Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review: Assassin (Lady Grace Mysteries #1)

 I really, really liked this book!  What a fun read!  Check out the synopsis from Goodreads:

When Margaret Cavandish, one of Elizabeth I’s Gentlewomen of the Bedchamber, lost her life in a bungled attempt to kill the Queen, her daughter, Lady Grace, became a protégée to the monarch, who takes Grace under her wing. Now Grace, a spunky girl who romps through the gardens with the laundry maids and court tumblers and rolls her eyes at her fellow ladies, chronicles the court intrigues that swirl around her. . . .

It’s the spring of 1569 and 13-year-old Lady Grace, the youngest lady-in-waiting to the Queen, finds herself at a glittering ball choosing amongst three suitors. But the Queen’s generosity turns deadly as threats, dark secrets, and even murder descend on the Tudor court. And it is up to Grace to use her intelligence, stealth, and curious nature to solve the mystery that threatens the very lifeblood of England.

I'm not exactly sure where to begin.  The story is written as a series of "daybooke" entries, which is kind of fun.  It made me feel like I was part of her innermost thoughts that way.  In fact, in the beginning of the story Grace writes, "I'd completely forgotten about it.  Hell's teeth!  (It's a good thing Mrs. Champernowne can't see how much swearing I do in my head.)"  Made me laugh out loud.  I'm glad other people can't see how much swearing goes on in my head.  But being inside Grace's head is a pleasure!

I love the character of Grace.  She is witty and funny and charming.  I love the way she sees life and her funny comments, like this one, "He signed, turned the key, and opened the gate.  He didn't even bow!  He would have for Lady Sarah, I believe, if only to get in a stare at her dugs.  Not for me, though.  My body hasn't started to develop in that way yet.  So I curtsied to him anyway, because the more you curtsy to people, the more they'll do for you, so it's worth the wear on your knees."

Assassin is the first in a series of books that progress alphabetically.  So far there are 12: Assassin; Betrayal; Conspiracy; Deception; Exile; Feud; Gold; Haunted, Intrigue, Jinx, Keys, and Loot.  And each one is a mystery set in the court of Queen Elizabeth.  I'll admit I didn't understand many of the terms that she uses (like bumroll or farthingale or jakes) but luckily there is a glossary in the back that explains them.  Also in the back of the book are Notes about the topic of the book and a section called The Fact Behind the Fiction that explains the history of Queen Elizabeth.

This was a fun read for me!  Lady Grace made me laugh out loud many times.  The cover art is not exactly my favorite, so I almost didn't read the book (yes, I must be a cover art snob!)  They have another book out that includes the first two books, Assassin and Betrayal, that has a much prettier cover design.   Four and a half stars!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: The Wild Queen by Cheri Chesley

I had the chance to meet Cheri Chesley last weekend.  And I blew it.  We were signing books at the same booth for Stansbury Days, but Cheri took the morning shift and I took the afternoon shift and we only met briefly as I was coming and she was going.  Anyway, I wanted to read one of her books before I met her.  Cheri's book, The Peasant Queen, was published by Cedar Fort in Dec. 2010.  The Wild Queen is the prequel, so I thought I'd start with that.

I'm acutally thinking I might have enjoyed The Wild Queen more if I had read The Peasant Queen first, but that's not to say I didn't like The Wild Queen.  I did.  It had kind of a fairy-tale-ish quality to it, and yet it wasn't like a fairy tale at all.  Are we clear on that?

I liked the story.  I liked that Roweena rode to Demarde when she needed help.  And I liked that she made it.  I liked all the characters.  They were adequately developed and easy to like even though they each had their faults.  In places the writing felt rushed, moving the story along too quickly, like summing up the story, while in others the action was quite slow.  But I never had a problem being interested, I kept wanting to turn pages, and I found it very appropriate for the YA audience it was intended for.  There was action, mystery, and romance.  It is a nice clean read I would recommend to anyone. 

Here is the Goodreads summary that will sum it up better than I can.

"In the exciting prequel to The Peasant Queen, Roweena is the crown princess of Norvallen, a tiny kingdom with only one thing of value-the Healer's Grove. The trees in this small section of forest are enchanted, giving a sap that can be mixed into potions or salves to heal almost any wound.

