the low down on new books

Fantasy

Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel

Reviewed by Nick 

Just the Facts: Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel. Jasper Fforde. 2005. Penguin Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Young Adult/Action Adventure/Fantasy

Short Bio:  Thursday Next is back, and she’s fed up with the Book World! Deciding that she’s overdue to take a vacation from Jurisficiton, She rejoins SO-27, only to be faced with more problems than she left behind. Yorrick Kaine, a bookrunner, threatens world domination, Goliath is rising to new heights of manipulation when they decide to become a religion, and Landen is still eradicated. Jurisfiction has refused to accept her resignation, her father has stopped time again to tell her that the world will soon come to and end unless she helps the Swindon Mallets win Supper-Hoop 88, and there is family trouble with literary and historical figures at home. Can Thursday manage to stop Kaine and Goliath, advise Jurisfiction, keep Bismark away from her mom, untangle the Merry Wives of Elisnore, tame Pickwick’s son Alan, reactualize her husband, manage the Super-Hoop team, save Danish literature from disappearing altogether, and prevent the end of the world, all in time to come home and keep her mom from finding out that a gorilla is babysitting Friday?

Eyewitness Account: So this is not a prepublication review, as is most of the books that we review; this is more a guilty pleasure review on my part! This fourth installation of the Thursday Next series holds to the expectations brought on by the previous books. Fforde’s humor resonates throughout the book, much in the same way as in it’s predecessors. I appreciate how Fforde finds new and refreshing ways to make the reader laugh. It hardly feels like he recycles his jokes or punchlines at all. The beginning of this book did move a little slow, and the pre-chapter blurbs were perhaps not as brilliant as in previous books; perhaps starting to see Fforde slightly loosing creative steam for this series. He did leave quite a few ends untied, so I am still looking forward to First Among Sequels.  

Other Books Read by This Author: The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel; Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel; The Well of Lost Plots: A Thursday Next Novel.

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Lost Voices

Reviewed by Cathy Peterson

Just the Facts: by Sarah Porter 7-2011 Harcourt books

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? FICTION – JUVENILE: Family & Everyday Life: Family
FICTION – JUVENILE: Family & Everyday Life: Social Issues
FICTION – JUVENILE: Gender-Specific: Girls & Women
FICTION – JUVENILE: Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic

Short Bio:

Fourteen-year-old Luce has had a tough life, but she reaches the depths of despair when she is assaulted and left on the cliffs outside of her grim, gray Alaskan fishing village. She expects to die when she tumbles into the icy waves below, but instead undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.
A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: the mermaids feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks. Luce’s own remarkable singing talent makes her important to the tribe—she may even have a shot at becoming their queen. However, her struggle to retain her humanity puts her at odds with her new friends. Will Luce be pressured into committing mass murder?

Eyewitness Account: This account of what happens to abused and molested children is heartrending.  Luce’s character is so easy to empathize with.  The use of male images, the sea, metamorphosis, and song add to the enchantment of this tale.  Even to the most detached reader, the societal structure and hierarchy the mermaids create for themselves are a very realistic look at how abused people will tend to treat each other.

Notable Quotes:

Other Books Read by This Author:

What are other people saying?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The City in the Lake

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Rachel Neumeier.  294 p.Published 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. 

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio (from Booklist):  The City in the Lake is a robust, prosperous kingdom until Prince Cassiel vanishes. Beloved by all, the prince represents the kingdom’s heart, and after his disappearance, life withers throughout the land. In a remote village, 17-year-old Timou’s father, a mage, departs for the city to search for the source of the kingdom’s malaise, and when he doesn’t return, Timou sets off after him. Her journey requires her, for the first time, to draw heavily on her own mage training, and as she circles closer to the kingdom’s mysteries, she finds shocking personal connections and, ultimately, love. 

Eyewitness Account: I picked this up because The Book Smugglers both rated this a “9 – Damn near perfection.” Its got a great title (the City IN the Lake?), beautiful cover, and intriguing plot summary.  Maybe my expectations were a little too high – I thought it was good, but would have given it a 7 or 8 on the Book Smuggler’s rating scale.  Neumeier’s writing is purely beautiful; I had written down 5 different quotes before I even got to chapter 3!  The story is engaging, full of interesting characters and a plot that isn’t wholly predictable.  However, I finished it with a slight sense of disappointment – the story didn’t feel fully developed.  The idea of a single City “anchoring” a multitude of other Cities was a brilliant idea that wasn’t fully fleshed out.  Neumeier had some AMAZING content that I think could have been more perfectly and satisfactorily relayed in a longer book (or perhaps expanded into a series).  Overall, worth reading for her writing style alone!  As this was Neumeier’s first book, I’d imagine her later writings are definitely worth picking up.

