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Review: The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion

What could be better than a day off from school to attend a fair with games and rides and heaps of your favorite foods? For nearly 12-year-old Miller it’s the chance to explore with his best friend without parental supervision. To that end he’s spent the last few weeks being extra helpful and responsible in the hopes that his parents will allow him free reign at this year’s fair.

But fate conspires against him from all angles.

He serves up his father’s prize pie entry as a snack to his friend, his 6-year-old sister and her friends by accident. He was doing his best to be responsible. Then he learns his mother has to work late, and worse yet, she has to work on Fair Day and expects him to be chaperoned by the mother of one of his sister’s friends. Miller frets he’ll be the laughing-stock of his classmates and he’ll never live it down.

Fair Day dawns and things continue to speed downhill like an out of control train.

Miller ends up on his own, sort of, but he has more responsibility than he knows what to do with.

A masterly crafted tale that captures all the nuance and concerns of a pre-teen boy who wants nothing more than a little bit of well-earned freedom. The reader is drawn into the story and, like the proverbial train wreck, can’t look away until the very satisfying end.

Recommended for pre-teen readers

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

The Hangman in the Mirror book coverThe heroine of the tale, Françoise Laurent, is a 15-year-old living in the slums of colonial New France, Canada. Even in the slums, her family is among the lowest and poorest of families. It’s a tough life, between her parents raging alcoholism and having to beg for rotten scraps of food, there really is not much Françoise has going for her.

Things get drastically worse when the measles sweep through the town leaving both of her parents dead. The future as a laundry woman for the neighborhood holds no attraction for her. Françoise believes if only she can become a lady’s maid, then her fate will be changed. When she reveals her grand plan, the local ladies scoff at her. But one of them makes it possible by calling in a favor to get the required letter of reference.

Françoise becomes a lady’s maid and settles into her new life after a rocky start. But her high-handed ways and her natural inclination to distrust anyone alienate her from the rest of the household staff. Her inability to foster friendship is ultimately her undoing. That and a purloined pair of gloves from her mistress.

Charged with stealing, Françoise is sent to prison with the sentence of hanging over her head. As luck would have it, there is no hangman, so she awaits her hanging until one can be found.

Françoise has a habit of concocting wildly imaginative stories. She uses this ability to ensnare a fellow prisoner into loving her, and ultimately becoming her savior.

I enjoyed this tale, even though at times the narrative felt a bit forced. According the jacket notes, this is based on historical accounts of the real-life events. The story ends where the historical records do, leaving the reader unsatisfied with a less than clear ending.

I felt as a character Françoise was not fully developed and much of her motivation was hidden behind her prickly personality. I would have liked to see more growth on her part. The character portrayed in the book was a conniving know-it-all without much in way of redeeming qualities to soften her and make her more likeable. I would have liked to see the something she possessed which made her co-prisoner fall in love with her, sight unseen, to take on the most reviled occupation in the colonies and make her his bride.

Good for an older teen as many of the scenes are quite graphic and disturbing in nature.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan book coverGift by Andrea J. Buchanan: Daisy is finally managing to fit in at the new school where she’s a sophomore. No one here knows her checkered past, or the awful secret of her freakish nature.

Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan book coverGift by Andrea J. Buchanan: Daisy is finally managing to fit in at the new school where she’s a sophomore. No one here knows her checkered past, or the awful secret of her freakish nature. No one, that is but her best friend, Danielle.

Danielle doesn’t care that Daisy is odd, lives in a trailer park and doesn’t own a TV, laptop or even the basic necessity for any teen – a cell phone. She gets it.

Daisy is a powerhouse. Literally. She can think the lights on, or fry an entire room of computer equipment with a sneeze. Which is why she left her last school. She isn’t really a troublemaker that her permanent file makes her out to be. But, with a lot of meditation and breathing exercises she’s managed to get her gift (or more likely, curse) under control. Or has she?

When Daisy’s favorite English teacher sends her after a classmate, Vivi, Daisy’s world becomes topsy-turvy. Vivian is being haunted, after Daisy befriends Vivi, so are she and Danielle.

The only good thing happening in Daisy’s life right now is swoon-worthy, senior, Kevin, likes her and becomes her boyfriend.

Vivi’s ghost, the haunting of both Daisy and Danielle, a mysterious haunted house and Daisy’s electrifying nature all collide to make a book unlike any I’ve ever read.

Gift is a truly magnificent creation of storyline, character and atmosphere. I literally was surprised by plot twist more than once. This book is a combination of murder mystery, contemporary fantasy and horror. (This is an e-book only publication. I also understand that the iPad version has interactive features such as moving text, live links to a character’s Facebook page and music. None of these features were available on my Nook version.)