And it's in high demand.

Lucien, the young king of neighboring Demarde, comes to Roweena's father seeking an alliance, but comes away with a marriage contract for young Roweena's hand. Furious and stubborn, this untamed beauty vows he will never conquer her. But the contract purposely gives her time to come to terms with her fate.

Before Lucien can return, Roweena's home is attacked and her parents are murdered. The Healer's Grove is also attacked-burned to the ground. With nothing more than her horse and the clothes on her back, Roweena goes to the only person she knows can help her. Lucien."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review: The Apothecary's Daughter

"The Apothecary's Daugher" by Julie Klassen was... a bit disappointing for me. I typically like Regency novels and like clean, uplifting stories, but this one really didn't have much of a story. After finishing, I still was not sure what the point of the story was. A brief synopsis: Lilly Haswell, a girl who never forgets anything, dreams of adventure and seeing the world instead of working in her father's apothecary shop in a small village in England in the early 1800's. She has a mentally handicapped brother and her father to take care of since her mother disappeared, but when the opportunity arises to visit London, she leaves to be her own woman. She returns home for a visit, finding her father very ill, and the shop in ruins, and decides she must stay to fix things, giving up her dreams. At that's about it for the story line. Along the way, there are five different men who show interest in her, or consider courting her, which to me was a little over the top. I like a good love story, and I usually like a good love triangle, but this did not work for me. I liked Lilly, though. I thought she was a good character and well written. Very likeable for the most part. I would not give this book more than 3 stars. The story line led to nowhere, there was too much guess work on who she ends up with, and I didn't find it very uplifting for being classified as a Christian or inspirational fiction. However, if you like a clean read, and don't want to feel preached at, and don't mind a somewhat disappointing ending, then this just might be the book for you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison

I have actually finished a couple books this week (yay for the kids going back to school!)  The first one I wanted to review I accidentally took it back to the library.  And I had wanted to include some of the fun things the main character said in my review and, since my memory gets worse the older I get, I'll have to check it out again so I can get the quotes right.

Anyway, this week I read The Princess and the Hound.  I love the cover of the book.  (Isn't it pretty?!?)  I thought, based on the cover, that it was going to be wonderful!  It's a little different than the cover, though.

The blurb on the back cover says, "He is a prince and heir to a kingdom threatened on all sides, possessor of the forbidden animal magic.  She is a princess from a rival kingdom, the daughter her father never wanted, isolated from all except her hound.  In this lush and beautifully written fairy-tale romance, a prince, a princess, and two kingdoms are joined in the aftermath of a war.  Proud, stubborn and bound to marry for duty, George and Beatrice will steal your heart - but will they fall in love?"

With a title like The Princess and the Hound, I sort of expected it to be a book about a princess and a hound.  But it wasn't.  Not really.  Not until about half-way through the book.  And even then the princess in the story isn't all that wonderful.  She's rude and cold towards everyone, George included.  When you learn her secret, it sort of makes sense.  Sort of.  But I still could never like Princess Beatrice.  I liked her hound Marit better - at least she was kind in her own way.

I'm not exactly sure what I thought of the book, to be perfectly honest.  I liked George's story, even though it was a sad one.  And once I heard the princess' story, I liked her a little better too.  (Both George and the princess are keeping a secret from everyone.  George's is that he has animal magic, so he can talk with animals.  The princess' secret is a little different, but to tell her secret would be to spoil the story!) 

I really wanted to love this book!  I like fairytale stories and stories with princesses (could be because I have three little girls that love princesses!) and I was even prepared to like the hound.  But the story wasn't exactly what I was expecting, and it made it hard to love.  Still, I would give it three stars.  And maybe if I read it again knowing what I learned at the end of the story, I would enjoy it even more.  (But I still love the cover!)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe

From Goodreads:

Caretta Rutledge thought she’d left her Southern roots and troubled family far behind. But an unusual request from her mother coming just as her own life is spinning out of control has Cara heading back to the scenic Lowcountry of her childhood summers. Before long, the rhythms of the island open her heart in wonderful ways as she repairs the family beach house, becomes a bona fide “turtle lady” and renews old acquaintances long thought lost. But it is in reconnecting with her mother that she will learn life’s most precious lessons true love involves sacrifice, family is forever and the mistakes of the past can be forgiven.
From Misty:

I'd like to give this 3.5 stars. No, 3.75 stars. I liked it, but I think I kept expecting it to be something it wasn't and I never did really connect to the main characters, and in fact spent the first 95 percent of the book disliking Olivia. I listened to The Beach House as an audio book, and while the narration was good (it said it was narrated by the author), for some reason, I think I would have liked it better if I had read it myself. Book in hand. My reading chair. Soda and chocolate.
The Beach House is a coming home, finding your lost self kind of story. Cara left home at 18 after her controlling father beat her and her mother, Olivia, stood by and let him do it. As if she could have stopped him, but Cara thinks she should have tried. Cara's brother is turning out like their father, and her mother is dying from cancer.
I know people dying from cancer happens, but I basically rolled my eyes when that's what Olivia was dying from. It's so insensitive of me to say cancer is cliche...but it is, and that kind of set me against liking the book for a few hours (that's about 6-8 chapters).  So I'm a grudge holder.  Now you know.  The turtles kind of annoyed me too, especially the factoids at the beginning of the chapters (not so much that they were there, but that they seemed arbitrary and unrelated to the text to follow).
Anyway, basically what happens is Cara goes home for the summer, makes up with her mom before she dies, and hooks up with an old high school acquaintance.  Very common themes in contemporary fiction, so nothing new there. But Mary's voice was fresh and clear and I enjoyed the story overall.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby

  My taste in books doesn't always follow what is popular or what people tell me I 'should' read.  I like what I like, I guess, and lately that has been juvenile or young adult literature.  I'm not an especially literary person, although I DO love to read.  And I'm pretty sure I slept through most of my high school English classes. So I have been terrified to write a review about something I've read. 

My daughter first introduced me to The Clockwork Three.  She was in 5th grade last year and Matthew Kirby came to her school and talked to the kids.  I figured any author that would go and talk to elementary school kids couldn't be all bad, right?  Then our book club decided to read The Clockwork Three for our book last month.  So that will be my first review!

Goodreads had this to say about it: "
Three ordinary children are brought together by extraordinary events. . .

Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician from Italy, who was sold by his uncle to work as a slave for an evil padrone in the U.S. But when a mysterious green violin enters his life he begins to imagine a life of freedom.

Hannah is a soft-hearted, strong-willed girl from the tenements, who supports her family as a hotel maid when tragedy strikes and her father can no longer work. She learns about a hidden treasure, which she knows will save her family -- if she can find it.

And Frederick, the talented and intense clockmaker's apprentice, seeks to learn the truth about his mother while trying to forget the nightmares of the orphanage where she left him. He is determined to build an automaton and enter the clockmakers' guild -- if only he can create a working head.

Together, the three discover they have phenomenal power when they team up as friends, and that they can overcome even the darkest of fears."

One of my biggest complaints when I'm reading books is the lack of parental involvement.  All these kids are out on these wonderful adventures and there is not a parent in sight.  I didn't mind so much when I was younger, but as I'm now the parent, it really bothers me!  =]

The children in The Clockwork Three effectively HAVE no parents, however, so it didn't bother me as much.  Giuseppe was orphaned in Italy and is "working" for horrible man.  Frederick is in a little better situation as a clockmaker's apprentice.  His 'master' is at least kind to him.  And, while Hannah does live with her parents, her father suffered a stroke and is unable to work.  So Hannah works as a maid in a hotel for a horrible woman.

The story is told from each of their perspectives, one chapter at a time.  In the beginning, they didn't know each other at all.  But as the story progresses, their spheres gradually interconnect.  I liked the way it was done.  Sometimes stories that are told from more than one point of view confuse me, but this one was really well done.

Most of the story I absolutely loved.  There is a part near the end that could have been left out.  I'm not sure it added to the story at all.  And the rest of the story seems pretty grounded in reality.  So this event really sort of came out of left field and then was gone and didn't contribute to the rest of the story at all.  Kind of strange.

Other than that one part that I didn't understand (although it worked well to get Giuseppe out of trouble!) I really enjoyed the book.  I loved that in the beginning they were all kind of just out there on their own.  Each one was being held prisoner by something or someone and each one of them needed the help of the others to escape.