Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: The Bones of the Holy - Jennifer Allison

Synopsis: When Gilda Joyce's mother gets engaged to a man from St. Augustine, Florida, Gilda is appalled. Sure, a Southern belle wedding would be fun to organize, but Gilda hasn't even given him the "Joyce Family Application" yet! On the bright side, spooky St. Augustine is full of ghost stories to unravel.

But soon the city's mysteries come too close to home. Who is the mysterious woman in white Gilda and another girl keep seeing? And why is Mrs. Joyce acting as if she's possessed? With only a few short days before her mother says "I do," Gilda knows this much for sure: it's going to take every ounce of her sleuthing skill and psychic savvy to solve this one.

Review: I have said before that I find these books creepy, but I can't seem to stop reading them. Gilda is such a wonderfully unique and hilarious character that I can't help but eagerly look forward to her next paranormal mystery. And this one is probably the best by far (though it is hard to beat The Ghost Sonata).

Though I prefer the approach the Author took in the first two, where she left the question of "Was it really a ghost?" hanging, offering a logical explanation along with a paranormal one, I have to say that the purely ghost-caused occurrences of this one left me pleasantly spooked. I admit, even at my age, I was a little scared going up to my room at night afterward. I only wish the murders weren't all accidents - let's have some intentional deaths here!

Like all the others, The Bones of the Holy is filled with Gilda's quirky humor and her awesome vintage costumes (her and I would get along in that department). And a new character is introduced, who has greater psychic abilities than Gilda, and is equally likable even with her justified fears, and I hope that if there are more Gilda Joyce books, she is included in later ones.

Gilda Joyce: The Bones of the Holy is most definitely not disappoint those fans of this series, or ones who are planning on reading the series.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Gilda Joyce Series:
1)Psychic Investigator
2)The Ladies of the Lake
3)The Ghost Sonata
4)The Dead Drop
5)The Bones of the Holy

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: Wrapped - Jennifer Bradbury

Synopsis: Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock an ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.

Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her. Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.

Maybe she would like to think that, too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels - or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter's estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic "atmosphere" for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.

This is the start of it all, Agnes's debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It's also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn't just a mummy. It's a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny - unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.

Review: While Wrapped certainly has allusions to the supernatural (mummy curses, ancient artifacts with power, ect.) and magical, no otherworldly powers come into play, which surprised me a little. When I first read a synopsis, my first thought was, Oh, this ought to be very strange indeed, and while it is a bit strange in its own way, it is a good strange. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even if the villains were a bit too obvious and some of the dialogue was less than pleasing. Agnes is a very strong, adventurous character whose thoughts and opinions seem properly suited for the sort of "modern" thoughts a girl her age would have had in 1815. In other words, she's not too much ahead of her time. The Author's constant alludements to Jane Austen (A Lady) and her novels will please any Austeneer, as well as lending a more historical feel to the setting (so few historical fiction stories mention the literature of the explored era).

The ending was both predictable, a little cliche, and surprising, leaving room for possible sequels if ever the Author decides to do so. At the same time, though, Wrapped doesn't need any, but I would not protest if there were. Agnes's romantic inclinations towards Caedmon is not vexing like so many "young romances" are in modern literature, and I would enjoy seeing it develop further.

And of course, the backdrop of the Napoleonic War, spies, and Ancient Egypt add much flavor, while making it thoroughly unique to many other historical-set spy stories. Napoleon's fascination with Egyptology is not a subject often explored, nor is the archeological discoveries made during that time, though as the Author points out in her Afterward, "unwrapping" parties (where mummies were unwrapped by party guests for entertainment) were more in vogue in later years. However, it's an acceptable liberty, and makes for a very interesting - and unique - way of introducing the wonderfully engaging events that Agnes and Caedmon soon find themselves "wrapped" up in.

Good job, Jennifer Bradbury!

Overall Rating: 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Entwined - Heather Dixon

Synopsis: Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it. The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too; held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation: Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

Review: I have read several versions of the fairy-tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and while Princess of the Midnight Ball (Jessica Day George) is still my favorite, none of them have chilled me as much as Entwined did.

Heather Dixon did a remarkable job "vamping" this classic fairy-tale, fleshing its original holes out and adding much more danger and drama to the story. All of the characters are unique and wonderful - especially Lord Bradford, who is simply wonderful right off, and Lord Teddie is absolutely hilarious. Every single sister, right down to the littlest, who is just a baby, has their own very distinguishable personality, making it easy to remember who is who, and their characteristics just shine through all the more as the story progresses. Azalea is a wonderfully strong heroine who certainly struggles with many things, but doesn't develop an annoying, haughty attitude because of it. The relationship between the girls and their father offers new insight into why the twelve princesses dance the nights away and never breathe a word about it (something I always wondered myself when I read the fairy-tale, then just concluded that they were spoilt little children. I was never satisfied with this conclusion).

