Book Review: The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

princess-of-trelianTitle: The Princess of Trelian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Series: Trelian, Book 2
Publisher: Candlewick
Hardcover: 448 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The hundred-year war with Kragnir is over, and Meg will soon be named the princess-heir of Trelian. But her connection to her dragon, Jakl, is making her parents’ subjects uneasy. Will they ever accept this dragon princess as their future queen? It doesn’t help that Meg is suffering horrible nightmares and sudden, uncontrollable rages—and with the link joining them, Jakl is feeling the rages, too. Meg is desperate to talk to Calen, to see if he can help her figure out what is happening and how to stop it before she or her dragon does something terrible…

Meanwhile, Calen is having troubles of his own. He’s far away, gone off with Mage Serek to receive his first true mage’s mark. But his marking ceremony is disrupted by a mysterious magical attack, and ominous prophecies predict a terrifying new danger. The Magistratum’s greatest enemy may soon reappear—and the other mages believe that Calen himself may have a hand in his return!

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Princess of Trelian is the sequel to The Dragon of Trelian, which I read a while ago. It continues to follow Princess Meg and Calen, emphasizing Meg’s struggle to balance her new connection with her dragon, Jakl, and her responsibilities as the heir of Trelian. Calen, on the other hand, is struggling with his desire to learn and master more of his magic while being prevented from doing so by his master, because mages with a predilection for foretelling are convinced that he will be a danger to the Magistratum.

Overall, I think this was a solid sequel. The characters are definitely growing in complexity and the pacing was well done — there weren’t any times when I was bored or I thought things were being glossed over. It has the problem of second books in a trilogy, though, where it’s really just setting things up for the sequel, and it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. However, it still manages to have plenty of action and adventure for all of that, and I enjoyed the fact that those action sequences didn’t seem so conveniently easy to get out of. One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is when the heroes are unstoppable and there’s tons of buildup to something, and then they solve it in a few pages. That does not happen in this book — the characters are sufficiently challenged with what they have to accomplish, which makes for an entertaining read.

My one complaint is the relationship between Meg and her parents. All three characters are either far too understanding or far too harsh (whichever is more convenient to the plot) at different times, and there isn’t much in the way of consistency. I didn’t mind this so much from Meg’s character, because she is growing up and is just learning how to handle herself and anticipate the end-results from her actions and attitudes, but it wasn’t explained why fully grown adults (who are rulers, no less) were acting rashly,  and it bothered me a bit.

However, I thought this was enjoyable and would have LOVED it as a pre-teen, so I think it hits the right marks for its intended audience. I can’t yet recommend the series without having read the final book, but I will say that the first two books are a solid start to a decent fantasy series.

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

HunterTitle: Hunter
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Hunter, Book 1
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 374 pages
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.

Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

First of all, I cannot emphasize enough that I think this book is worth sticking through the first quarter or hundred pages.  I only feel the need to bring this up, because I was surprised by the amount of one-star ratings I saw for this book and realized the reason for them was overwhelmingly that people gave up on it about 20-25% in.  I’ll be honest, I don’t blame those people who did.  The first part of the book really seems like it is setting up to be another run-of-the-mill dystopian YA book like Hunger Games or Divergent.  However, while it does not go into a completely different direction I think that the latter part of the book is incredibly well done and more than makes up for the stale beginning.

There are several things that I really liked about the way this book handled itself after the initial set up.  The first was that I enjoyed the relationships between characters.  Most importantly, I liked the way the main character (Joy) was developed.  There was a lot of internal monologue by Joy, as often happens in these kinds of books, but also actually interacted with several other characters including her Otherworld hounds which greatly improved the monotony that occasionally occurs.  The friendships she developed were well written and nothing seemed overdramatic and were still quite compelling.  Most importantly to me, she was in no way spurred on purely through romantic interest of any kind.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to strong female characters.  I think that she was a nice balance between still being the young girl she is and being incredibly strong and mature when the time called for it (as expected of a heroine).  The book is not devoid of romantic interest, which I think could also ring somewhat false or hollow, but it is very much a subplot that informs feelings and decisions but in no way could be considered a major part of the novel.

