was more Alessandra's "young love" that I didn't particularly care for than anything else, but I would not change it if only because it was accurate. Otto's discovery of her true identity was quite enjoyable and very well done, making completely up for any slight vexation I felt earlier. Sexual references are a bit more numerous than I would have liked, but nothing ever actually happens, and the Author does not just completely saturate the story with such references like some authors like to do with stories set in fourteenth-century Italy.

The writing style itself is quite good. The Author paints beautiful pictures of fourteenth-century Bologna, but does not leave out how thoroughly unsanitary life was then, managing at the same time to not go into such disgusting detail that the Reader feels obliged to push aside their breakfast. I was particularly impressed with her dissection descriptions; they gave a clear picture of what was being examined without bogging the flow of the paragraph down.

A Golden Web will find a home on my shelves eventually.

Overall Rating: 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review: The False Princess - Eilis O'Neal

Synopsis: Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia has led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when she learns, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city, her best friend, Kiernan, and the only life she's ever known. Sent to live with her only surviving relative, Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. Then she discovers that long-suppressed, dangerous magic runs through her veins, and she realizes that she will never learn to be just a simple village girl. Sinda returns to the city to seek answers. Instead, she rediscovers the boy who refused to forsake her, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history forever.

Review: Oh dear. I thought I would have more positive things to say about this story when I started reading it yesterday. Sinda showed every sign of being a relatively good, resourceful heroine, and while city and people names were often painfully cliched fantasy names, I had hopes that it would be a fairly good fantasy/adventure story. There are only two things that made this story bearable: 1) it brought back a few fond memories of when, for a while, I tried playing The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion RPG computer game (I admit; there were aspects that were loads of fun), and 2) Kiernan and Philantha were likable characters.

If it hadn't mainly been for Kiernan, who I really did attach to quite quickly, and Philantha, who I attached to almost as quickly, I don't think I would have finished The False Princess. Sinda isn't the most annoying heroine I have encountered, but she came bloody well close to it. She isn't resourceful, her attitude grows increasingly worse, she's clumsy to such a degree that I have wonder why she even bothered to walk anywhere (it seems that ever since the Twilight Saga, clumsiness is a running theme amongst annoying heroines. Really, it's irritating and rather nauseating), she's useless and inept at everything (and while she claims that she is willing to learn, her bad attitude of feeling sorry for herself gets in the way), she is a complete jerk to Kiernan, and she spends far too much time trying to "discover" herself. The whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie took less time in establishing his identity.

On top of this, the romance in it is positively adolescent and nauseating. Kiernan seems mature in his love and expresses himself well, but Sinda is just . . . Words really cannot express what I am trying to say. Were she a fourteen-year-old, perhaps I would cut her some slack. But she is well past sixteen, and on top of that, she is in love with a young man she's known her entire life!! Such silly "pantings of the heart" love only gets in the way of a good adventure. I am all for romance in stories, but not adolescent "my skin tingles at his every touch and look" romance.

The writing itself isn't terrible, but it is very modern, and the dialogue generously explores every possible solution and/or theory under the sun, just in case the Reader isn't capable of contemplating the possibilities themselves. We also have Sinda's personal thoughts to guide us poor, unimaginative Readers, telling us how we should feel about each character and what we should think of the situation. There is also too much focus on tiny little body movements, the most common being licking one's lips, which really got on my nerves; whenever I read it, my mind immediately focused alarmingly on the lip-licking, accompanied by the deafening sound of that horrible habit. My mind's eye saw the little flecks of dried, peeling skin on the character's lips, and I gazed with horror upon the bits of saliva now coating them.

Have I disgusted you enough now?

I doubt that I will buy The False Princess, and I would only encourage you to read it if you're seeking to be annoyed.

Overall Rating: 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: City of Masks - Mary Hoffman

Synopsis: Lucien is very sick: he struggles just to sit up in bed, plagued with exhaustion brought on by the treatment for his cancer. But a mysterious gift from his father - a beautiful red Venetian blank book - changes all that. Whenever Lucien holds the beautiful Italian journal, his mind is swept away to an enchanting Venice-like city called Bellezza while his earthly body sleeps peacefully.

During his many visits to the city, which become more and more real, Lucien leans that he is a Stravagante, capable of traveling between two worlds. But as his body begins to follow his mind to this other world, there is always the chance that Lucien may be caught on the other side of ime and not be able to return.