Upon completion of the novel portion of the book, there is also a short graphic novel from Vivi’s point of view, followed by pages torn from Danielle’s diary. While interesting, I don’t feel they added much to the already completed novel, but just reiterated what the reader already witnessed.

This is a highly recommended book. Run out and get it if you like ghost stories. Or even if you don’t.

Note: I received an ARC of Gift by Andrea J. Buchanan for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway book coverOrdinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Abby’s judging on her twelfth birthday did not go well. In fact, it didn’t even start.

In the world where Abby lives, everyone is magical. Having magical abilities is a given, it’s just a matter of finding out how strong your talents are on judging day and then going off to the right school to be trained properly. Unless you are unlucky enough to be an “ord.” Ords have no magic, not an ounce.

Abby is an ord.

What happens to her now? Before her big sister and the current king, she would face a life of discrimination and servitude. The laws the king recently enacted and the school he just built to teach her and others like her how to function without magic makes a future possible. But she still must battle prejudice among the population, and danger at every turn from magical beings and people who want to use her for their own gain.

Ms. Rubino-Bradway’s world building is sumptuous. Details on the how, the why and the where are masterfully spun. The story has depth without being heavy and I enjoyed the ups and downs Abby faced as she spent her first year at school, away from her very loving family.

The biggest complaint, and it’s not a minor issue, is the obvious need for a thorough copy-editing on this galley. Minor typos can be forgiven, and do slip through in many manuscripts, but this text was literally littered with misplaced words, missing words, added words and other technical bugs that pushed the reader out of the story like a boomerang. Hopefully, given the release date of May, much of this will be resolved when the book hits bookstore shelves. If it isn’t, I wouldn’t recommend spending limit entertainment dollars on this one. Which would be a shame since the author penned a masterful tale.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The last song by eva wiseman coverThe Last Song by Eva Wiseman

Fourteen-year-old Isabel is a pampered young lady of the Spanish gentry in the late 1400s in Inquisition Spain. Raised as a devote Catholic, she has no clue about her family’s dangerous secret.

But as she comes of age, she begins to question some of her parent’s odd habits, such as never serving pork, even though it’s far cheaper than mutton; or bathing before sundown every Friday.

When she is betrothed to a cruel, distasteful man her own age, instead of the promised man of her own choosing, she questions her parents motives even closer. When she accidentally overhears the servants talking, her quick mind begins to piece together the pieces of the puzzle. She confronts her parents who finally reveal the truth. Outwardly, they practice Catholicism, but they really hold to their forebears’ religion – Judaism. Isabel is warned to not reveal this knowledge to a soul because it could mean their lives.

Isabel is unable to keep this dark secret to herself and confides in a newfound friend, the silversmith’s son. The story that unfolds after this confession is one of danger and intrigue. Her life no longer the safe and secure one she believed it to be, Isabel questions everything she has ever known.

I was excited to receive this galley for review since my ancestors come from the very city where the story takes place. My great of greats grandparents might have found themselves in the very same dire situation.

The historical nature of this book is well done. Because of the age group of the readership, I do question some of the more graphic depictions of inhumanity by the Inquisition to the people caught in its vice-like grip. I found some of the scenes to be quite upsetting and scary. Parents of younger pre-teen and early teen readers might want to review the book before giving it to their children as the more sensitive reader may become distressed by such portions.

Outside of the intensity of the imagery, I found the book very engaging, and couldn’t put it down. I do feel as if the character development was lacking and wished there was a deeper understanding of the motivations behind Isabel, her parents and the secondary characters’ actions.  At a little over 200 pages, the book is a fast read. Recommended for braver young teens.

Note: I received an ARC of this book for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe MarriottShadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott

Suzume is an innocent, fourteen year-old when her father and beloved cousin are brutally murdered in front of her by government assassins. In spite of everything, she manages to elude the soldiers as they hunt her down.

Her mother, returning from a trip finds Suzume emotionally distraught but refuses to acknowledge the tragedy and trauma of her courageous daughter. She heads to the home of a family friend who she subsequently marries.

Suzume’s grief turns inward as she tries to make sense of her feelings and new status as an unwelcome step-child.

The servant who helped her escape from the soldiers follows her to her step-father’s home and befriends Suzume. He introduces her to the magical skill of shadow-weaving, an innate power she was born with but has no clue how to use.

Things go all wrong after the birth of her mother’s baby boy. Suzume overhears the truth of her father’s demise. She runs and hides to escape only to have things go from bad to worse along the way. Eventually, she ends up with another shadow-weaver who trains her to become the Shadow Bride, the highest honor a non-royal woman can achieve in the Moonlit Land.

