Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: The Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges

The Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges (Published by Random House, October 9, 2012)

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

I recently read The Gathering Storm, the first book in this trilogy, and I can't wait to find out what happens in book two.

Book review: Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley

Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley (Published by Waterbrook Press, March 13, 2012)

Trevin has had a hard life. As a young child, he lost both his parents, leaving him and his brother alone in the world. Left starving and homeless, they had to resort to stealing. Later, they worked for Lord Rejius (who was the main villain of the first book in this series, Breath of Angel). Trevin has now vowed to be on the side of good, and serves the King of Camrithia, who is the father of Melaia, the main character of book one. Still, Trevin struggles with guilt due to his past, and fears that he can never be worthy of Melaia, the only girl he has ever loved, because he is of low birth and has a terrible past.

When Varic, who is a prince from the Dregmoors (a nation that is an enemy of Camrithia) arrives at court, Trevin doesn't trust him. He soon learns Varic's motives - he offers a peace treaty, but the price is Melaia's hand in marriage. Trevin can't bear to see Melaia married to someone else, especially not a brute like Varic. He hates to leave her, but the king has ordered him to search for the missing Comains (men in the king's service that have all gone missing). Along the way, Trevin hopes to gain allies for Camrithia that would make the marriage alliance unneeded, and to prove his worth in hopes he can someday be worthy of Melaia.

Eye of the Sword is the sequel to Breath of Angel, the first book in the Angelaeon Circle series. The main character in the first book was Melaia, and when I saw she would not be the main character in the second book I was a bit disappointed. I don't read many books with male main characters, and it took me a little longer to get into this book, but once I got past the first fifty pages I finished the rest in a day (which is fast for me!). I think this book could be a bit confusing to readers who haven't read Breath of Angel yet, so I suggest reading the books in order. Unlike many series books, this book does not end on a cliffhanger - there's more to the story, and there definitely could be another book or two (and I hope there is!), but it doesn't leave the reader hanging. I recommend both these books to readers who are tired of the typical young adult paranormal/fantasy novels and who are looking to read something that's new and different.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eye of the Sword Blog Tour - Guest post from author Karyn Henley

I really enjoyed reading Breath of Angel, the first book in Karyn Henley's Angelaeon Circle series (reviewed here), so I am very excited to be the first stop for the blog tour for book two, Eye of the Sword. I will also be posting for the blog tour tomorrow, February 28, with my review of Eye of the Sword. So to start off the tour, here is a guest post from Karyn about the mythology of the angels from the series:

A Window into the World of Angels

I love windows. I love to hear and watch the world go by. Maybe that’s why I like to write. My mind is a window into other worlds where the rules are different, where mysteries wait, where characters welcome me into their lives.

The Angelaeon books originated when, through the window of my mind, I saw a fantasy universe of dozens of inhabited planets, each connected to the central realm of Avellan by a lightbridge, known to some as the stairway to heaven. Angels travel these lightbridges, or stairways, taking gifts (skills, arts, virtues), aid, and messages into each world, then escorting the souls of the dying back “across the veil” to Avellan.

But in one of these worlds, the stairway was destroyed, so the angels in that world (the Angelaeon) can’t return to the heavens. What’s more, without the stairway of light, the world itself has become blighted. The world is slowly dying.

Through my mind’s window, I see that most of the angels in that dying world have blended in with humanity. Most don’t have wings. That’s probably because I grew up reading the Bible. In biblical accounts, humans often mistake angels for ordinary people. Sometimes the angels glow or wear shining garments, but they’re never described as having wings. The only exceptions are cherubim and seraphim, but they’re not technically “angels.” The word “angel” means simply “messenger.” Cherubim and seraphim attend God’s throne and are not the angels who encounter humans.

Angel mythology, constructed over several centuries, offers several different hierarchies (or rankings) of angels. Cherubim, seraphim, and ophanim rank highest in most accounts, including St. Aquinas’s hierarchy based on an ancient list of angels. I tweaked Aquinas’s ranks to fit my fantasy world, where “angel” (messenger) is one of the lowest ranks and the only one with wings. I call the winged angels Erielyon.