Notable Quotes:

“So Timou learned how to catch fire and the memory of fire in glass, how to contain the quick fire in a coal and how to let it loose again, how to find the fire that waited to spring eagerly forth from the heart of dry wood.  And how to try again and again to find such fire when at first she could see nothing but wood, trusting that, because her father said it was there, eventually she would find the heart of it that wanted to burn.”

“She loved these books … she loved their heft in the hand, which so contrasted with the brittle fragility of their pages. She loved the graceful or angled or tightly looping scripts that filled those pages.”

“I am not afraid to have this darkness lie before every step I take, because once I saw into darkness and it was glorious.  Grieve for your father because you lost him, it’s right we should grieve for those we lose, but don’t grieve for him because he’s here, Timou!”

Other Books Read by This Author: None!  Will definitely try “The Floating Islands” next, though.

What are other people saying? The Book Smugglers, Wands and Worlds, The Well-Read Child

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Ember and Ash

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Pamela Freeman. 528 p. To be published        May 1, 2011 by Orbit (Hachette Books Group).  Advanced copy provided in electronic copy, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? YA / Adult Fantasy

Short Bio: Fire has unexpectedly shown Himself – and demanded a dangerous task of Ember, daughter of warlord Arvid.  Together with small group of Arvid’s trusted family and soldiers, Ember embarks on a journey to bring fire back to her people before they perish from winter.  Along the way, she and her traveling mates are confronted with the Great Powers that had, until now, remained aloof from the “new blooded” descendents of Acton.  At the end of her journey, she faces an impossible choice – a future for herself with the one she loves, or a future of peace and prosperity for her people.

Eyewitness Account: Pamela Freeman can definitely spin a tale!  Fantasy can be hit or miss – it’s usually either very clever or a cheap knockoff of some other popular idea.  Ember and Ash was definitely in the former category.  It was a little slow to get into at first, but that’s probably because I hadn’t read her Castings Trilogy, which precedes Ember and Ash and appears to cover events about 20 years prior to it.

I loved Ember – someone who not only had flaws, but also didn’t know her own mind half of the time!  Her journey to the Fire Mountain is also her own personal journey to finding out who she is and what her place/purpose in the Eleven Domains is.  I loved how she found herself out of her element at times, how she depended on her companions for their expertise, and how she boldly stepped up to take the consequences of tough decisions that she had to make.  Ember makes some very wise observations through her journey – one of my favorite was the distinction between lust/desire and love.  Most of all, I loved that the decision she made at the end of the book seemed true to who she was.

I also appreciated the way Freeman wove together so many people’s stories in with Ember’s – Ash, finding his own purpose and identity, Arvid and Martine dealing with the breach in their marriage, and Nyr looking for a better life for his people.  I found that even the secondary characters who didn’t get much stage time were full of personality – of dreams, aspirations, emotions, and complicated motives.  Lastly, the story of the Powers themselves was purely delightful – not at all predictable, and very clever.

Themes of unity, identity, and honesty are well-developed throughout the story.  One of my favorite passages is listed below, as it talks about how we have a tendency to reject change – but that the growth that change brings is well worth it.  It’s a book I’d love to give to teenagers, except for the overly graphic love scene at the end.  Well done, Ms. Freeman!

Notable Quotes:

“Heavy, inimical, a brooding presence envious of and hating everything the braid contained: life, love, warmth, fellowship.  Difference.  She . . . understood what it was He wanted, could feel His desire for the unchanged, unchangeable permanence of Ice.  For ice which never melted, for form which stayed, immutable.  For an eternity of sameness, safe and solid and forever.

She knew that feeling.  Every mother knew the feeling of wanting time to stop, wanting the child to stay a baby, wanting the youth to stay a child, wanting the moment when the little arms came around your neck to last forever.  Every human knew that feeling, of wanting tomorrow to be the same as today, so that you could just go on being who you were, without the pains that age brought.

But as a mother, as a human, she knew the stupidity of that.  Knew that the child could give more joy than the baby, as well as more grief; knew that age had its compensations; knew that growth always hurt.”

“. . .all he had was himself, the center of himself, which was, after all, just a single arrow in flight.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None, but I might eventually pick up Blood Ties (first in The Castings Trilogy), as I enjoyed Ms. Freeman’s writing so much.