Suzume learns to rely on herself, get over the survivor’s guilt at her narrow escape from death, and in the end learns that there is more to life than avenging a past over which she had no control.

The Moonlit Land, though itself fictional, is a vivid depiction of Japanese and Chinese cultural and historical society. The world building immediately draws the reader into Suzume’s life, as a pampered child, a servant and eventually a courtesan’s sister.

There is a love interest with a visiting foreign dignitary’s son, which bumps this book firmly into the young adult classification but the most intimate scene in the book happens “off-stage.” Because of this, I recommend the book for more mature young teen readers.

This is book is a real nail biter, but I was often left wondering if Suzume would ever move along with her life instead of dwelling on the awful experiences of her past. More than once, I thought she was in serious need of psychiatric care.

The story ends in a true fairytale manner when the poor girl is whisked off by her Prince Charming. The twist to this tried and true plot is much deeper though and leaves the reader satisfied even though yearning to read more of the “happily ever after” part alluded to in the last chapter.

Note: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley for review.

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Review: Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse

Peaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse

Peaceweaver by Rebecca BarnhousePeaceweaver by Rebecca Barnhouse

A well-crafted historical novel based on the epic verse of Beowulf, this book follows a minor character from that tale on her own adventure.

In historic Scandinavia, 16 year-old Hild is a member of Shylfing nobility, niece to the king. As she moves from role of pampered child to take her place in adult society she learns that life is not always what she expects. Her lofty visions of being her uncle’s trusted adviser and stepping into her ill aunt’s place are not to be.

Shortly after her first official appearance in the king’s court, she begins having visions. Only these visions do more than just invade her mind, they take over her body completely. In a vision-induced rage, she kills a visiting ambassador. She “knew” he was going to murder the king’s only son and heir. She expects to be rewarded.

But the king’s skald, a holy man and adviser, declares she is controlled by evil spirits and recommends expelling her from the village.

The king decides to send her to a far away tribe as a peaceweaver and wife to the about-to-be-crowned Beowulf.

She journeys with several of her uncle’s warriors, and her slave-nanny across the dangerous wilderness to her new home. Along the way she will need all her cunning, the violent visions she learns to control, and to come to terms with the prejudices of her upbringing against the people she is sent to become queen over, to realize just what a gift losing everything she’s ever known and held dear will turn out to be.

I like well-wrought historical fiction. I truly enjoyed this book. My only compliant is that the reader needs to have either read Ms. Barnhouse’s previous book or know the original Beowulf verses to really understand the storyline. Some of the sections of the book will leave readers without background at a loss as to what is going on.

I recommend this book for readers13 years old and up.

Note: I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley for review.

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Review: The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

Young Roo is an expert hider. In fact, she prefers to be hidden and listening to the whispers of the earth around her.

When her parents are killed in a drug deal gone bad Roo is taking into foster care soon to be sent on to an uncle she didn’t know she had. This uncle lives the life of a recluse on an island only accessible via boat. The island, and the house on it, used to be a children’s hospital and stories of dying children and their ghosts might scare a girl whose life hadn’t been as difficult as Roo’s, but she is in her element.

In her explorations of the house and the island she discovers secrets she’s not meant to share in. All the while, fear she will be sent back to foster care hovers in the background. She doesn’t let that deter her, though, and hunts for answers to the questions her discoveries raise.

The story is well crafted with more than a passing nod to the classic tale “A Secret Garden.” Anyone who is at all familiar with the original story will see the similarities almost immediately. True to the Secret Garden, her interference with the status quo brings about miraculous changes to all involved. However, Ms. Potter has crafted a well-wrought tale that is original and unique even with the similarities.

My only complaint is that the ending felt forced and rushed. It was a too neat, tied up with a bow finale, to leave me completely satisfied with the book.

Note: I received an ARC of The Humming Room by Ellen Potter for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Centauriad #1: Daughter of the Centaurs by K.K. Ross

Daughter of the Centaurs by K.K. Ross(for ages 12 and up)

Twelve-year-old Malora is one of a small tribe of people. In the far future, humans are nearly extinct. Yet they eke a meager living from the brutal plains where they live. Much of their heritage becomes forgotten or lost in the struggle to survive.

Though they live a rough life without technology, books or many of the modern comforts we take for granted, life is good, until a flock of viscous birds attacks the men returning from a hunting trip.

Young Malora witnesses the atrocity, which plunges her community into chaos. Things go from bad to worse when the predators return and attack the village again and again.