My angels are sentient forms of light energy, so they have auras, which only they can see or sense. The color of each angel’s aura depends on the angel’s personality. Angelaeon (the good angels) emit pure auras. Malevolents (rebel angels) bear tainted auras, rusty or moldy or stained.

The Archae, angels who guard my world’s elements, never took on flesh, so they exist in spirit form, while other angels are trapped in human form. Angels, both spirit and flesh, can bear children who are angels. Half-angels (Nephili – “shadowed ones”) may inherit characteristics of their angel parent, such as extended lifespans and the ability to sense auras. Other giftings or sensitivities manifest as Nephili mature.

One of my joys as a writer is taking readers to the window and showing them my world. Through the window of a book, you can view a new world. Or view the old world in a new way. You want to see angels? I think I know just the window for you.

To learn more about Karyn Henley and the Angelaeon Circle series, you can visit her website. Also, be sure to check out this list of the other blog tour stops.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Book review: Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie by Kristiana Gregory

Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie by Kristiana Gregory (New edition published by Scholastic, April 1, 2012, originally published in 1997)

In the spring of 1847, thirteen-year-old Hattie Campbell and her family leave their home in Missouri to travel west in a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail. Hattie is sad to leave her home and her best friend, as well as the graves of her little sisters who died.

In her diary, Hattie writes of all the hardships her family and others in their wagon train experience. The pioneers face sickness, dangerous river crossings, extreme weather, and much more. Many people do not survive. But despite all the sadness, there is happiness too, as Hattie becomes friends with another girl on the wagon train and begins to fall in love with her new friend's brother.

I first read this book many years ago, when it was first published. I was eleven years old then and absolutely loved it and reread it quite a few times. This book was one of my childhood favorites so I am happy it is back in print again for new readers to discover and enjoy. It's still one of my favorites from the Dear America series and I recommend it to all fans of the series as well as to readers who love historical fiction about pioneers in the old west.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In My Mailbox - 2/25/12

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

Here are the new books I got this week:

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Generations ago, a genetic experiment gone wrong—the Reduction—decimated humanity, giving rise to a Luddite nobility who outlawed most technology.
Eighteen-year-old Luddite Elliot North has always known her place in this caste system. Four years ago Elliot refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart, the servant Kai, choosing duty to her family’s estate over love. But now the world has changed: a new class of Post-Reductionists is jumpstarting the wheel of progress and threatening Luddite control; Elliot’s estate is floundering; and she’s forced to rent land to the mysterious Cloud Fleet, a group of shipbuilders that includes renowned explorer Captain Malakai Wentforth—an almost unrecognizable Kai. And while Elliott wonders if this could be their second chance, Kai seems determined to show Elliot exactly what she gave up when she abandoned him.\
But Elliot soon discovers her childhood friend carries a secret—-one that could change the society in which they live…or bring it to its knees. And again, she’s faced with a choice: cling to what she’s been raised to believe, or cast her lot with the only boy she’s ever loved, even if she has lost him forever.
Inspired by Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS is a breathtaking romance about opening your mind to the future and your heart to the one person you know can break it.

Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves

It’s 1888, and after her mother’s sudden death, Abbie is sent to live with her grandmother in a posh London neighborhood. When she begins volunteering at Whitechapel Hospital, Abbie finds she has a passion for helping the abused and sickly women there.
But within days, patients begin turning up murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper. As more women are murdered, Abbie realizes that she and the Ripper share a strange connection: she has visions showing the Ripper luring his future victims to their deaths—moments before he turns his knife upon them. Her desperation to stop the massacres leads Abbie on a perilous hunt for the killer. And her search leads to a mysterious brotherhood whose link to the Ripper threatens not just London but all of mankind.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Tricia Goyer

