Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg

Penny has had it with high school guys. After having her heart broken by the guy she thought was her ideal, she decides to swear off dating in high school. Soon she's joined by a few friends who have also had their bad experiences with guys and the form The Lonely Hearts Club, a group that feels like they don't need boys in high school. Before Penny knows it, the club is making a splash at school and having some unexpected results and unexpected consequences. Faced with an increasingly annoyed male population and Penny fighting a crush of her own, Penny and her friends join together to support each other and maybe approve of a boy now and then anyway.

Genre: romance, contemporary

Rating: 4/5

I liked this book. It was cute and Penny intelligent and laid back. I enjoyed the fact that one of her friends initially started out in the "annoying perfect girl" stereotype, but turned out to be a major character who is actually genuinely sweet and apologetic about ditching Penny back when she originally got a boyfriend. Girls are portrayed in a mostly positive light (with the exception of a few stereotypical mean girls) and girl friendships are celebrated. The book only gets marked down on two counts: first off, Penny's parents' obsession with the Beatles seemed a bit fake and like it was a gimmick to use in the book more than anything else. The second issue was one where Penny finding happiness with a boy sort of undermined some of the message to me. Yes the group is still supportive and refuses to allow members to become girlfriends who are consumed by their boyfriends to the point of having no life, but the main character spending most of the book stressing about whether she should be with a guy or not (granted a nice guy) sort of derails the message that girls shouldn't worry about boys. It just sort of seemed like it was at cross purposes. The book is charming though and works as a nice little romance too, and definitely has a positive message of girls being themselves whether they have boyfriends or not. So, girl power with a slightly mixed message.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye

When London is struck by notorious killer Jack the Ripper, of course the world's most famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is called in. Sherlock finds himself in a difficult position when the killer proves just as crafty as he is and the residents of Whitechapel are led to think that Sherlock might actually be the killer. Faced with inept police work, hysteria, injuries and being framed, Sherlock is forced to tax his strength to the limit and call in the charming, down on her luck Miss Monk to help him.

Genre: mystery, historical

Rating: 3/5

This book. I'm not sure why I didn't like it. I didn't dislike it, I just felt sort of bored by it. The author did a good job trying to fit the Ripper murders with Sherlock mythology, but I don't know. Maybe it was too many iconic things trying to be fit together, like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster being shoved in a movie together. Part of it might be that Sherlock seems smarter than how he's presented here, but he HAS to not know what's going on to fit into the Ripper mythology. The addition of a female was just sort of blase to me. She was the requisite spunky and intelligent and probably necessary to the story, but nothing about anything in the book really grabbed me. Maybe I'm burned out on Sherlock Holmes stuff, but while this was all serviceable enough and there was really nothing wrong with it, there was really nothing that stood out to me either.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Shelf Candy (1)

I'm not known for sticking with particular memes or challenges because of my schedule, but I thought I'd give this a go because I really like covers and while they may give false expectations about how good the book is (I'm looking at you, Girl in the Steel Corset), they are also the reason most of us pick up a book in the first place.

So my choice for this week's shelf candy is Agatha H and the Airship City.

Old school steampunk at its finest. I mean there's a stopwatch stabbing a robotic claw arm with a robot butler in the background. I saw the cover and literally snatched the book off the shelf to read the back.

Magical March Challenge

I've joined the Magical March Challenge over at Roof Beam Reader and look forward to trying to attain Wizard's Class, though I've been reading a lot of historical fiction lately and I'm going to have to shift gears to read more fantasy stuff. If I'd known about the challenge sooner I'd have held off reading Touch of Frost. It's not that I don't have fantasy books all over the place, it's just that I've been checking out a lot of historical from the library and they get read first because of the due date and all. But this looks like a fun challenge and I hope to reach the goal.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep

Gwen Frost is entirely unhappy at the Mythos school, a training ground for those whose ancestors were great mythological warriors. Gwen feels out of place as her abilities aren't very warrior like as she can see people's past actions when she touches things they have. When one of the mean girls at the school winds up dead and no one seems to care, Gwen takes it upon herself to investigate. The more she uncovers, the more she finds that there might be a much bigger plot going on that is putting her in danger.