The other thing I thought was handled quite well that worried me at first were the Christians (referred to as Christers in the book).  I hate to admit I went from laughing about the fact that they were angry that this cataclysmic event was not the apocalypse to beginning to cringe about how they were being talked about for the most part (again in the first hundred pages or so).  Again though, I think that this was beautifully handled in the subsequent sections of the novel when Joy befriends a Christer hunter nicknamed “White Knight” and we get to see her much more nuanced and interesting relationship with them as a whole.

Also, the hounds are really cool and I want some.

Overall, I don’t think this book will blow your socks off and if you can’t deal with a slow start it is not for you, but if you can get past that and like this sort of novel I think you will be well rewarded with the rest of it.

Book Review: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

The Last Guardian.jpgTitle: The Last Guardian
Author: Eoin Colfer
Series: Artemis Fowl, Book 8
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 328 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

It’s Armageddon Time for Artemis Fowl

Opal Koboi, power-crazed pixie, is plotting to exterminate mankind and become fairy queen.

If she succeeds, the spirits of long-dead fairy warriors will rise from the earth, inhabit the nearest available bodies and wreak mass destruction. But what happens if those nearest bodies include crows, or deer, or badgers – or two curious little boys by the names of Myles and Beckett Fowl?

Yes, it’s true. Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl’s four-year-old brothers could be involved in destroying the human race. Can Artemis and Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police stop Opal and prevent the end of the world?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It finally happened — I have finally read the last book of the Artemis Fowl series. It was bittersweet in a way, because this is a series that my friend got me hooked on when I was about 13, so it’s been a rather continuous presence in my life. Every few years or so, I think, yeah, I’ll read the Artemis Fowl sequel, so it’s weird to think that in a few years, I won’t be reading another one. (Though I just might pick up another Colfer book, because let’s face it, all his stuff is great.)

I was surprised by how well these books hold up. I have to give Colfer credit, for something I read at 13, I still thoroughly enjoy these characters and their story. They’ve gotten a bit older and the stories have grown and become more complex, but let me tell you, there are quite a few novels “for grown-ups” that I read at 13 and don’t hold up nearly as well — Artemis Fowl books for sure do. This book continues the tradition of being about very serious, life-or-death issues while still retaining humor and lightness. There wasn’t one part of The Last Guardian that I felt was drawn out or melodramatic. It’s perfectly balanced in terms of tone, and like I said, retains some humor.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the fact that while there is a main villain (Opal, just go away and die, seriously!), there are also secondary villains who are complicated in terms of their motives, which I love in a story. I don’t want my villains to be unsympathetic psychos — I want to be able to see where they’re coming from and understand their story too. I was glad that I was able to do that when reading this story — I think it added quite a bit of realism and complexity to the story.

In terms of the ending, it was perfect. I get so nervous when a longer series ends, because who knows what’s going to happen? I’m not even sure what I want to happen. I love Artemis, but does he deserve a happily ever after? Is that even a thing that’s possible, given the circumstances of his life and the story this novel presents? What about the resolution itself? Do I want a tight resolution with a pretty bow on top, or do I want it more natural, just sort of let’s end things, but leave them open? I DON’T KNOW!!! Luckily, Colfer seems to know what I wanted, because the ending is perfect. It ties the story together nicely while still leaving a little bit of wiggle room for the reader to imagine what might happen next. Perfect, right?

If you’re an Artemis Fowl lover, don’t worry about this being the last one. It sucks a little that the series is ending, but I think it’s incredibly well done and a perfect last book if there ever was one. I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t find anything disappointing about it, and trust me, I was terrified of being disappointed. If you’ve yet to read the Artemis Fowl books, get started! They’re so good and I think enjoyable for all ages, especially if you love reading about fairies.