Remember the Titanic 100 years after its doomed voyage with Tricia Goyer’s fictional portrayal of one woman’s journey. To Amelia Gladstone, this ship means promise of seeing family again. To Quentin Walpole, the Titanic represents a new start in America…if he can get onboard. All seems lost until Amelia offers him a ticket, securing his passage—and bringing him face-to-face with his railroad tycoon father and older brother, Damian. As Amelia works to reconcile father and son, she finds herself the object of both brothers’ affection. Can she choose between two brothers? Or will she lose everything to the icy waters of the Atlantic?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book review: A Girl for All Time: Matilda's Secret by Sandra Goldbacher

A Girl for All Time: Matilda's Secret by Sandra Goldbacher (Published by Daughters of History Ltd, September 20, 2011)

This book is written in the form of a diary kept by the main character, thirteen-year-old Matilda, who is the fictional cousin of Katherine Howard. Matilda's family is poor, even though they are related to nobility and have a big house and servants. Katherine's uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, offers to help the family out financially if Matilda's parents send one of their daughters to court. Matilda is chosen because she is able to be quiet and observant. Uncle Norfolk wants her to be a friend to Katherine and help her attract the attention of the king, Henry VIII, who is unhappy with his current wife, Anne of Cleves.

At first, Matilda is overwhelmed by life at court. Most of the other girls look down upon her. However, she and Katherine quickly become friends, and Katherine helps her out by giving her fashionable clothes to wear, and making the other girls be nice to her. With Matilda's help, Katherine is soon noticed by the king, who divorces his current wife so he can marry Katherine. At first Katherine loves the jewels and fancy gowns, but she soon becomes resentful that she cannot be with Thomas, the boy she loves. Matilda is terrified because she knows that if the king discovers that Katherine is in love with someone else, terrible things could happen to Katherine and even everyone in her household, including Matilda.

Matilda's Secret is the first book in a new series from England called A Girl for All Time. Each book will be about a different girl from the same family during various important times in British history. Like the American Girls series, there will be dolls of each main character. However, judging by the content in this book, this series seems intended for slightly older readers than the American Girls series, since there are references to torture, executions, infidelity, and many unpleasant facts of life in the sixteenth century. The descriptions are not extremely graphic, but I do think the subject matter makes the book more appropriate for preteens and young teens, rather than younger readers. I think this book would be enjoyed by the same readers who enjoy similar series, such as the My Story, Dear America, and Royal Diaries series.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Changeling by Philippa Gregory (Published by Simon Pulse, May 22, 2012)

Dark myths, medieval secrets, intrigue, and romance populate the pages of the first-ever teen series from #1 bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl.
The year is 1453. Eighteen-year-old Luca De Vere is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
The first in a series, this epic and richly detailed drama is grounded in historical communities and their mythic beliefs. Philippa Gregory’s trademark touch deftly brings the past—and its salacious scandals—vividly and disturbingly to life.

I heard about this book a while ago and really wanted to read it, but it didn't have a cover or title for the longest time. But the cover and title were released today, so I decided to finally feature it for my Waiting on Wednesday pick. It looks really good - though I'm not sure about the werewolves! (then again, the werewolves on the Titanic book, Fateful by Claudia Gray, was really good, so I suppose werewolves can work in historical fiction!)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

In My Mailbox - 2/18/12

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

Here are the new books I got this week:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

The Girl in the Mask by Marie-Louise Jensen

Set in Georgian England, fifteen-year-old Sophia is trapped by the limitations of living in a man's world. Forced by her father to give up everything she loves, Sophia is ordered to make a new life in Bath. By day, she is trapped in the social whirl of balls and masquerades. By night, she secretly swaps her ball gowns for breeches, and turns to highway robbery to get her revenge . . . When one man begins to take a keen interest in her, Sophia must keep her distance, or risk unmasking her secret life.