Review: It's taken me a long time to turn my attention to this series because it's popular, and usually when a series is popular, it is no good. I've been proven wrong in at least two other instances: A Series of Unfortunate Events and Alex Rider. I started reading Ranger's Apprentice before it hit the popular scale anywhere but Australia. The newest Stravaganza book's synopsis had me intrigued, so I was willing to start from the very beginning and see if once more I was incorrect.

I was. I would not rate the Stravaganza Series as good as Lemony Snicket's books, but it is hard to compare it against such a unique series as that one, so I won't. I've always liked parallel world stories (indeed, my own books will probably fall under that category), and I am already particularily impressed with this one. The imagery is vivid and beautiful, the characters intriguing and likable, the concept fairly original (the Author manages to make it seem so, at any rate), and the storyline itself attention-grabbing. While it takes a few moments for the villains to surface in City of Masks, it's not a boring wait. And for once, I actually enjoyed the sections that took place in our world!

I have nothing negative to say, and I hope that I never shall. I am currently waiting impatiently for City of Stars to come in at the library so that I may speed my way to the latest installment, and then I may join the other Readers yearning for the new story to be released in 2012.

Though I'm only through the first book, the Stavaganza Series comes recommended.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Stravaganza Series:

1)City of Masks

2)City of Stars
3)City of Flowers
4)City of Secrets
5)City of Ships
6)City of Swords

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

For those of you who don't know, The Count of Monte Cristo concerns a young Frenchman, Edmond Dantes, who seems to have everything in life going right for him. He's to marry his beloved Mercedes, and he will soon be made a captain of a merchant ship. But one Fernand Mondego and Danglar frame him for being a Bonapartist, and Dantes is sentences to imprisonment in the Chateau d'If. After fourteen years, Dantes manages to finally escape and returns to France as the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo to avenge his ruined life.

Most of us think of this story with fondness because it has betrayal, romance, treasure, duels, poisoning, and revenge. I knew the gist of the story myself at an early age, and attempted to read a paperback copy when I was eight or nine. I didn't finish it, so thoroughly disappointed was I in discovering the true "lay of the land." Only recently did I buy a hardcover edition to replace my old battered paperback one, and only even more recently did I read its entirety.

I don't say this often - in fact, I think I have only said this once: the movie versions - especially the 2002 one with James Caviezel and Guy Pearce - are better than the book. This is a story that had a lot of potential, but because Alexandre Dumas wrote it, the majority of said potential was not taken advantage of. The first twenty chapters are good. The villains are introduced, Dantes is arrested and imprisoned, then he breaks out . . . and finds the treasure, which is when it starts to go downhill. For one thing, the treasure is one sad little box. Just one!! Massively disappointing for a nine-year-old, I can tell you that. Especially when every illustrated version I had looked at depicted the treasure as filling the entire cave (and I love how the cave is an underwater grotto in the 2002 film).

The Reader may then expect thirty chapters of pure blather. There is a mildly interesting scene involving Italian bandits (one of the male characters suffers us to read his comment on how he noted that many of the Italian bandits were quite handsome . . . Disturbing!), but Dumas manages to make that quite dull. I'm all for complicated revenge plans, but Monte Cristo carries it too far!! After thirty chapters, it picks up again for fourteen chapters, then sputters out for the last seven.

All in all, I found it a massive letdown. Again, the potential is there, but the plain truth is Alexandre Dumas is not a good writer. Oh, his style is okay - his dialogue often reads like a play, which can be a bit irritating at times. But there is nothing likable in his characters. Mercedes is a shallow woman, the villains really quite pathetic, and Dantes was likable up until the very end, when he runs off with a very young slave-girl (no, I am sorry, but he does not get reunited with Mercedes. I personally like the movie endings better, too). All the men are disturbingly light on their feet - especially the young dandies - and the women flighty and silly. And everyone is beyond melodramatic. Melodrama is fine when the Author is trying to make it humorous, but Dumas is a humorous writer (some of you may say that The Three Musketeers was light-hearted and humorous; that isn't the sort of humor I am speaking of).