Malora’s mother sends her out alone into the plains during one such attack, after requiring her promise never to return. Malora is on her own except for her father’s favorite horse, Sky. She does her best to keep herself and the horse safe alone in the wild.

Malora can’t keep her promise and, in time is drawn back to the village. What she finds plunges her into despair. While she’s dealing with this emotional blow, she is attacked and captured by Centaurs.

The Centaurs are the civilized beings in this future, at least on the surface. Malora goes from captive to a friend of sorts on the journey back to the centaurs’ city.

Ms. Ross does a remarkable job of world building with this novel. Even though the history of how the humans became almost extinct, and the centaurs became the dominant species is far-fetched, I found the story line believable. The story drew me in and I found myself alternating between cheering for Malora and wondering why she didn’t run away.

The inconsistency of the prose did detract from the story. The narration felt as if there was more than one author. Parts of the story were confusing, and in several instances, I found myself going back several pages to clarify the action.

The inconsistency was minor until the last few chapters where it grew pronounced enough I almost put the book down. I found the conclusion to the story rushed. The final pages wrap up the book quickly, in the process creating gaping holes in logic. Since the book seems to be the initial offering in a series, perhaps the questions left unanswered here will be address in future books.

Note: I received an ARC copy of this book through NetGalley.

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Spindles End by Robin McKinley

Think Sleeping Beauty on steroids.

I enjoyed this bookISBN 978-0399234668, although I was tempted at times to put it down because of overwritten prose. There was so much back story explaining the upcoming action that I often found myself thinking enough already – get to the action.

In spite of the slow spots, the author weaves an interesting take on the classical Sleeping Beauty fairytale and does an admirable job of world building. The twist ending felt a bit forced which took away from its satisfaction. It would be fair to say I couldn’t put this book down.

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MG Book Review: The Unicorn’s Tale

MG Book Review: The Unicorn’s Tale (Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist, Book 4) by R. L. LaFevers (Author), Kelly Murphy (Illustrator)

This book will be released in April 2011. I received an electronic copy from the publisher for review.

I have not read the first three books of the series so I’m coming into the story in the middle. In spite of that, I was able to make sense of most of the story. There are some blank spots, which may be covered in earlier books, but they didn’t detract from my being able to follow the story in this book.

Young Nathaniel is a beastologist in training. In fact, he is the youngest one of them all. It’s something his family has done for generations. Only, his parents are missing and he’s stuck with his aunt while she ministers to the world’s mystical beasts instead of helping him find his parents. On top of that, the evil Obediah Fludd may know where they are, and he’s the last person Nathaniel wants to run into.

When the rare unicorn falls mysteriously ill, he and his aunt have to go to her and play doctor. But things get bad when Obediah shows up and tries to trade Nathaniel’s parents for the beast’s.

This book was an easy read, even taking into account it’s meant for a younger audience. The story doesn’t have a lot of depth. It focuses on the main story line almost exclusively except for the occasional mention of the missing parents.

When I first saw the art, I found it equally simplistic. However, after scrutinizing several plates for a while, I decided it was quite masterfully done.

I enjoyed the story, but not enough to search out the other volumes in the series.

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YA Book Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pierce

I received an ARC of this book as a prize. The subject matter is not one I’d search out on my own. I am just not that into werewolves, vampires and other creepy soulless things. That aside, this book kept me up late reading it.

Scarlett and Rosie March are sisters, Scarlett being the elder of the two. Seven years ago, they were attacked by a werewolf (Fenris), leaving their grandmother dead and Scarlett horribly scarred from her fight to save her little sister from the monster.

Scarlett takes it upon herself to save the world from these beasts, once men, who prey upon young and pretty women. Worse than your average creep who takes advantage of the young and innocent, these Fenris devour their hapless victims. Scarlett lives, eats and breaths for the hunt. And she expects her baby sister and best friend to follow in her wake.

I found the writing to be very flowery and well crafted. Perhaps it is too perfect, given the dark nature of the story. I enjoyed reading the flowing passages of description, but as a writer, I was more aware of them than I should have been. I like writing constructed to draw me in completely without noticing the craft itself. The chapters switch back and forth between the sisters, which at times, I found a bit confusing and had to check the beginning of each chapter to make sure I understood who was talking at the moment.

There were a few too many teenage angsty longing for the boy passages for my tastes as well, but the relationship wrap up was satisfying by the end of the story.

If you are looking for a retelling of the classic Red Riding Hood story, this isn’t it. The story is true to the current paranormal fad. It does stand well on its own, so fans of the current fashion will undoubtedly enjoy it, but I’m getting a bit tired of the creepy factor myself.