Genre: fantasy, mystery

Rating: 5/5

I ended up finishing this book in a day. It was far better than I thought it was going to be when I picked it up. While it does have a few of the "magical teenager" cliches, it's more Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson than anything else. Gwen is tough and sassy and eventually makes friends with her own mean girl and a very sexy and untrustworthy Spartan. Interestingly the book leaves you hanging about whether Gwen will eventually get her bad boy Spartan with the heart of gold as he seems to be hiding his own secrets. The book causally mentions sex and alcohol, and while it doesn't dwell on it, it certainly doesn't avoid it either. There are also plenty of pop culture references which probably won't allow the book to age well, but for right now are very timely. I enjoyed it and very much want to read the next one in the series. The characters aren't traditional and the greater mythology seems like it might be interesting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hearts of Stone by Kathleen Ernst

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Hannah and her siblings are left alone when their mother dies. Faced with being split up or trying to find relatives in Nashville, the family heads out only to find themselves in dire straits in the city with nowhere to go. Hannah is plagued by doubts about whether she is doing the right thing by her siblings and is strapped with trying to protect them. She is also filled with regret about her relationship with a neighbor boy Ben, whose father was a Rebel while Hannah's was a Union soldier. Slowly losing more and more family possessions and faced with starving to death, Hannah has to decide how to save what's left of her family.

Genre: historical

Rating: 5/5

The immediate aftermath of the Civil War is something I don't often see dealt with in books. It always seems like the war ends and suddenly everything is fine for all the characters in the book. This book deals strictly with the affects of the war on families back at home. Tennessee specifically had a very strange place in the war as many men actually became Union soldiers and there was much Union support in some places. The awful conditions for civilians after the war is generally ignored in novels, specifically YA ones. This is a refreshing filling in of a piece of an ignored space of history. There is no fighting mentioned, just the plight of refugees who don't know what's happened to their families and who have no where to go.

Hannah is a tough young woman thrust into a role that she shouldn't have to handle, but who has no other options. She struggles to make up her mind about certain things and is nagged by doubt that she's doing the right thing, but she acts to try to keep her family together and is strong during tragedy. She has to sacrifice her strict code of what is right and wrong to feed her family, but doesn't do so easily. This is a well written book about a blank space in YA historical fiction.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Vive La Revolution by Mark Steel

They don't have revolutions like they used to and they certainly don't have revolutions like the one France pulled. But what actually happened? Aside from knowing that a lot of people got guillotined, most people wouldn't know in the US. Which is where Mark Steel picks up to enlighten the masses with the causes, events and general results of France's little revolution. Along the way he takes an irreverent attitude about the stuffy scholarliness that most history books take. Any way around it, no one is safe from Steel's acid pen.

Genre: history

Rating: 5/5

Viciously funny and historically accurate, this is how history should be presented to people who don't like it. Steel is irreverent and hilarious as he explains why the revolution happened the way it did and who was involved. He also makes a good point of noting that history is written by the winners, which is probably why so many things were described the way they were in primary sources. I was deeply amused by the book and except for the language would have recommended it for the school library as it explains the French Revolution better than I ever could. Well researched and entirely readable, if you don't take your history too seriously, this book is perfect.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

Victorian gentleman Charles Lenox is something of hobbyist detective. When his close friend Lady Jane asks him to investigate the murder of a former servant, he sets out with his valet Graham, his doctor friend, and eager to help brother, Charles sets about trying to untangle the mystery while delicately treading around his nemesis Inspector Exeter and a lot of aristocratic and wealthy gentlemen who may not want this case solved. Add to that the fact that the home that the murder took place happens to be where the treasury was storing gold for the mint and Charles has his hands full.

Genre: mystery, historical

Rating: 5/5

There's nothing not to like about this charming mystery. With a detective pleasantly upper class possessing the mind of a Sherlock Holmes, though more inclined to miss a clue now and then, Lenox and his friends are just likable. I made the mistake of looking at Amazon reviews before writing my own, something I try not to do, and was rather surprised by all the complaining about historical mistakes in the book. I didn't notice anything so terribly glaring that I couldn't enjoy the mystery part. One of the things I think reviewers tend to forget (and I do it as well) is the genre of book they're reviewing. If this were a historical novel I might have been harder on it, but it's a mystery and never pretends to be anything other than that. And it was a charming mystery that was far more readable and unpredictable than most and the characters were actually likable themselves. Lenox's brother Edmund was also a pleasant change from distant or snooty upper crust siblings in books by eagerly delighting in helping his brother. Everything is neatly answered, but not so neatly concluded, as Lenox makes a few errors that lead to not everyone being punished quite like they possibly should be. This was just a nice mystery.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Compass in the Blood by William E. Coles Jr.

Ambitious college freshman Dee has written a prize winning essay about the strange case of Katherine Soffel, a wife and mother who, at the turn of the century, apparently fell in love with one of the convicts in the prison where her husband was warden and who helped him and his brother escape only to be gunned down. Dee has questions about the case and when she gets an opportunity from a known tv journalist to possibly locate Soffel's diary, she jumps at it. But suddenly Dee finds herself out of her depth. Dead end after dead end keep presenting themselves on the quest for the diary location and Dee finds herself questioning her idol's ethics as well. Suddenly the case looks a lot murkier than even Dee originally imagined.

Genre: historical, suspense

Rating: 4/5

This books was as much about how research is done as it was about the admittedly interesting case of Katherine Soffel. There are a lot of strange aspects to the actual case which the author handily draws on to make his own argument that there was something more than the newspapers presented in the original events. Dee is an intelligent girl and she finds herself torn in finding what she wants by unscrupulous means like her mentor Harry, or whether there is a line of ethics to be drawn, even for the dead. Dee and her friends are believable, even if Dee's boyfriend is a bit of an anomaly for this type of book and his plot line seemed forced in. There was enough going on without his artwork becoming a plot thread that really didn't seem to go anywhere.

The case itself is fascinating. Why would a woman risk her life for a man then both of them deny having a relationship? Why would the escape attempt have been so odd? Why would her husband have acted in such a strange manner? The newspapers had a free hand in painting Soffel as a vampire woman who had obscene desires, but the information doesn't seem to add up. The main flaw of the book is that it can't give a solid answer. The group stops short of reading the actual diary, leaving the ending open to interpretation.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Desires of Her Heart by Lyn Cote

Forced to move to Texas because of her father's terrible financial decisions, Dorritt finds herself the only one in the group being able to make logical decisions until they come across tracker Quinn, who immediately finds himself drawn to Dorritt's sensibility. Plunging deeper and deeper into Texas, Dorritt finds herself being more willing to stand up to her bully of a step father and attracted to Quinn, whose background makes him unsuitable. When Dorritt is kidnapped, she suddenly has to decide exactly what she wants out of her life.

Genre: historical, romance

Rating: 4/5

I preface this review by saying I was shocked when Lyn Cote responded to my last review of one of her other books, in particular because she was so gracious when I REALLY did not like the main character of the book and made that known. She's a good writer and I'd already started reading another of her books in hopes that my reaction would be more favorable. It was, albeit I still had some character issues, but some of them were resolved by the end.