Daughters of the Sea: Lucy by Kathryn Lasky

A choice between love and survival . . . Lucy's family is excited to spend the summer in Bar Harbor, Maine. Her minister father is pleased to preside over such a prestigious congregation, and his social-climbing wife is ecstatic at the chance to find a rich husband for her daughter.Yet Lucy wants nothing to do with the Bar Harbor social scene; she's simply excited to spend the summer by the sea, watching the waves from her favorite spot on the cliff. Despite having never gone swimming, Lucy feels an intense connection to the ocean, and meets a handsome ship-builder who shows Lucy a world she's never known, yet somehow always longed for.However, her mother will stop at nothing to keep Lucy and the ship builder apart, even if it means throwing Lucy into the arms of a wealthy man with a dangerous secret. Can Lucy break free and embrace her destiny as a daughter of the sea? Or is she doomed to waste away in a gilded cage, slowly dying of a broken heart?

Gladiator: Street Fighter by Simon Scarrow

Now a member of Julius Caesar’s palace, Marcus’s training continues in the city of Rome. The streets are plagued by vicious gang war attacks, and Caesar must employ his own gang leader, who learns of a plot to murder him.
Only Marcus can go in undercover. But he’s in terrible danger. If the rival gang discover him the price will be fatal. Julius Caesar’s isn’t the only life at risk . . .

American Girl Mysteries: The Hidden Gold by Sarah Masters Buckey

Marie-Grace can't wait to begin her journey up the Mississippi River with her father. The steamboat they're traveling on is crowded with all sorts of interesting passengers, including Wilhelmina Newman, a girl Marie-Grace's age. Wilhelmina is traveling alone, and she's carrying a secret in one of her trunks--clues to hidden Gold Rush treasure.

American Girl Mysteries: The Cameo Necklace by Evelyn Coleman

As Cecile exits a crowded showboat after enjoying a lavish Floating Circus, she stumbles--and when she gets up, she realizes that the cameo necklace she borrowed from her aunt is no longer on her neck. Knowing that the necklace was the last gift Tante Tay's husband gave her before he died, Cecile is desperate to find it.

American Girl Mysteries: The Crystal Ball by Jacqueline Greene

Rebecca and her neighbor, Mr. Rossi, seem to be having a run of bad luck. When Mr. Rossi sprains his wrist, Rebecca takes over the care and feeding of his carrier pigeons. Then a strange black pigeon delivers an eerie message warning Mr. Rossi of danger, and Rebecca must jump into action to find answers.

The Diary of Marie Landry, Acadian Exile by Stacy Allbritton

During the Great Upheaval of 1755, the British forced the Acadians to leave their homes in the Canadian provinces and later the American colonies. Fourteen-year-old Marie Landry joins her family and friends on a mass exodus from Maryland to Louisiana 10 years later, where land awaits them. Along the way, she notes her feelings of despair and hope through candid diary entries.

Matilda's Secret by Sandra Goldbacher

Norfolk 1540 Thirteen-year old Matilda Marchmont lives a dull life in the country - riding her horse, mixing her family's medicines, imagining herself to be a witch and writing in her secret diary. She longs for the glamour and thrills of life at court, led by her ultrafashionable young cousin Katherine Howard. And then one night something DOES happen. She is to be sent to court too, as a lady in waiting and spy, to help further Katherine's marriage chances with King Henry the Eighth himself. Matilda is drawn into a glittering world of intrigue, intense friendship and mortal danger which takes her from Hampton Court Palace to the Bloody Tower itself.

Pendragon Legacy: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

It is the darkest hour of the darkest Age. King Arthur is dead, killed by his wicked nephew, Mordred. Saxon invaders rampage across the land and forces of evil are gathering. The path to the throne lies open to Arthur's only remaining flesh and blood - Mordred. But there is one with a better claim than Mordred - Arthur's secret child. Brought by Merlin to enchanted Avalon as a baby and raised there for protection, the king's heir must take up a vital quest: to search for the four magical Lights with the power to restore Arthur's soul to his body. Introducing Rhianna Pendragon: unlikely princess and Camelot's last hope.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Princess of the Wild Swans blog tour: Interview with Diane Zahler

Diane Zahler is the author of the new novel Princess of the Wild Swans, as well as two other fairy tale retellings, The Thirteenth Princess and A True Princess.