And the Keeper is very intriguing and also very alarming. It is always my opinion that magic lessens the scariness of a villain because they don't have to rely on their own wit and cunning nearly as much (a villain who has it always more threatening, because 1)they have to be very intelligent, and 2)you realize that such people are not just confined to the pages of a book). However, the Author gave Keeper a stupendously creepy personality, and so his magical abilities neither lessen his evilness nor adds to it; the Keeper doesn't need the magic, because he has the intelligence and cruelty all on his own. He is attractive, which I usually consider a plus, because ugly villains are just too cliche, and he is extremely gentlemanly, never losing his cool, and yet his cruelty is easy to trigger. I would never wish to meet him.

The Author's choice to pattern her world after the early Victorian era adds to the effectiveness of the story, as does setting most of it in winter. For some reason, The Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of those fairy-tales that just slips into the fashions and inventions and decor and music of the Victorian era, and Heather Dixon brings it to absolute life with her descriptions and Victorian humor, which combines easily with the dark, creeping drama.

Many books have been described as breathtaking. I've very rarely said such a thing about a story, but such a description fits Entwined perfectly. From page one, I was immediately swept away, completely immersed, picturing everything very vividly. The sweet and silent romance, tear-jerking tragedies, ironic humor, beautiful landscapes, mysterious rooms, and chilling danger all weave a dense web of intensity that gave me the full impression of being breathless. The story becomes progressively darker as the Reader learns more about the Keeper, but it never reached a point where I felt uncomfortable in a way that demonic imagery does. I felt uncomfortable in the way that I did when I read The Red Shoes - pleasantly horrified. I am glad that it was not dark when I read the last few chapters of Entwined, though.

Princess of the Midnight Ball will always remain my absolute favorite re-telling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses - sorry, but it is really hard to beat Galen. But Entwined has to be my second-favorite. It was nice to read the story from the perspective of the princesses for once, rather than the rescuer, and any story that leaves me feeling like I'm waking up from a dream after I've finished it is going to be a favorite. I highly recommend this as a must-read.

Overall Rating: 

Read Hazel West's review here!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: The Last Hunt - Bruce Coville

Synopsis: In the center of Luster stands an enormous tree called the Axis Mundi, the heart of the world. But now that tree is wounded, pierced by magic. Through that wound marches an army of Hunters, led by the sinister and vengeful Beloved. And they are all determined to destroy each and every unicorn.

As the unicorns gather to defend their lives, the human girl, Cara, is sent on a mission to meet a ferocious and mysterious dragon. Faced with extreme peril, Cara must make a desperate decision that will change her life forever.

Review: It is a blessed good thing that the Author does a continuous review of previous events in The Last Hunt, otherwise I would have been completely lost, it's been so long since I read the last three. I've never known a four-book series to take so long in being completed, though I won't chide the Author. As a writer myself, I understand and sympathize how a seemingly simple little story can take forever to write, and the writer can do nothing about it.

The Unicorn Chronicles is an enjoyable fantasy/adventure series for younger audiences. I certainly would have enjoyed them immensely when I was eleven, and even now I found them entertaining. The Last Hunt did a terrific job of wrapping up the series, answering all questions that fans and semi-fans might have in a satisfactory manner. The deaths of unicorns will undoubtedly upset die-hard fans, but it adds to the drama of the story. Dark Whispers ended in a cliffhanger than had even me, a cliffhanger-seasoned veteran, dying to know what was going to happen next, and its sequel does not disappoint. Its fast-paced, surprises-around-the-corner telling makes this meaty 604-paged read seem a reasonable 200 pages.

While the writing itself isn't spectacular and a lot of the names kind of corny, the Author presents his Readers with enough drama and rather unexpected twists to make the Reader forget all of that. As far as children's fantasy goes, The Unicorn Chronicles are quite enjoyable and fun, and The Last Hunt was a wonderful way to end it.