What are other people saying? Thoughts of a Scot, Aurealis Xpress

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Goddess Test

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Aimee Carter. 298 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Harlequin Teen.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio: Kate’s only desire is to spend as much time as possible with mom, who is dying of cancer.  Her mom takes them to a small, rural town where Kate meets James and Ava . . . and begins a series of events that lead her to make a bargain with Henry/Hades, the god of the Underworld that will give her more time with her mother.  If she can pass the 7 tests that the unseen “council” of gods puts before her, she will become an immortal (and Henry’s wife, to boot).

Eyewitness Account: I thought this book was going to be a lot more interesting – it follows the popular trend of books about the “contemporary” Greek gods.  However, what made for great adventure-packed stories for kids came across rather bland for a YA romance.  While a number of plot devices showed good promise (great foreshadowing at the beginning, interesting development of “the Underworld”, and clever theme behind the 7 tests),  this modern-day twist on the tale of Persephone didn’t quite work.  The plot felt contorted and contrived, and the characters never fully enough developed to be real.  Rather than acting “ageless,” Henry acts like an old protective father, which makes it difficult to picture him as someone a teenager would fall in love with.    

The fun part of the Greek gods are how they interact with each other, play around with mortals, and create great quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules.  As the plot focuses only on one god (Henry), who generally mopes around or acts overly parental, the best part of setting is rather lost.  The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the desire to know what the tests were (of which I only guessed a couple, so kudos to the author for not giving everything away).

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Lit Express, A Myriad of Books, WhatchYAReading?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


The Cheshire Cheese Cat

Reviewed by Nick

Just the Facts: The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. Barry Moser, illustrator. pp. 1-37 excerpt. To be published on Oct. 1, 2011. Peachtree Publishers; Atlanta. Accessed through http://www.netgalley.com.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who cares? : Children’s Literature/Elementary Chapterbook

Not so short bio:

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Pub has unarguably the best cheese in England. Perhaps that’s why it is such a popular hang out for writers and poets. It’s definitely the reason that so many mice have inhabited the attic. And no wonder the owner is looking for a new mouser!

Skilley is a tom cat living in the streets of London–but he’s no ordinary cat. Skilley has a secret that would make him the laughing stock of cats and mice alike. When Skilley hears that the Cheshire Cheese Pub in London is looking for a mouser, he quickly formulates a plan to get hired for the position.

Pip, a mouse that lives among the mouse colony within the Cheshire Cheese, hears the pub owner, Henry, talking about getting a cat. Pip understands human language because he learned it from his rescuer Nell, the pub owner’s daughter.  He quickly decides to convene the mouse council to find the wisest course of action, but on the way foolishly gets caught by the would-be mouser! Pip is scared for his life, but starting to get annoyed as the cat prolongs the inevitable, or what Pip thinks is the inevitable. Once in private, Pip finds out Skilley’s secret. Skilley does not like to eat mice! More surprisingly, Skilley loves CHEESE! and that’s why he has come to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Pip thinks quick on his feet and makes a deal with Skilley that they will provide him with the hard-to-obtain Cheshire Cheese if he will protect the mice from any true mouser.

Will Pip succeed in persuading the mice, especially Maldwyn, a victim of a cat mauling, that the new mouser is harmless? Is Skilley indeed harmless? Will Skilley’s rival Pinch let Skilley take the post of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese mouser so easily? What secrets is Maldwyn hiding? Will Skilley be able to make it “look” like he is a mouser while really eating the pubs cheese? Can Skilley trust the mice? Can the mice trust Skilley? And most importantly, will Charles find the perfect beginning to his book?

Eyewitness Account:

Deedy and Wright have composed a charming tale of a cat and mouse. But this tale is not the orthodox relationship that you’d expect from such eternal foes. The authors have an original plot scheme for their story and yet they have intertwined beloved traditional elements such as the writings of Charles Dickens and his character itself in the storyline. Even the setting of London and an old fashioned pub nicely offset the untraditional concept of a cheese-eating cat.

The first chapter is a little choppy, but after that the story takes off fluidly. I commend the authors for attempting to be artistic with the script at certain points in the book, but I think it is too distracting at times. Not exactly sure the intended age range, but in some places wording is unnecessarily dense.  The characters have great potential and so does the plot, but since it is only an excerpt, my rating for this book will be less than I would have liked.

 

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