Yes, The Count of Monte Cristo, while a good idea, falls quite short of the mark. I love classics and most of the time the Author's beautiful way of writing can make even the most boring story fun to read, but not so in Alexandre Dumas's case. College professors - those people who will say anything that makes them sound learned and lofty - may claim that Dumas is a masterful storyteller. I, a longtime bookworm and connoisseur of all things written, wholeheartedly disagree. The Count of Monte Cristo certainly is his best work, but that is only because it doesn't drag its feet the entire time.

So, if you are looking for a good classic to read and think to yourself, "Oh, I know the general gist of The Count of Monte Cristo. It sounds exciting!", stick to the movies. For once, they are actually better than the book.

Overall Rating: 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: Rogue's Home - Hilari Bell

Synopsis: Sir Michael Sevenson and his squire, Fisk, can't seem to keep out of hot water. After five long years, Fisk has been called home to Ruesport to investigate who framed his sister Anna's husband, Max, as a blackmailer. Anna figures that Fisk, with his criminal past, is uniquely qualified to find out who set Max up. Of course Michael feels he has to come along to help his friend; but now he wears the tattoos of the unredeemed and fears he might be more hindrance than help.

Review: Like The Last Knight, Rogue's Home is hilarious - more so, in my opinion, than the first. There's fewer tongue-in-cheek type of jokes and the storyline is just more exciting. It picks up right where The Last Knight leaves off, so you definitely have to read them in order, even though this particular mystery isn't really connected to the one in the first book.

I think what I liked most about this one was the Reader gets to see more into Fisk's character and past. But at the same time, it doesn't just focus on him; the Reader also learns a lot about Michael as well.

I don't have anything negative to say about Rogue's Home. It's funny, it has great character and plot development, it's a wonderful mystery, and you definitely cannot put it down. I always doubt books that have little sayings on the back saying "I couldn't put it down!" because that seems to be the coined phrase for bad stories. And I hate to pin such a label on Rogue's Home, but I do mean it quite literally when I say that I could not put Rogue's Home down. I would not go to bed last night until I finished it, it was that good.

Can't wait until Player's Ruse comes in at the library!

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Rogue & Knight Series:

1)The Last Knight
2)Rogue's Home
3)Player's Ruse

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: King of Ithaka - Tracy Barrett

Synopsis: Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother keeps the peace even though the land has been without its, his father, since the Trojan War began many years ago. But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home.

"Return to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not. On that day the king will return." With only this mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.

Review: My opinion on this story is divided, so I'll give the pros first. It is well written and very interesting - especially if you're familiar with The Odyssey. It isn't historical fiction, for Tracy Barrett keeps the mythical creatures like centaurs and mermaids in it, so it's more like a myth. However, it still has many rich historical details that flesh out the landscape and sometimes makes the Reader forget that it's not a true story.

And that, I am afraid, is where the pros end. While it is well written, the dialogue is so modern that it made me clench my teeth in frustration. And that wasn't the only thing that made me irritated. Telemachos has got to be one of the most aggravating adolescent heroes I've met. Okay, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration - but he bloody well comes close to falling into that category. He's whiny, he spends all of his time ogling girls and getting drunk, he cannot fight or do anything useful, and he's always making stupid decisions. Hmm, nope - it's not an exaggeration after all! Telemachos's centaur friend - Brax - is okay, if only because he doesn't narrate the story like Telemachos does, and Polydora is not nearly as annoying as I was expecting her to be. In fact, she wasn't annoying at all - just kind of . . . bland. I could not have cared less about what happened to any of them.

There isn't really any sexual content, but the guys spend plenty of time talking about girls and ogling girls, as I mentioned above, but it's more of just a nauseating element than anything else. Probably what ticked me off most about this book was how Odysseus was portrayed. The only decent hero in Greek legend and the Author turns him into a wife-beater. Literally.

All in all, King of Ithaka was interesting and I don't regret reading it, but I probably won't be adding it to my collection. If I do, it's at the bottom of my list.

Overall Rating: 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Review: The Last Knight - Hilari Bell

Synopsis: Knight errants don't exist anymore; such an occupation became obsolete a long, long time ago. So what is a rogue - a good-for-nothing, a real dastardly little con artist - like Fisk doing serving the world's last and only knight errant - Sir Michael Seven Oaks - in existence? That's what happens when helpful jerks like him rescue you from the noose.