Why did you decide to become a writer of fairy tale retellings? Have you always loved fairy tales?

I’ve loved fairy tales since before I was old enough to read myself. I even wrote my own versions in elementary school! Fairy tales are great to retell because they have such a universal appeal. Many of them started as oral tales that helped to explain or elaborate on people's most basic fears and desires. Readers recognize their own feelings when they read, even hundreds of years after the original stories were written down, and even in their retold forms. (And, of course, I love magic.)

Do you plan to write more fairy tale retellings? What is your own favorite fairy tale of all time?

My fourth book, which will be published in September 2013, has a fairy tale at its center, but it uses the story as a springboard. It's more of an original tale than a retelling. As for a favorite fairy tale -- well, I love "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," which I retold as The Thirteenth Princess. And "Rapunzel" has always been a favorite, despite Shannon Hale's comical rant against it. "Why didn't the prince just bring a ROPE?" she asks. It's a great question -- but you could ask a similar question about almost any fairy tale. Why did Snow White eat that apple, given what she knew? Why didn't Sleeping Beauty just stay away from sharp objects? Why did Little Red Riding Hood wear such bright colors when there were wolves around? Any fairy tale requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

What are some of your own favorite books and authors?

There are so many! I worked in the children’s room of a public library through high school and college, so I kept reading children’s books long after I grew up. Fantasy books I loved include the Narnia series, all the books by Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster, The Wonderful O by James Thurber, The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall, Ursula Leguin's Wizard of Earthsea books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Realistic fiction I read and reread include All-of-a-Kind Family by Theodore Taylor, The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg, the Henry Huggins and Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I’m probably leaving out dozens.

When you are not writing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

Reading. And I love to travel -- in fact, right now I'm in Belgium and will be here for five months. I plan to go all over Europe -- as much as I can afford to! -- and maybe even make it to Morocco. And I love to eat whatever they're serving where I travel (within reason).

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just this – I hope your readers love Princess of the Wild Swans! And thank you so much for hosting me on your blog.

To learn more about Diane Zahler and Princess of the Wild Swans you can visit her website (where you can also see a list of the other stops for the blog tour). You can also read my review of Princess of the Wild Swans here.

Book review: The Hidden Gold: A Marie-Grace Mystery by Sarah Masters Buckey

The Hidden Gold: A Marie-Grace Mystery by Sarah Masters Buckey (Published by American Girl, February 28, 2012)

Eleven-year-old Marie-Grace Gardner and her father are travelling up the Mississippi River on a steamboat to visit his friends in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1854. Although she will miss her friends and family in New Orleans, Marie-Grace likes travelling on the elegant steamboat. Shortly after boarding the steamboat, Marie-Grace meets another girl her age, Wilhelmina Newman.

Wilhelmina came to New Orleans to find her dying father, who became sick while traveling home from the California Gold Rush. She arrived too late, and found that her father had already died. He was supposed to be bringing home gold that he found in California, and Wilhelmina desperately needs to find that gold, because her mother died while her father was away and her grandmother can't afford to keep Wilhelmina and her two younger brothers much longer. If she doesn't find the gold, her brothers will have to go live with other relatives. After losing her parents, Wilhelmina is determined that she and her siblings must not be separated. Marie-Grace wants to help her new friend, but where could the gold be? And is a fellow passenger also trying to find the gold, so he can steal it?

I enjoyed the original American Girls book series about Marie-Grace, so I was looking forward to reading this book. While I enjoyed it, I didn't like it quite as much as the main series, because the historical setting was not as interesting. However, despite being much older than the target audience, my guess for who the villain was turned out to be completely wrong! I think younger fans of the series would really enjoy this book, but for the older fans like me who have loved the series since childhood, this is probably not the most interesting of the books.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Book review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges (Published by Delacorte, January 10, 2012)

Sixteen-year-old Katerina Alexandrovna, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1888, wants nothing more than to become a doctor - which is completely unsuitable for a young woman in her position. Katerina is a duchess, related to the royal family of Russia, and so she must marry well, and can never have a career. Katerina also has a dark secret - she is a necromancer, and can raise the dead. She hates her secret power, and considers it a curse.