First off, I was afraid Dorritt was going to fall in the same category of female character I hate as she backed down all the time in every confrontation, but eventually her character started taking charge and surprisingly tells off some people. Quinn wasn't really that interesting to me, but two minor characters in Ash and Reva were. I'd read a book just about them. In fact, a lot of the secondary characters were interesting to me. Dorritt's family were one dimensional though. Her father was horrible with no redeeming qualities, her sister a spoiled brat and her mother passive to the point of being catatonic. Dorritt actually develops as a character believably and this makes for a fairly enjoyable historical romance.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Queen of Shadows by Edith Felber

Welsh orphan Gwineth as promised her family that she will avenge the ravaging of her homeland by ruining Edward II. Working as the handmaid to his neglected queen Isabella she finds herself sympathizing with the woman and loathing the many indignities Edward and his ruthless favorite Hugh Despenser subject her to. But Isabella is no weak woman and soon starts her own affair with Roger Mortimer, leaving Gwineth torn between her own safety and overthrowing the weak willed king.

Genre: historical

Rating: 4/5

I've always felt a little for the She-Wolf of France. She got a raw deal. She was married off to a man who was by most accounts a homosexual who flaunted his affairs in front of his wife and whose favorite, Hugh Despenser was a horrible, power hungry villain. So I feel like she simply acted like a man in a man's world and has been vilified herself for it. So this was an interesting more sympathetic take on the queen. Probably more sympathetic than she actually was, but being honest that Mortimer was just as power hungry as Despenser was. I think the most telling thing about Isabella in history is that her son banished her and killed Mortimer, but didn't banish her that far away and by most accounts she lived a long, relatively content life. That speaks of someone whose son didn't quite see her as a total monster as she's been portrayed.

The book itself was well written, though Gwineth and Owen felt like rather flat characters. The real characters were far more interesting. The romance also felt bland as Owen really had no personality. Most of the action is centered on Isabella's life right before she rebelled against Edward II and the ending felt rushed because of it. It was a book that made me look more into Isabella and how she's been portrayed. She was an interesting woman who may have gotten a raw deal from history.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Last Wife of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson

Moving in and out of the intrigues of the court of Henry VIII, Catherine Parr is a far more intelligent woman than most, though she had no desire to be involved in the snake pit of court politics. Widowed young then married for convenience to a boring man much older than herself, Catherine never has the children she deeply wants, but does find love with the slick and ambitious Thomas Seymour whose vying for power puts their love in danger if not their lives. Having attracted the attention of the aging Henry VIII, Catherine becomes an unlikely queen and is forced to deal with a husband who is paranoid and religious leaders who would like to see her head end up like that of previous wives. Surviving through her brains, Catherine finally is able to be with her beloved Thomas, but his interest in the princess Elizabeth threatens their happiness.

Genre: historical

Rating: 4.5/5

Catherine Parr was the only wife of Henry VIII to manage to stay married to him until his death, though not easily. There is plenty of documented history where she was very nearly assigned the same fate as her predecessors as her enemies at court tried to use Henry's paranoia to eliminate her. Catherine seemed to be impressively smart though, an author and theologian and capable of keeping her head in a poisonous atmosphere. The most interesting feature to what seemed like a smart woman for her time is her relationship with Seymour, a man who later was executed and who abandoned her during her pregnancy, which she died from by most accounts. He seems like an anomaly who she may have been infatuated with, as she was willing to risk the disapproval of court by marrying him a very short time after Henry's death. By most accounts she was in love with Seymour before the king showed interest and agreed to marry him more out of duty than anything else.

If Erickson takes liberties with her history, she can be given a free pass since Catherine is no where near as well documented as Henry's more famous wives, particularly the ones who lost their heads. Catherine is to be admired though, as a woman who was very much of her time and in some ways ahead of her time in regards to her learning.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Angel of Death by Alane Ferguson

Cameryn is back as an assistant forensic scientist to her father. This time she's struggling with the re-entrance of her long lost mother into her life. Unsure of who to trust with all her secrets, her life is turned even more upside down by Kyle, one of the most desirable boys at her school, who shows a sudden intense interest in her. But Cameryn still has confused feelings for deputy Justin who has always supported her. Then there's the odd death of the English teacher, whose eyes were literally burned out of his head and his insides cooked. There's a lot going on in Cameryn's life.

