Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Synopsis: Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free. Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear. It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do. But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy. There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself. (from the online description)

Review: With a deft hand, Sabaa Tahir plunges the reader into a strange, harsh, and unforgiving world, where the mighty Martial Empire swept over the Scholar’s country and took them captive. Now, 500 years later, the Scholars live in poverty, as menial labors, or slaves, to the dominate Martial. But the Scholars haven’t forgotten their roots and seek to rise against their oppressors and free themselves.
Laia, born in a Scholar family, knows all too well the might of Martial law. Her family has suffered much under them. But her family was strong, courageous – and she is not. But she will need to be if she is to save the last member.
Elias is a Golden Son of the Martial Empire, seemingly the brightest and best – but he has a dark secret. One that will get him killed if he isn’t careful.
Through twisted circumstances, Laia and Elias cross paths, each changing the other irrevocably.
World-Building: Tahir’s world reminds the reader of Roman, if Rome had guns and magical creatures like Djinn. Without being heavy-handed, the author pulls the reader in and gives clear picture of the culture and customs.
Characters: Each character goes through realistic growth, albeit with the normal angst and if-you-just-talked-the-problem-would-be-solved issues normally found in your YA novels. The PoV shifts between Laia and Elias and Tahir did an excellent job of making them sound different.
Plot: Fast-paced, never a dull-moment. Several times things happened that were mildly unrealistic, obviously used to move the plot forward, but nothing egregious. It certainly didn’t hinder my read-it-all-in-one sitting drive.
Overall, this is a better example of the YA novels available and worth reading. 

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: People's Choice Awards: Best Fantasy, 2016 /  Amazon's Best Young Adult Books, 2015 / Indigo Best Books of 2015 / Suspense Magazine, Best Books of 2015 / NYPL Best Books for Teens, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59514-804-9
Year Published: 2015
Date Finished: 11-3-2017
Pages: 446

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: Cloaked in Red by Vivian Vande Velde

Synopsis: So you think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the girl with the unfortunate name and the inability to tell the difference between her grandmother and a member of a different species? Well, then, try your hand at answering these questions: Which character (not including Little Red herself) is the most fashion challenged? Who (not including the wolf) is the scariest? Who (not including Granny) is the most easily scared? Who is the strangest? (Notice we’re not “not including” anyone, because they’re all a little off.) Who (no fair saying “the author”) has stuffing for brains? Vivian Vande Velde has taken eight new looks at one of the world’s most beloved (and mixed-up) stories. You may never look at fairy tales in quite the same way again. (from the online description)

Review: This is a collection of 8 version of Little Red Riding Hood, all written by the author.  In subject and plot, the stories have marked differences. But in prose and syntax, they are drearily similar. It is simple, suitable for a reader of the elementary level.
The Red Cloak: The main character learns to have a bit of courage. Cute and sweet.
The Red Riding Hood Doll: Weird. I have no idea what the point was.
Little Red Riding Hood's Family: My favorite! Lots of fairy tale and paranormal characters show up. It’s entertaining.
Granny and the Wolf: The wolf is more like a puppy dog and I’m a sucker for a puppy dog!
Deems the Wood Gatherer: Strange and disturbing and not in a good way.
Why Willy and His Brother Won't Ever Amount to Anything: Amusing , particular if you like other fairy tale. The “twist” at the end was good.
The Little Red Headache: The wolf tries to help, only to have much trouble for his pains.
Little Red Riding Hood's Little Red Riding Hood: This one has the cloak at the main character, and the ending was witty.
Overall, the good stories weren’t enough to make this collection more than just a bland collection. Sad, really, as her similar treatment of Rumplestiltskin was excellent. 

Bookmarks: 

The Red Cloak: 3.5/5
The Red Riding Hood Doll: 2/5
Little Red Riding Hood's Family: 4/5
Granny and the Wolf: 4/5
Deems the Wood Gatherer: 3/5
Why Willy and His Brother Won't Ever Amount to Anything: 3/5
The Little Red Headache: 3/5
Little Red Riding Hood's Little Red Riding Hood: 3/5

Over All: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-7614-5793-0
Year Published: 2010
Date Finished: 11-1-2017
Pages: 127

Review: The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker

Synopsis: In the early hours of the morning a young lawyer is called to the home of a beautiful woman he has just met, where her archaeologist father lies in a coma, the victim of a mysterious attack. The injured man is discovered to be dabbling in ritual magic in an attempt to raise an ancient Egyptian queen from the dead. As the hour of his great experiment approaches, a deadly supernatural struggle begins. (from the online descriptions)

Review: Considered the bases for the classical Mummy myth, this short novella by Bram Stoker takes advantage of the Egypt-mania that swarmed the Western world in the later parts of the 1800s. Told from the view point of the young lawyer, Malcolm Ross, it concerns the collection of the rich but eccentric Abel Trelawny and his daughter, Margaret – and the mummy of an Egyptian Queen…..
This has all the proper themes of a Victorian Gothic story – the morally-pure virgin, the stalwart young man, the mad scientists, the doctor, the creepy house, the blood in the night, shadows and ghosts, and mysteries of the past coming to haunt the present.
Stoker gave much detail about Egypt, and it was clear he did his research before adding in his own fantastical elements. It also contains Stoker’s trademark foreboding imagery and gothic prose. It’s a fine tale for a dark and creepy night.
But, it’s also a bit slow at times, some of the action or events are never really explained, and the ending – well, my big issue is the ending. It’s ambiguous exactly what went wrong and why the Great Experiment ended in death. Perhaps is it my modern mind, but I would have preferred a bit more explanation

