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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: Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger

Prescious Bones book coverWritten in first person, Precious Bones (called Bones) tells her story of growing up in the swamps of Florida in the early 20th century.

Cars, telephones and even electricity are a bit of a luxury in this corner of the world. But that doesn’t bother Bones in the least. She has enough to eat and a loving mama and papa. Her backyard is the Florida Everglades.

Life is far from ideal, but Bones is satisfied with things being just the way they are. The lazy days of summer stretch out in front of her, and for a 10-year old like her, that’s about as perfect as things can get.

Until a real estate developer turns up dead near her father’s land. And if that wasn’t enough, a nasty neighbor is soon to follow, his body is discovered on the railroad tracks. The law accuses her father of committing the murders.

Bones is thrown into confusion and self-doubt. She doesn’t think her father could do such horrible things. Could he?

A historical setting, a cast of characters both good and bad, and a young girl finding out that the world isn’t as simple as she thought set the tone for this murder mystery.

Written for the pre-teen, I recommend this book to just about everyone who likes a good whodunit. Quick and fun read with just enough tension to keep readers on the edge of their seat without being really scary.

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

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Review: Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Dust Girl book coverDust Girl is set in Depression era Kansas during the height of the Dust Bowl. Callie LeRoux lives in Slow Run with her mother. All her life she’s hidden her heritage. But its even more of a secret than she knows.

Callie’s health is at risk because of the constant dust storms but her mother refuses to leave the hotel she manages with Callie’s help. Callie watches as neighbor after neighbor abandon the town in search of a safer life.

One day her mother disappears during a dust storm. During Callie’s panicked search for her mother she encounters a strange hobo who tells her things about herself and her mysterious father that set her head spinning. He points her in the direction of California as the place to find her parents.

Getting to California with no money and no help is a huge undertaking. Callie won’t give up. She has to find her parents. She meets a hobo her own age named Jack, and together they take on the storm ravage country-side, hunger and prejudice as they head west.

In one town they meet a strange pair of musicians and Callie learns that not only is her mysterious father a dark-skinned singer, he’s also Fae royalty. Which means so is she.

The warring factions of the fairy world all want Callie for their own hidden agendas. It’s up to Callie to figure it all out and keep herself and Jack alive.

The historical setting for this book is quite realistic. Descriptions of dust storm and portals between worlds are so well done, the reader feels as if she’s right there.

This is the first book of a trilogy and while the wrap-up is concise, it leaves the reader wide open to jump on the sequel book as soon as possible. Not all of Callie’s questions are answered, she and Jack have still a long way to go to reach California, and what of Callie’s fairy family? Can she trust any of them?

Good book for pre-teens and teens who like lots of action, magic and evil fairies.

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

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Review: Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Candlewax book cover 9780983987703Candlewax by C Bailey Sims

Princess Catherine of Lackaney, the heroine of this fantasy tale, has a typical dilemma. Her parents have betrothed her to a king of the foreign kingdom, Candlewax, without her consent. So she does what every self-respecting princess in a similar situation does. She runs away from home.

But that’s where the clichéd storyline veers from the tried and true path of runaway princesses.

Catherine meets a beast of myth, a farrier cat named Spelopokos (Pokos for short), who informs her that she is “the Catherine” of legend who will save the kingdom from the evil trodliks, vermin that eat everything in their path.

A necklace she received from her grandmother marks her as the person of prophecy. Pokos is the last farrier cat in Lackaney. The farrier cats are the only thing keeping the trodliks at bay. Pokos needs a mate, and Catherine is drafted to help him find one. They have to leave Lackaney, cross through Candlewax and pass through an enchanted gateway into a forbidden land. Her necklace is really an object of power. Both its value and Catherine’s own true history have been kept from her. She doesn’t know what to believe or who to trust as everything she’s known crashes down around her.

This book has a good dose of magical elements, and for the reader who adores Medieval settings, the world building is top-notch. Good guys turn out to be villainous and the one person she ran away to avoid turns out to be the very person who supports her the most in fulfilling the prophecy and rescue of the kingdom.

But don’t let the idea of a Knight in Shining Armor rear its ugly head. Catherine is the savior in this tale and the knight her trusty sidekick. She does the heavy lifting and in the end its her wits that enable a happy ending.

There were a few places where action was lacking, but for the most part the premise was interesting and original enough to keep me reading. I did have trouble muddling through the first chapters before the originality of the plot had me hooked, but after that, I couldn’t put the book down.

This is a great read for an older teen, especially one interested in strong female characters.

Note: I received an ARC of Candlewax by C Bailey Sims for review from NetGalley.

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Review: Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan

Chengli and the Silk Road Caravan coverChengli and the Silk Road Caravan by Hildi Kang takes place in ancient China. Historical details add an intriguing layer to this coming of age story of a young orphan boy as he sets out on a dangerous journey to find his roots.

Chengli never knew his father, his mother died when he was very young, leaving him to be raised by a household cook. But Chengli feels pulled by the desert winds to head off to parts unknown in search of the truth about his father, and in a way, himself.

He leaves the safety of his servant life and charms his way into a caravan heading into the desert, hiring on as a camel and donkey drover. A boy his own age befriends him as the caravan makes its way out past the Great Wall into the vast emptiness beyond.

An imperial princess being escorted to her husband by the caravan soon demands Chengli attend her. He does his best, and learns the craft of negotiation from his new friend. But things are not all they seem. Intrigues abound. Chengli must decide between friendship, honor, duty and mere survival along the way.

The story is masterfully written. The plot takes unexpected turns that add to character growth and keep the reader glued to the book. And always in the back of Chengli’s mind (and the reader’s) is finding someone who can tell him about his father.

At the end, Chengli discovers who he really is, and manages to do so with his honor, integrity and limbs intact.

A thrilling read for a pre-teen or young teen.

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

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Review: Echo Nouveau by Echo Chernik

Echo Nouveau by Echo Chernik

Echo Nouveau by Echo ChernikEcho Nouveau by Echo Chernik

I have been a long time fan of Ms. Chernik’s detailed Art Nouveau style work. When I heard she was releasing an autobiographical book, I had to have a copy.

Much of the work included is already available to be viewed on her website or her social networking sites, but what really makes me drool is the detail in the work I can observe on the printed page that just is lost when viewing a low resolution web image. The book is a tall 12” x 8”. The single-page, full-color plates are large enough to be able to see tiny details in the art, something that is often lost when the images are smaller.

That alone would have made the book worth the purchase for me. But there’s more.

Also included are tips on working in the industry, breaking in to licensing, dealing with different types of clients and Echo’s sketches, photo reference and insider looks into her working process and career development.

The final page is a FAQ that sums up questions readers might have not covered in other portions of the book.

A great coffee table book for Art Nouveau aficionados and a great reference book for artists looking for some insight into how successful contemporary artist’s career has progressed.

Note: I purchased this book for my personal library. I have known Echo on-line for over a decade.



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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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The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals by Florence Mégemont

metagemscryst1.jpg The Metaphysical Book of Gems and Crystals
ISBN 159477214-2 (ISBN13 978-159477214-6) 312 pages
Healing Arts Press (Inner Traditions)

This book is beautifully presented with full color images of each crystal or gem on its own description page. The book is divided into three sections. Part one lists chemical composition, color, principle deposits, hardness and density immediately under the image. Following that are brief paragraphs with bold headings of ‘Etymology and General Description,’ ‘Therapeutic Uses,’ and lastly, ‘Zodiac Correspondences.’ These listings are generally between two and three pages. Some include additional images of the rock being discussed. This section makes up the bulk of the book. Also in this section are chapters on the use of, and care of crystals.

Part Two is devoted to correspondences of the charkas, colors or zodiac. Part three is devoted to the treatment of specific conditions be they physical, emotional or spiritual.

For the most part I found the images, although beautifully presented, useless. Some show raw crystal, some show finished stones and others are very tight shots of the striations of the stones, more like modern art than useful in identifying that particular specimen.

Some entries contained contradictory information. For example in alabaster under therapeutic uses one paragraph says “The calcium contained in alabaster would be as effective as talcum, but because it’s often impure and can contain other, more toxic substances, it’s better not to use it.” In the paragraph immediately following, powdered alabaster, diluted in water, is recommend as a daily dosage for a week to relieve mood swings.

I found the book difficult to use unless one is already familiar with each stone or gem. Part three lists each entry by condition rather than by stone, so if you have a stone but don’t know what its particular uses are, you need to read each entry to see if your stone shows up under a particular condition.

The portion of the book devoted to charkas was interesting, as were the color language and zodiac entries but at almost $25 for this book, aren’t enough to justify the expense of a purchase.