Genre: mystery

Rating: 4/5

This series is exceptionally good when it comes to forensics. It's like CSI for YA readers. I found this second book in the series weaker than the first though. First off, the method of murder was questionable. I literally still don't know if you can kill a person how the murderer did. Secondly, is Cameryn going to get kidnapped by a murderer every book? Because this is twice now. I can buy once, but twice is starting to look like you're negligent as a detective. Cameryn is hard to like in this novel as she's keeping too many secrets from people and has started to shut her friends and family out of her life. Her treatment of Lyric is painful to watch as is her brushing off of Justin, who obviously likes her. Her behavior is understandable and within character, but it still makes her not terribly pleasant this round. The book is good though, just not as strong as the first novel.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry

Joan is the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. She is often caught between the power struggle of her father, mother and various brothers, none of whom get along with each other. Joan herself tries to keep everyone happy, but she finds herself a political pawn of her parents and shipped off to a marriage that she does not want. Trying to live up to her mother's directions on being a good queen, Joan finds the odds stacked against her and can't shake her interest in a childhood friend for whom she had feelings. Forced to act or be devoured by the politics around her, Joan uses her intelligence to try to protect herself and maybe stand for who she really is.

Genre: historical

Rating: 4/5

This book proved to be surprisingly good. I never know what I'm getting into with YA historical fiction dealing with "princesses" because there's a tendency to romanticize things. I'm not saying this book DIDN'T take a lot of liberties, but it also kept a lot of reality to the plight of being a royal female used as a political game piece. Joan isn't a weak willed person, but she is living in a time when women simply didn't have many options, especially women born into power. Joan has much of the mentality to be expected from women of the time. She values strength more than kindness and despises her husband for being weak more than anything else. Her first marriage is tolerated and she is caught in the trap of having to go between a vindictive sister-in-law and a mother-in-law who recognizes her daughter's scheming. The conflict between Henry II and his sons is portrayed interestingly as well. Neither side is blameless and both groups of men have some seriously unlikable flaws. Richard, who is Joan's favorite brother, proves to be a bully and downright cruel to Joan when she defies him, yet no one sees this as odd as men of the time were expected to act no differently. Joan's second husband who she greatly loves has plenty of illegitimate children running around. This was the middle ages and things were different. The book is honest about that and interesting because of that.

I only don't give the book a higher rating because there was a LOT of liberty taken with history and the author admits it. Also Joan seems much older than she actually is. Even in the middle ages I don't think a 10 year old would talk and react to things like Joan does. Other than that, it's a highly enjoyable read.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Vampire of Venice Beach by Jennifer Colt

Kerry and Terry are twin private investigators who find themselves working as security for the queen of the California Goth scene. When Ephemera turns up dead, the twins must figure out just who wanted her out of the picture. Rubbing shoulders with some of the most sinister people around, things get more complicated when it becomes questionable if Ephemera has been killed at all, while some other people DEFINITELY end up dead. And then there's Kerry's confused love life.

Genre: mystery

Rating: 2.5/5

The mystery part of this novel was actually pretty good and twisty enough to keep my interest in figuring out what happened, but I did NOT like a good chunk of the characters. While it was fine that the person they were trying to help didn't exactly deserve their aid, some of the characters that were supposed to be liked were really obnoxious. Kerry's on again, off again policeman boyfriend was over bearing and sort of pushy and smug. Someone with a personality as strong as Kerry's made no sense being with him. Secondly Terry is annoying. She is destructive and sabotages Kerry's life for no other reason than that she feels left out. She's a grown woman, but she's completely irresponsible and refuses to own up to any of her mistakes and worse yet, Kerry lets her get away with it. Terry is a thoroughly unlikable character and fro her to be the other major character, it really made the book not all that enjoyable.