For all of his complaining, though, Fisk certainly cannot disagree about one thing: with Sir Michael, he sees more than enough adventure. And their latest "gallant" escapade has seen the escape of a nefarious murderess, the Lady Ceceil, from a tall tower that only a damsel in distress should occupy, and of course Fisk and Sir Michael are the ones who must recapture her. Personally, Fisk would rather conveniently forget about the whole mess.

But something's very fishy about the circumstances surrounding Lady Ceceil's supposed poisoning of her husband, and Fisk and Michael soon find themselves acting as detectives to discover the truth. And there's lots of people who don't want them to find anything out.

Review: One word: hilarious. I usually hate characters like Fisk - no honor, "dashing" rogue, womanizer, irritating sarcasm (I love sarcasm, but not the type that's usually employed by adolescent males). Fisk is certainly a womanizer (more on that later), but he's hilarious in every other respect. Few books cause me to laugh out loud; this one did.

Michael, too, was not without his sarcasm. Hilari Bell used a very interesting method of first person narration that works very well when done properly: she switches narrators every other chapter, rotating between Fisk and Michael. She does it very well, giving an opportunity to represent both of their opinions, which livens the story up even more.

Unfortunately, sometimes the humor leans towards the immature college type of humor (this is mostly Fisk's doing), involving certain body parts and such things as those. There isn't so much that it makes it unreadable, but the times that it does appear, it's very annoying.

For the most part, though, The Last Knight was good. I look forward the next one.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Rogue & Knight Series:
1)The Last Knight
2)Rogue's Home
3)Player's Ruse

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: Shapeshifter - Holly Bennett

Synopsis: In the world of Tir na nOg, shapeshifters and other such "natural" magic is not unusual. But Sive is gifted not only with the ability to shapeshift - her chosen form being a deer -, but a beautiful singing voice from her mother, which has the ability to incite whatever feelings she wants in listeners - be they sad, angry, passionate, or joyful.

But Sive, in her innocence, attracts the attentions of the Dark Man - a power-hungry sorcerer named Far Doirche who will stop at nothing to takeo ver Tir na nOg. And Sive's power is the key to achieving his desires.

In order to escape him, Sive must hide in her deer form, for he can only track her when she shapeshifts into a woman. But living as a deer most of the time may cost Sive her memory of what it is to be human, to be who she is. Her only refuge may lie in traveling across the invisible barrier that separates Tir na nOg from Eire - the mortal land of which the magical court of the Sidhe live side-by-side in mirror image, invisible to one another. There, she must seek the protection of Finn mac Cumhail, but even he may not be able to help her. For Far Doirche is a very patient sorcerer . . . and Sive can only hide for so long. . .

Review: Holly Bennett is a fantasy writer who does her research into iron-age/medieval periods in which she bases her stories. Her magical worlds have the same feel as the old Britannic legends (and not just because she has a fascination with Ireland and the British Isles and bases some of her stories there), and her characters are all very in depth and extremely likeable. She is the only Author who has ever made me attach to a character who was an Elf - and believe me, that is a feat to accomplish.

Shapeshifter is just as good as her Bonemender Trilogy, if not better. She plays upon the legends of Finn mac Cumhail (or Finn MacCool, as most of know him) and Oisin in a very interesting and new way, making the stories feel fresh. Her writing style brings things to life in a way most fantasy writers can't because their personal style is tainted with "modern phraseology". She also does something very interesting with first-person narration. The majority of the book is written in third person, but at times she has certain characters "remember" - which is when they take time to recall events that occurred, giving their own personal opinion on what happened. At first, this seemed very odd and somewhat random, but after a time, I grew used to it and enjoyed those parts the most. Some of Holly Bennett's transitions are a little rough, but she manages to cover a span of years very smoothly.

The only complaint I really have is that the demise of Far Doirche isn't as satisfying as I was expecting it to be. And yet, once I had time to reflect on the story, I decided that I actually rather liked it. His ending isn't cliched, there is no big showdown between hero (or heroine) and the big baddie. Honestly, it fit, and I don't feel as disappointed about it as I initially did.

The content is, for the most part, nonexistant. It is mentioned that Sive beds with Finn mac Cumhail, but that's all that is said. No details of any sort; just a frank statement and that is that.

Shapeshifter by Holly Bennett was a resounding success, in my opinion, and I look forward to adding it to my collection.

Overall Rating: