Friday, October 19, 2018

FIRE STUDY


Review of FIRE STUDY by MARIA V. SNYDER
(third in the STUDY trilogy)

I re-read this entire trilogy and found, unexpectedly, that the first two books exceeded my memory of them. However, this third one, in contrast, didn’t quite live up to my memory.

The flaws are more vague than specific and are probably best described as a lack of polish. I think the heart of the story, the core characters, and so forth are all good and enjoyable, but a lot of the specifics fell short. As one example, I often struggled understanding motivations of villains and heroines alike. As a character-centric reader, the plot loses much of my investment if I cannot understand the character motivation behind why events are unfolding as they are.

To back up, let me describe the premise of this final installment (spoilers for earlier books included). At the end of book two, Cahil, devastated upon learning he is not the lost prince he believed himself to be, frees and flees with Ferde, the vicious Soulstealer who has already taken the lives of many innocents in a particularly cruel and slow manner.

FIRE STUDY concludes the plot-driven, fast paced STUDY trilogy. Above all, I will remember Yelena as someone who never makes the easy choice.

Friday, October 12, 2018

THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE


Review of THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE by AVI

I last read this book back in sixth grade and remember my mind boggling at everything Charlotte experiences. I consider this one of my formative feminist reads as I remember having thoughts like, “A girl can do that? A girl can have adventures like that?” To my sixth grade brain, this was a boy adventure book featuring a girl, and that was both revolutionary and worthy of my complete adoration. I’m pleased to say that the book holds up on a re-read in later life, though my enthusiasm is mildly tampered only by having much more life experience now. This may have been one of my first feminist reads after all, but it was certainly not the last.

Set in 1832, the story follows thirteen-year-old Charlotte, sent to meet her parents across the Atlantic Ocean via ship. It was expected she would have companions her own age and station, but due to unforeseen circumstances she winds up travelling alone. Luckily, the charming captain promptly befriends her and promises to look out not only for her safety but also her comfort during this rigorous journey. So you can imagine Charlotte’s confusion when one of the crew starts warning her against the captain and then her further alarm at hearing whispers about mutiny.

The book is much shorter than I remember, but then again I did read it when I was younger. Then and now, it amazes me how much is packed into such a small book. At times, the older me did want more development, of the characters, the relationships, but I also recognize the book is probably perfect as is for the middle reader target audience.

I’m a bit nervous about re-reading old favorites, concerned I might actually dislike books I adored and considered formative. THE TRUE CONFESSIONS OF CHARLOTTE DOYLE holds up as worthy of the high place it held in my memory for so long.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

CRUCIBLE OF GOLD


Review of CRUCIBLE OF GOLD by NAOMI NOVIK
(seventh in the TEMERAIRE series, based on a review copy)

This installment in one of my favorite fantasy series finds the dragon Temeraire and his human companion Lawrence stranded among Incan islands in South America. Since the Incans are considering an alliance with Napoleon, this proves...problematic. However, courtesy of their unyielding moral compass, Temeraire and Lawrence frame this as an opportunity, to perhaps sway the Incans away from a French alliance.

I love the growing cast of dragon characters and that the dragons have an equal role in the story as the humans. In fact, one of my other favorite aspects is how the different settings of each book explore the difference in dragon treatment based on each culture. Some revere the dragons like gods while others control them like slaves.

I will never tire of the dragon banter, both amongst themselves and with the humans. Temeraire is a lovable blend of majestic and juvenile. His petty squabbles with Iskierka, usually over who has the most treasure or is best looking out for their human, never cease to amuse me. Temeraire can be equally worked up that Lawrence’s jacket is in tatters as he is regarding political debates. Novik has brought decorum to dragons, crafting a unique interpretation of these vain, materialistic, noble creatures.

This is one of those series I hope will never end, although I believe it already has and that I only have two books left before the end. Oh, well. Temeraire will live on in my heart long after I finish the last word.
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Friday, September 28, 2018

TOLETIS


Review of TOLETIS by RAFA RUIZ
(based on a review copy)

I enjoyed this slim, illustrated middle reader novel far more than I expected. In all honesty, the publisher sent me this book along with another than I had specifically requested. I had no qualms about trying it, but wasn’t expecting it would align with my tastes and found myself surprised when I enjoyed this one even more than the one I requested.

The story follows young Toletis, each chapter focusing on a significant moment in his life, and united more by theme than overt storyline, the theme being, foremost, environmental battles.

I really liked Toletis, and his friends. They’re mature, but not unbelievable; I’ve met countless children who surprise me with wisdom beyond their years. The story also has an appealing dreamy tone, a tall tale feel with folkloric hyperbole and metaphor.


TOLETIS juxtaposes the hope of the young against the cynicism of those older, and in so doing manages to instill some of that youthful hope in its readers.

Friday, September 21, 2018

THE FAIRY BIBLE


Review of THE FAIRY BIBLE by TERESA MOOREY

This book is a must for any fairy addict. It could as well be called The Encyclopedia of Fairies for that’s what it feels like: a half page to two pages each devoted to numerous types of and lore regarding the fey.

I will say that the approach, with regards to the tone, was a little too spiritual for me, but perhaps better explains the choice of Bible over Encyclopedia in the title. I genuinely couldn’t tell if the style was a gimmick or sincere, but the book is written with the understanding that fairies are real. It speaks of science closing our minds to magic and includes specific rituals for summoning fairies or finding fairyland. Numerous times, the book refers to itself more as a “field guide,” to be utilized during one’s search for fairies. While leaning towards the notion that this approach is more tongue in cheek (but not entirely convinced), I regardless find it annoying and distracting. I would have much preferred an objective overview of fairy folklore, something presented with analysis but minimal speculative judgment, more like an anthropologist’s approach.

It’s also sometimes a stretch what they call a fairy, but for me that wasn’t a problem; I’m interested in pretty much of every branch of mythology, folklore, etc. I don’t consider a valkyrie part of the fey, though, for example. 

This book is perfect for reading in little snippets given the brief sections focused on one specific topic. And, of course, you can easily read it out of order.  

Friday, September 14, 2018

CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY


Review of CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY by AHLAM BSHARAT
(based on a review copy)

This novel follows teenage Butterfly through typical adolescent issues shadowed by darker themes of political tension and occupation in the Middle East.

Butterfly’s voice is amazing, distinctive and convincing. I found myself glued to the page, because I could almost imagine Butterfly herself telling me all this, the flow a cross between conversational and storytelling.

At under 100 pages, the book felt underdeveloped to me. I enjoyed it, but felt it ended as soon as it began. The story made me feel, but didn’t have has much plot structure as I wanted. Also much more info is relayed through subtext than stated explicitly, which left me feeling this book benefits most from a very close reading.

Though CODE NAME: BUTTERFLY left me wanting more, Butterfly’s voice stands out among the wealth of complex themes packed so tightly into such a slim novel.

Friday, September 7, 2018

NO GOOD DEED


Review of NO GOOD DEED by KARA CONNOLLY

Teenage Ellie is an archery champion, in the running for a future with the Olympics. However, her success is dampened by the loss of her brother Rob, also an archery legend. Ellie’s specific skills with a bow and arrow come in handy when, logic aside, she finds herself thrown into the Sherwood Forest of the past, unintentionally playing Robin Hood.

Time travel is not usually my taste, but I think the same reasons this worked for me might be criticisms to others. Let me explain. Connolly uses time travel as the catalyst, but the science (or magic) is not explained. This works perfectly for me, because I most care about the characters and how they handle the catalyst anyway, and also almost every attempt at explaining time travel only further unconvinces me (explaining why I don’t particularly like the sub-genre). Connolly addresses some key questions quickly and efficiently, such as language barriers, but then focuses on what’s really important: the story.

Time travel stories can be vastly different, with potential for both serious and silly approaches. Connolly manages to ride that line and do both. There’s an underlying threat of danger fitting for the period, but the story doesn't swerve into any horrific directions that it certainly could. And the abundance of playful banter and silly snark adds a lighthearted layer to the adventure.

NO GOOD DEED is a fun read with the feminist twist of a female Robin Hood figure.