Book Review: Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens

 

Summer of Lost and Found.jpg
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Title: Summer of Lost and Found
Author: Rebecca Behrens
Publisher: Aladdin/Simon & Schuster
Hardcover: 288 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Nell Dare expected to spend her summer vacation hanging out with her friends in New York City. That is, until her botanist mom dragged her all the way to Roanoke Island for a research trip. To make matters worse, her father suddenly and mysteriously leaves town, leaving no explanation or clues as to where he went—or why.

While Nell misses the city—and her dad—a ton, it doesn’t take long for her to become enthralled with the mysteries of Roanoke and its lost colony. And when Nell meets Ambrose—an equally curious historical reenactor—they start exploring for clues as to what really happened to the lost colonists. As Nell and Ambrose’s discoveries of tantalizing evidence mount, mysterious things begin to happen—like artifacts disappearing. And someone—or something—is keeping watch over their quest for answers.

It looks like Nell will get the adventurous summer she was hoping for, and she will discover secrets not only about Roanoke, but about herself.

*I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Historical fiction was one of my very favorite subjects when I was about 10 — around the age group this book is written for, actually. So, I occasionally like to break up my adult reading with some children’s/middle grade reading just to make things interesting. What really drew me to this book was the fact that it had something to do with Roanoke, which is a fascinating topic.

There isn’t much of a waiting period in terms of getting things set up and then getting into the story — instead, the story starts right away and the reader is left to figure things out as it goes along. I love this. It’s my favorite way of reading, because I tend to skim over all those setup paragraphs. Give me something to hold on to, then I’ll trudge through location, description, etc. Behrens does that, which I so much appreciate. More than that, she starts off with a real, gripping topic: Nell’s dad’s toothbrush isn’t in the bathroom and he’s gone. It becomes apparent fairly quickly that something is happening between Nell’s parents, but she’s too scared to ask questions, so she goes along with it and accompanies her mother to a trip to North Carolina, around where the Roanoke colony was established.

Overall, I thought this book was really cute. As a ten-year-old, it probably would have been one of my favorites. Ghost stories, mysteries, historical fiction? Heck yes! Sign me up. As an adult, it doesn’t quite hold up in terms of complexity and story telling. I thought that the friendship between Nell and the girl she meets during her summer vacation to be strange, and I don’t think that current slang/technology was used to its best advantage. I’ve never personally heard a kid tell me, “She’s not really my friend, she’s my frenemy,” straight up like that. I think it’s more of an understood thing than a thing that kids actually say, but that might just be me. Nell also describes a lot of what she does on her cell phone, which might have been better used just as straight dialogue or text instead of summarized within the narration. Again, kind of nitpicky things that I don’t think will necessarily bother the age group/reading level this is written for.

What is great about this book is that I had a ton of questions about the actual historical colony of Roanoke, and I wanted to get my hands on history books about it right after I finished reading Summer of Lost and Found. I can see a younger reader having the same reaction, which means this might be a great companion piece/gateway to learning about some colonial history for kids. I also really love that it deals with a hard, complicated topic: parents not getting along and not dealing with it very well. It’s a great way for kids to take a look at coping mechanisms and ways of resolving conflict.

Most importantly, it’s just plain fun. I loved following Nell in her adventure to find the lost colony of Roanoke, making my own theories and guesses as she discovered more and more about the colony and the area. It was a cute story and a quick read that I think a lot of younger (and older) readers will appreciate.

Book Review: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon CameronTitle: The Dark Unwinding
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: The Dark Unwinding, Book 1
Publisher: Scholastic
Hardcover: 318 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

When Katharine Tulman’s inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle’s world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5

I found out about this series when browsing through books from BEA 2013 — where the sequel was being offered as an ARC. For the most part, I just can’t read series out of order (knowingly, at least), so I left it alone and put this book on the to-read list. And yes, 3 years later, I’m just now reading it. Us bibliophiles have a problem with overly long to-read lists, yes?