Katerina is forced to attend countless balls and social events by her mother, who wants her to marry well. Katerina's evil classmate at her finishing school, Princess Elena, wants Katerina to marry her older brother, Crown Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro. Elena is a witch, and Katerina suspects that she tried to kill several girls at their school. Against her will, because of her unwanted powers, Katerina is drawn into a war involving dark supernatural forces that threaten Russia.

The Gathering Storm is a book that I have mixed feelings about. There are several things that I absolutely loved about this book, and others that I wasn't that impressed with. First off, I absolutely *loved* the setting of Tsarist Russia in the late nineteenth century. The setting was very original for a young adult novel and was described really well by the author. It's obvious she did her research. I also loved the premise of the story, it's very different from any other young adult paranormal book out there. Now, on to the things I didn't like as much. This book seemed over the top with the many different kinds of supernatural creatures featured in the story. There's necromancers, fairies, vampires, witches and wizards, zombies, and werewolves. I think that's all of them! It's all a bit much for one book. Second, Katerina's character frustrated me at times. I loved that she wanted to be a doctor despite the fact that it wasn't proper for a girl of her position. However, sometimes she acted rather stupid. I wish she had asked for help rather than giving in to the bad guys because they threatened her family and friends, and she assumed that even with help she could not protect them. With all that said, I would still recommend this book to readers who are looking for something different in the young adult paranormal genre, and I still plan to read the rest of the books in the trilogy when they are published, as I want to see where the story goes.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book review: The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman (Published by Tundra Books, April 10, 2012)

Fourteen-year-old Isabel de Cardosa lives a privileged life as the only child of wealthy parents in Toledo, Spain in 1491. She lives in a nice house and has beautiful clothes. Her parents have always given her everything she wanted. But then everything changes. Her parents announce that she will be betrothed to Luis, a boy from a wealthy and respected family. Although Luis is her own age, Isabel hates him because he is cruel and selfish. She doesn’t understand why her parents, who always planned to choose a husband Isabel liked, would suddenly decide she must marry someone she hates.

Soon, Isabel learns the real reason for her parents’ decision. Although Isabel has been raised a devout Catholic, her family is Jewish. Her grandparents were forced to convert to save their lives, but her parents have continued to practice Jewish traditions in secret. Her parents hope that Isabel’s marriage to Luis will protect the family from the Inquisition, since Luis’s family is an old Catholic family. Isabel isn’t sure what to think at first. Curious about her heritage, she becomes friends with Yonah, a Jewish boy her age. Their friendship would be forbidden by her parents if they knew, because Yonah is openly Jewish and only the son of a craftsman. Soon her friendship with Yonah seems to be turning into something more, but then her father is arrested by the agents of the Inquisition. Isabel is desperate to find a way to save her father, no matter what the risks to herself.

I mainly wanted to read this book because it is about historical events not often written about in young adult fiction. Most historical fiction I have read with Jewish characters has been about either immigration to the United States (usually to New York City) or the Holocaust. While certainly those are very important topics, they are not the entirety of Jewish history. I love when young adult historical fiction explores events from history that are not frequently written about. Isabel, the main character of this book, is very brave and willing to do anything to save her family. The relationship between her and Yonah was very sweet and I would have liked to see it developed more, but perhaps that might not have been realistic given the historical setting. Although this book is about sad events, it’s not all depressing, it’s a very hopeful story too. I think readers who love young adult historical fiction but want to read something different than the typical book from this genre would enjoy this book.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In My Mailbox - 2/11/12

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

Here are the new books I got this week:

The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

Emmeline Thistle has always had a mysterious bond with cows, beginning on the night of her birth, when the local bovines saved the infant cast aside to die in the forest. But Emmeline was unaware that this bond has also given her a magical ability to transform milk into chocolate, a very valuable gift in a kingdom where chocolate is more rare and more precious than gold or jewels. Then one day Owen Oak, a dairyman’s son, teaches Emmeline to churn milk into butter – and instead she creates a delicious chocolate confection that immediately makes her a target for every greedy, power-hungry person in the kingdom of Anglund. Only Owen loves Emmeline for who she truly is, not her magical skill. But is his love enough to save her from the danger all around her?