Overall Rating: 

Others in The Unicorn Chronicles:

1)Into the Land of the Unicorns
2)Song of the Wanderer
3)Dark Whispers
4)The Last Hunt

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Ruby Red - Kerstin Gier

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Gwen lives with her extended - and rather eccentric - family in an exclusive London neighborhood. In spite of her ancestors' peculiar history, she'd had a relatively normal life so far. The time traveling gene that runs like a secret thread through the female half of the family is supposed to have skipped over Gwen, so she hasn't been introduced to "the mysteries," and can spend her time hanging out with her best friend, Lesley, watching movies and talking about boys. It comes as an unwelcome surprise then when she starts taking sudden, uncontrolled leaps into the past. She's completely unprepared for time travel, not to mention all that comes with it: fancy clothes, archaic manners, a mysterious secret society, and Gideon, her time-traveling counterpart. He's obnoxious, a know-it-all, and possibly the best-looking guy she's seen in any century . . .
Review: When I read that last part of the synopsis, my hopes for Ruby Red completely crumbled. It'll be one of those books, I thought, as I placed it back on the shelf, automatically deciding that it wouldn't go on my To Read list. However, I ended up checking it out from the library later because it was a new book, and while I was certain I knew what sort it would be, I decided that it would at least give me some laughs and groans.

Well, it certainly made me laugh, but not because it was a bad book. Quite the opposite, in fact - I was very pleasantly surprised when I finished it today. The entire time I was reading it, I kept thinking, Just wait until Gideon is introduced, but my dread was never realized. Contrary to the book's synopsis and the exert that's included on the back, Ruby Red isn't one of those terribly annoying, I'm-going-to-act-like-I-hate-you-because-I-really-like-you teen stories. It's quite an intriguing - and yes, weird - time-travel book, and the characters, for the most part, are likable. Especially the ghost James, who I took an immediate liking to.

Gideon isn't properly described in the synopsis. He is rather a know-it-all and according to Gwyneth (who narrates the story), quite attractive, but he's not obnoxious in the usual sense of adolescent males - actually, I didn't find him obnoxious at all, - and his know-it-allism isn't as snotty and arrogantly presented as one might think. At first, Gideon is a bit of a jerk, but given the circumstances, one can understand his frustration - and he also happens to be more or less correct about Gwyneth. But Gideon quickly improves his attitude, and is really quite nice, and not the horrendously aggravating flirt that I was expecting.

Gwyneth makes for an amusing narrator, she handles her panic well, and really does try her best when thrust into these unforeseen circumstances, completely unprepared. At times I thought she overreacted to Gideon's teasing, but I excused her on the grounds that she was in shock and some of the time Gideon really was a little mean. She doesn't fawn over Gideon's good looks too much, but instead laments the fact that such an attractive young man is so uppity, and leaves it at that. Her friend Lesley wasn't as bad as I anticipated, either. Her "modern" personality was aggravating at times, but I would not have changed it, because it really made her character.

The writing itself was nothing glamorous, nor was it bad. It was pleasing, the only real complaint being that some of the dialogue - especially during stand-offs - was rather cliched and sounded as if it belonged in a movie, rather than a real historical setting. Nothing truly atrocious stood out, and I would say that the Author's writing is good for the sort of genre she's writing.

While certainly strange, the plotline is interesting and manages to be fairly original from all of the other time-travel books. I really do look forward to reading the next two installments.

Overall Rating: 

Others in This Trilogy:
1)Ruby Red
2)Sapphire Blue

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: City of Flowers - Mary Hoffman

Synopsis: Everything changes for Sky Meadows when he finds a magical perfume bottle on his doorstep and is whisked away to Giglia, the Talian version of Florence. But in the deceptive City of Flowers, much that seems beautiful may be dangerous indeed, and Sky finds himself caught up in a deadly feud between Giglia's two ruling families: the di Chimici and the Nucci. Politics, intrigue, and espionage unfold as the Stravaganti try to prevent hatred and revenge from leading to tragedy.

Review: This was the hardest Stravaganza book to get through - and not because of its length. There was just something about Sky - perhaps it was mainly in the name - that I just did not like, and out of the three family situations so far presented, I found his to be the least interesting and the most irritating because it is a family situation which authors and day-to-day people seem to beat to a pulp. This, combined with the fact that compared to Lucien and Georgia, Sky was a little on the cardboard side, presented a main character whose traits bogged the story down to a point where I would unconsciously search for a reason not to read it.

It was also extremely difficult to keep all of the di Chimici and Nucci people straight. The Author's rather bouncy manner of switching between various scenes contributed a lot to the confusion. I never really did like the way scenes traded so suddenly and almost without connection, but it never really affected the flow of the story and the various plotlines until now. In this one, the jumping-in-between was aggravatingly noticeable, and I'll admit that all of the scenes were important; I wouldn't edit a single one out. But I would have changed their order into a smoother one, so that things felt more connected. Because the many plotlines the Author has going are intriguing and they are good, but the almost random way in which their order of appearance is assembled leaves the Reader feeling confused and really lost.

Crack through these shortcomings, and the Reader is certainly left with a plot about as good as the last two, but it takes a lot of cracking in order to see the book's potential. City of Flowers was not my favorite; I hope the other two are better.
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