I have to say that this one gets off to an incredibly slow start. It tries to be too creepy too fast, to the point where I really just didn’t understand what was going on in the first few chapters. Is it trying to be paranormal? Is it trying to be just average-run-of-the-mill creepy? No idea. I think that was the point, but I personally wasn’t into it. By the first 30 pages, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get through it, but I powered on, and it turned out to get better. Yay! It also doesn’t help that there seems to be a wide variety of genres used for this book, but by my judgment, it’s more alternate history/gothic than anything. (Especially steampunk — um, what?!) There are so many creep factors to it that it just feels dark the way only gothic books do. Anyway, once the book figures out what its story is supposed to be, it gets pretty good.

One of my favorite things is how the main character, Katharine grows. It happens a little too suddenly, I think, but it is nice to see. Her uncle seems to be on the spectrum of autism in a time when that wasn’t something that was diagnosed, and she recognizes that while he has some difficulties, he’s a really nice person who cares a lot about his friends and family. I think this is a good thing for a middle grade book to bring up, and it’s done beautifully — incredibly subtle, which I appreciated.

The book skims over some of the issues of factories and poverty during the era it’s supposed to take place — I don’t think it goes in depth enough to be used as a companion to any of those topics in the classroom, but it certainly can’t hurt as an outside reading-for-fun suggestion if students seem interested in the ideas.

Overall, this was a fine read. It interested me enough that I want to see if the sequel gets any better, but it’s not something I’d highly recommend people to read. If you happen by it and have some free time, it’s not terrible and it’s kind of quick. I think middle grade readers would kind of enjoy it, but it’s not super amazing. The sequel is now on my to-read list, so I’ll get back to you on how it develops! (Hopefully sooner than 3 years.)

Audiobook Review: Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery, narrated by Colleen Winton

anne-of-avonlea-post-hypnotic-press
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Title: Anne of Avonlea
Author: LM Montgomery
Series: Anne of Green Gables, Book 2
Narrator: Colleen Winton
Publisher: Post Hypnotic Press
Duration: 9 hours, 25 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Following Anne of Green Gables (1908), the book covers the second chapter in the life of Anne Shirley. This book follows Anne from the age of 16 to 18, during the two years that she teaches at Avonlea school. It includes many of the characters from Anne of Green Gables, as well as new ones like Mr. Harrison, Miss Lavendar Lewis, Paul Irving, and the twins Dora and Davy. Narrated by Colleen Winton.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

*I was provided a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.*

In Anne of Avonlea, we get to see Anne dealing with more grown-up troubles, which prevents this book from being as humorous as the first, but it’s still entertaining. Also, Marilla and Anne adopt twins, so their antics add a bit of fun into the story.

This is a re-read for me, and as a kid, I didn’t think to appreciate how Montgomery develops Anne’s character, taking time to show her growth from a child to an adult. What I like most is how Anne is shown as being much more responsible and thoughtful while still being herself, which is a tricky balance. Overall, not much goes on in this book. It’s very much a set-up for Anne becoming an adult, and there aren’t any huge plot points that wow-ed me. An engagement or two and the adoption of Davy and Dora are pretty much the only things that I found important. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. This series is more character-driven that plot-driven, and it’s always nice to revisit Anne and her world.

My favorite part about listening to a series in audiobook format is that, with a good narrator, the characters just feel more real to me. And Colleen Winton is a great narrator — she really brings the personalities of the characters to life. She is consistent with all the old characters’ idiosyncrasies from the first book and does a good job in portraying the new characters. For this book in particular, I liked being able to listen to it, because not much goes on in the way of plot or excitement, so it’s nice to be able to do something productive while re-reading an old favorite. If you are at all a fan of audiobooks, this is a nice series to try in audio.

*Listen to a sample!*