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

The Académie by Susanne Dunlap

Eliza Monroe—daughter of the future president of the United States—is devastated when her mother decides to send her to boarding school outside of Paris. But the young American teen is quickly reconciled to the idea when—ooh, la-la!—she discovers who her fellow pupils will be: Hortense de Beauharnais, daughter of Josephine Bonaparte; and Caroline Bonaparte, youngest sister of the famous French general. It doesn't take long for Eliza to figure out that the two French girls are mortal enemies—and that she's about to get caught in the middle of their schemes.
Loosely drawn from history, Eliza Monroe's imagined coming of age provides a scintillating glimpse into the lives, loves, and hopes of three young women during one of the most volatile periods in French history.

Our Australian Girl: Meet Alice by Davina Bell

It's 1918 . . .
and Alice lives with her big family by the Swan River in Perth, while on the other side of the world, the Great War rages. Alice's deepest wish is to become a ballerina, and when she auditions for a famous dance teacher from London, it seems as if her dreams might come true. But then there's a terrible accident, and Alice must ask herself whether there are more important things than dancing.
Meet Alice and join her adventure in the first of four stories about a gifted girl in a time of war.

Our Australian Girl: Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews

It's 1849 . . .
and Nellie O'Neill is arriving in South Australia on a ship bringing orphan girls from Irish workhouses. Nellie and her best friend, Mary, have left the famine in Ireland far behind, and are full of hopes and dreams for the future. Nellie longs to learn to read, to be part of a family once more, and never to be hungry again. But with no job and no one to turn to, how will Nellie make her wishes come true?
Meet Nellie and join her adventure in the first of four stories about an Irish girl with a big heart, in search of the freedom to be herself. (already read and reviewed here)

Our Australian Girl: Sydney Harbour Bridge by Vashti Farrer

It is 1932 and Sydney has hit hard times but the construction of a bridge that will reach across the harbour is setting spirits soaring. Both Alice and Billy tell the story of building the spectacular Harbour Bridge which will link the north shore to the working class suburbs of the south and unify a separated city.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book review: Our Australian Girl: Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews

Our Australian Girl: Meet Nellie by Penny Matthews (Published by Penguin Books Australia, January 25, 2012)

Twelve-year-old Nellie O'Neill lost her entire family - mother, father, and three younger siblings - to the famine in Ireland. After that, she had to live in a horrible workhouse, but now she has the chance for a new life. Nellie has arrived in Australia with a group of other Irish orphan girls, who are to work as maidservants.

At first, Nellie is worried that she will not be chosen to work as a servant, or that if she is, her employer will be cruel to her. However, Nellie is lucky, because she is chosen to work for a kind woman who runs a boardinghouse. For the first time in her life Nellie has her own room, and unlike in Ireland, there is plenty of food. But can her good fortune last?

I enjoyed the books I read in the Our Australian Girl series last year so I was happy when I found out there would be two new sets of books released this year. This series is a lot like the American Girls series, but set in Australia. Each character lives during a different time and place in Australian history and her story is told in a four book series. Although this book was not my favorite from the series (my favorite books so far were the stories about Grace, a young convict girl in 1808), I enjoyed reading Nellie's story and look forward to reading the other three books about her, which will be published later this year.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book review: Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi

Dear Canada: Torn Apart by Susan Aihoshi (Published by Scholastic Canada, February 1, 2012)

Mary Kobayashi begins a diary after receiving one as a present for her twelfth birthday in May 1941. Although there is a war going on in Europe, it seems very far away from Vancouver. At first, Mary writes mostly about her everyday life - school, friends, Girl Guides meetings, and summer camp. But when Japan attacks the United States at Pearl Harbor later that year, everything changes forever.