Bookmarks: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-486-47469-7
Year Published: 1904 (Mine is a 2009 Edition)
Date Finished: 10-31-2017
Pages: 188

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: IT by Stephen King

Synopsis: Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real. They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers. (from the online description) 

Review: Thanks to this book, I now cast a wary eye towards drains and sewers, and I never ever go near clowns. Seriously, scary AF.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: TBD

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4297
Year Published: 1980
Date Finished: 10-25-2017
Pages: 1156

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Synopsis: In Ban This Book by Alan Gratz, a fourth grader fights back when From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg is challenged by a well-meaning parent and taken off the shelves of her school library. Amy Anne is shy and soft-spoken, but don’t mess with her when it comes to her favorite book in the whole world. Amy Anne and her lieutenants wage a battle for the books that will make you laugh and pump your fists as they start a secret banned books locker library, make up ridiculous reasons to ban every single book in the library to make a point, and take a stand against censorship. Ban This Book is a stirring defense against censorship that’s perfect for middle grade readers. Let kids know that they can make a difference in their schools, communities, and lives! (from the online description)

Review: This book! This book! Oh heavens – okay, so told from the first person pov of Amy Anne, an avid 9-year-old bibliophile, this books explores what makes us ourselves, where we find courage, and mostly, what censorship is and how it works.
When her favorite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg) is banned from her school library, Amy Anne is cut to the heart. Why would someone ban her favorite book?
With a little digging and some help from her friends, Amy Anne learns than many books are banned, books that she loves, that others love. And she makes a choice – she’s going to run a Banned Book Library from her locker, freely giving out books, sharing her love of reading, with her classmates.
But this takes courage – what if she gets caught? And as more books disappear from the library shelves, Amy Anne has to decide if she can overcome her fear to speak out against this wrong.
Although meant for late-elementary, early middle-school reader, this book will appeal to all ages. If you are looking to explain censorship to young readers, this book is an excellent way to help them understand.
Note for Parents: Sex is mentioned (in relationship to why some books are banned, in particular, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume). While censorship is explained, the book also encourage parental involvement and activie engagement in the reading life of their kids, essentially saying that parents should be the one to guide their child’s reading.
I will recommend this book to kids and adults alike. 

Note: As part of LibraryThing's Early Review Program, I received this book free in exchange for my fair and honest opinion.

Bookmarks: 4.5 of 5

Awards: None (Yet)

ISBN: 978-0-7653-8556-7
Year Published: 2017
Date Finished: 10-9-2017
Pages: 255

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell by G. M. Berrow (A My Little Pony Book)

Synopsis: Twilight Sparkle is a very special Pony and a loyal apprentice of Princess Celestia. Twilight Sparkle's life has been turned upside down by recent exciting events in Ponyville, so she sets off for the Crystal Empire to get advice from her former foalsitter, Princess Cadance. Join Twilight Sparkle in this original and brand-new adventure!
Don't miss the special purple activity pages in the back of the book! (from the online description)

Review: This book is written with a young reader (K-4th, maybe) in mind, not for an adult such as myself. But, I’ve been a MLP fan since I was young enough to read this, and T-Spark is my favorite.
This reads just like an episode of the show – cute, sweet, with a dash of adventure and mystery, and of course, Friendship is always the answer. I felt this was nearly direct re-hash of at least one episode of the show (evil object turns pony against others) which was disappointing.
The real reason to read it is the backstory for Princess Cadence. Not sure if these books are considered Canon or not, but if so, it is worth it for that alone. However, it raised more questions than it answers about the origins of Alicorns, particularly consider that Cadence’s daughter, Flurry Heart, was born one.
While I will eventually want the entire collection, I’m not running out this moment to buy the rest of the series. This is a good easy read, suited for young MLP fans to practice their reading skills with. But for older collectors, this book might disappoint as far as substance. 

Bookmarks: 3 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-316-22819-0
Year Published: 2013
Date Finished: 10-7-2017
Pages: 131

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: The Snow Queen by Mercedes Lackey

Synopsis: Aleksia, Queen of the Northern Lights, is mysterious, beautiful and widely known to have a heart of ice. No one would seek her wisdom except as a last resort. But when she's falsely accused of unleashing evil on nearby villages, she realizes there's an impostor out there far more heartless than she could ever be. And when a young warrior following the Tradition disappears, leaving his sweetheart and mother to fear the worst, Aleksia's powers are needed as never before.  Now, on a journey through a realm of perpetual winter, it will take all her skills, a mother's faith and a little magic to face down an enemy more formidable than any she has ever known.… (from the online description)

Review: Once again, I was enchanted and delighted to read Lackey’s retold fairy tales, set in the Five Hundred Kingdoms. This one, in particular, involve three women who must gather their wits, find courage, and trust friendship, all to save the people they love and the people they are sworn to protect.
With a lovely Russian tone, Lackey gives us strong, well-developed characters, living in a world of rare and dangerous magic, and sets them on a journey in a fast-paced plot with lots of action and suspense.  Our Fairy Godmother, Aleksia, who often plays the “Snow Queen” in the Tradition (usually to the benefit of those she encounters) must leave her Ice Palace and trek across the frozen tundra to find the person who is  killing entire villages in her name. She will cross paths with heroes and witches, good-hearted girls, and frozen gods, and she will be forced to face her inner trials even as she struggles to turn the magic from evil to good.
For anyone with a love of fairy tales, particularly those of Russian origins, and who wants to read a story with strong female characters, this is your book!

Bookmarks: 4 of 5

Awards: None

ISBN: 978-0-373-80294-4
Year Published: 2008
Date Finished: 9-30-2017
Pages: 408