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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 Green Man by Michael Bedard

The Green Man by Michael Bedard

The Green Man by Michael Bedard coverThe Green Man by Michael Bedard

Ophelia (but please, only call her O) needs to spend the summer with her aunt when her father travels to Italy on business. Her aunt, Emily, is a poet and O wonders if she’s more than a bit crazy.  It’s important because O is drawn to write poems, herself, and she doesn’t want to go round the bend if that’s what happens to writers. Especially, poets.

When O arrives in Caledon she begins to wonder who is really taking care of who. Her aunt has let things slide because of a heart attack and the used bookstore, the Green Man, she owns, and resides above is in a sorry state. O decides it’s up to her to bring the shop back from the brink of disaster.

She sets about cleaning up the mess and the dust in the bookstore, apartment and her aunt’s life. Along the way a mysterious boy captures her fancy, and she meets some of her aunt’s old friends and learns a great deal she never knew about her aunt. An unexpected windfall might be just the thing to turn her aunt’s fortunes around. Or isn’t it?

But there’s more to it than that. There’s magic afoot, and ghosts, and an evil entity out to do her aunt harm. At least according to the memories Emily shares with her. And what about those disturbing dreams? O doesn’t know what to believe. In the end she decides belief is irrelevant and doing what needs to be done is what’s really important.

This book is an enjoyable and easy read. I did find there to be a lack of depth with the supporting character development. There are also several loose ends with secondary plots that leave the reader with unanswered questions at the end of the book. On the whole they didn’t bother me, but I would have liked them wrapped up in another chapter or two because for me the book felt “unfinished.”

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: The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera HiranandaniThe Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani

I seriously fell in love with this book.

Sonia Nadhamuni, half Indian and half Jewish American, learns at the end of 5th grade that her father has lost his job. Because of this she will start 6th grade next year in public school instead of the private one she’s always attended.

She wishes summer would never end, but inevitably it does.

Along with the usual challenges of being the new kid at a new school, Sonia faces disturbing changes in her home life as her father slips into clinical depression and her mother work longer and longer hours to make ends meet.

Sonia discovers things taken for granted at her old school, are questioned in her new one. She struggles to figure out where she belongs; with Kate and the in crowd, who all dress the same way; or with Alisha who is writing a love story and thinks Sonia is cool the way she is. And what of her relationship with her best friend, Sam, who still goes to the old school?

Sonia throws herself into her new social situation while trying to ignore the worrying changes at home. When her father disappears, she is forced to confront all these thoughts and fears to figure out who she is as a friend, a daughter, and a person.

The story, written in first person, pulled me into Sonia’s world almost immediately. I really cared about what was happening to her, and was rooting for her to find her balance at each new challenge and identity search.

A great book for preteens.

Note: I received The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani as an ARC from NetGalley.

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Review: A Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer and Julia Cairns

Review: A Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer and Julia Cairns

A Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer and Julia CairnsA Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer and Julia Cairns

In a series of short poems the reader is taken around the world to see how children in many cultures celebrate the full moon.

The text is slightly disjointed if the reader is expecting a story with a beginning, middle and end, but taken one poem at a time there is a pleasantness in the vistas explored.

The artwork is colorful, evoking a Grandma Moses-like naive quality.

The book was a quick read and I enjoyed seeing how the different cultures were portrayed.

I recommend this title to people with children who they want to start a dialogue with about either full moon celebrations or other cultures.

Note: I received an ARC copy of  A Full Moon is Rising by Marilyn Singer and Julia Cairns through NetGalley.

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Review: The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen

I’m a long time fan of Ms. Yolen’s picture books. I was excited to be able to review this graphic novel.

In this story,the dragons are ancient history and extinct. Or so the residents of Meddlesome thought until livestock and people start disappearing from the town. Then the dragon is sighted. The town’s people do what they can to protect themselves from the vicious beast, but decide what they really need is a hero to rid them of the huge lizard.

Three young boys head out of town in search of this hero, but their search has an unexpected result.

In the end, this man against dragon tale concludes in the usual manner.

I was mesmerized by the detailed, old-world quality of the artwork and recommend the book on the strength of that alone. The story was a bit choppy in places, and I found the transitions between scenes to be slightly jarring more than once. I feel as if the text portion of the book could have benefited from more details and dialogue.

The book is a short 144 pages and an entertaining quick read. If you are into beautiful illustrations or have a hankering for another evil dragon story, this is a good choice.

Note: I received an ARC copy of this book through 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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YA book review — The Keening by A. LaFaye

The Keening by A. LaFaye15 year old Lyza loves her small reclusive family. Her mother is estranged from her family and her father is thought to be insane. Lyza does what any girl does, she studies, she has a part time job and she wonders about her future.

The story takes place in a small coastal village during the 1918 influenza epidemic. Funeral parades past Lyza’s family home are a daily occurrence. When her mother falls fatally ill with the disease, Lyza begins a quest to save her father from the people who wish to place him in a work house for the mentally insane. Along the way, she discovers she is more like her parents than she ever realized.

I love a good historical novel. Learning about real events while immersed in a fictional novel adds another layer of depth to story which makes history tantalizing accessible to me as a reader. As a fictional novel, this one falls far short.

The premise of this novel is unique and unusual. I had high hopes for an action packed and suspense-filled adventure. Here, too, I was disappointed. Lyza spends a majority of the book immersed in her own thoughts. Very little actually happens, action-wise.

The author was aiming for a dream-like quality in her prose, which she was successful in achieving. However, I feel the novel suffered for it. I would have liked to see a better balance between the inner and outer Lyza as she discovers her place in the world with the advent of her beloved mother’s untimely death.

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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.