Even though Mary and her siblings were born in Canada to immigrant parents who became naturalized citizens of their new country, many people are suspicious of anyone with Japanese heritage. Soon, restrictions are placed upon them and the other Japanese Canadians in their community. They must observe a strict curfew, give up cars, radios, and cameras, and many are forced to leave their homes. Mary is left wondering if her life will ever be the same again.

I expected Torn Apart to be mainly about Mary's experiences in an internment camp, based upon the publisher's description and the subtitle "The Internment Diary of Mary Kobayashi." It's actually mainly about her life in Vancounter during the year and a half leading up to those events - only the last forty pages or so of the book are set at the internment camp Mary and her family are sent to. Although this book was not one of my top favorites from the Dear Canada series, I still overall enjoyed it. The author, whose parents and grandparents spent part of World War II in an internment camp, brought to life the injustices suffered by people of Japanese descent in Canada and the United States during the war. I recommend this book to readers who enjoyed other Dear Canada books (or the similar Dear America series), or who are interested in this era of history.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

In My Mailbox - 2/4/12

Credit goes to The Story Siren for creating and hosting the In My Mailbox feature.

Here are the new books I got this week:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.

Dangerous Waters: An Adventure on the Titanic by Gregory Mone

A stowaway, a stolen book, a murderous villain: an adventure on the most famous shipwreck in history. The great ocean liner Titanic is preparing to cross the Atlantic. On board is a sinister thief bent on stealing a rare book that may be the key to unlocking infinite treasure, a wealthy academic traveling home to America with his rare book collection, and Patrick Waters, a twelve-year-old Irish boy who is certain that his job as a steward on the unsinkable ship will be the adventure of a lifetime. Disguises, capers, and danger abound as the ship makes its way toward that fateful iceberg where Patrick will have to summon all his wits in order to survive.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book review: Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skypruch

Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skypruch (Published by Scholastic Canada, February 1, 2012)

This book tells the story of Lida, a fictional young Ukranian girl, who is captured by the Nazis to be used for slave labor shortly before her ninth birthday. Lida's father was killed by the Soviets, and her mother was shot by the Nazis for attempting to hide their Jewish neighbors. After that, Lida and her beloved younger sister, Larissa, went to live with their grandmother, where they were captured by the Nazis. The girls were separated, with Lida being sent to a work camp. Lida is devastated, as she doesn't know what happened to her sister, her only remaining family, and she fears she might have been harmed or killed because she is too young to work.

The conditions at the work camp are awful. Lida lies about her age, hoping she will be seen as more useful, and thus, be kept alive. There is never enough food and everyone is cold and hungry. Lida is lucky, because she is given a good position working in the laundry, which is clean and warm. However, after a few months, she is forced to go to work in a factory, making bombs for the Nazis. Lida hates having to help the Nazi war effort, because if they win, she will never be free again. However, she is able to find comfort from memories of her family, from her friendship with other children living at the camp, and from keeping alive her hope that one day she will find her sister again.

Before reading Making Bombs for Hitler, I didn't know that so many children and young adults from Eastern Europe had been used as slave labor by the Nazis during World War II. I wouldn't necessarily say I enjoyed reading this book, because it's a very sad and tragic story about the suffering of children in war. However, I think it is a very important story to tell, and the author tells it well. Lida was a very couragous character who survived living and working in conditions that were nearly unbearable, all the while keeping alive the hope that she would someday be reunited with her sister. This book is a companion novel to another book by the author, Stolen Child, which was about Lida's sister, Larissa. Making Bombs for Hitler can be read as a standalone, but you will want to read Stolen Child too, to find out how Larissa survived the war. I recommend this book to young readers studying World War II as well as to adults with an interest in the subject.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb (Published by Random House UK, July 5, 2012)

Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg's existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to her secret.
Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.

The Tudor era is one of my favorites and the combination of historical fiction and fantasy sounds really good. Also I love the cover!
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