Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Friday, January 31, 2014

Flame is the thrilling conclusion to Amy Kathleen Ryan's Sky Chasers series that began with Glow and continued with Spark. And what an excellent conclusion it is! We get resolution to all the stories, unexpected twists and turns, and hope and despair in equal measure. I was up way past my bedtime finishing this one and I'm really sad it's over.

Flame begins with Waverly going back to the New Horizon after the explosion on the Empyrean. She really has no choice; she must rely on her nemesis Anne Mather and hope that there will be mercy even as she despises everything that's happened. She doesn't know that Seth has escaped to the New Horizon as well, and she is kept under guard. It doesn't take long before both Waverly and Kieran become pawns in a power struggle and it's equally clear that no one cares what really happens to either of them. Meanwhile, Seth roams the ship trying to learn more and get to Waverly, but even that has its issues, as he develops a major infection in his broken hand and his actions are questioned by the very person he most wants to save.

There's so much more going on in this novel that it's difficult to express it all in one little review. The main thing I came away with was the plethora of emotion experienced while reading. This may be a young adult book, but I was dragged through a morass of depression, hope, deceit, desperation, relief, uncertainty, delirium, name it, it's there in spades. Waverly becomes so beaten down that my heart hurt for her; Seth's determination made me fear for his life more than once. Just when I thought I had it figured out, Ryan took us in a new direction that had me upset and turning the pages to see what happened next. There are disgusting people and situations, and there are tender moments that balance the story beautifully. There's lots of action, and yet there's lots of introspection as well. This book, quite simply, has it all. A brilliant ending to an exciting trilogy.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Simply One of the Best

Elizabeth Chadwick's The Summer Queen is the first in a planned trilogy on Alienor of Aquitaine (popularly known as Eleanor), and having just finished it, I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this novel. I always love Chadwick's books, but I sort of wondered what else could be added to the story to make it more engaging. It's my pleasure to say that not only does this novel deliver, it does so beautifully, bringing life to characters and events in vivid detail. I'm blown away.

The Summer Queen takes us through the years Alienor was married to Louis of France and into the first blush of her marriage with Henry of England. Alienor, duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, finds herself continually putting her own feelings and needs aside as her overly pious first husband disappoints her again and again. Chadwick takes us through it all: the births of unwelcome daughters, the arduous Crusade, the loss of freedom, and the desperation to end an untenable marriage. Alienor often follows her heart, and she's not written as a saint by any means. What does come through is her indomitable spirit and her determination to protect and advance Aquitaine at any cost. It's evident that Alienor is a passionate woman strapped to a man who becomes more priggish and overbearing as the years pass, and it's easy to see how she felt when first encountering young Henry, the polar opposite of puckered Louis. Part of me wanted to yell at her, to warn her of what's ahead, but most of me just wanted to luxuriate alongside her while she's enjoying herself.

There simply aren't enough words for me to express how much I enjoyed this novel; knowing it would be good because it was by Chadwick, I had no idea I'd become thoroughly engrossed as I was. I even found myself slowing down in my reading just so I could spend more time inside the world brought to life. Alienor's motivations for her actions and her strongly held emotions are vibrantly brought to life against a background where the Church was all and women were expected to do as they were told. If it's possible, Alienor is even more of a personal heroine for me now after having read Chadwick's excellent novel. Highly recommended.


Monday, January 06, 2014

A Reading Roll!

I took advantage of a "cold" day and finished off another short book that I had lying around here. I'm pretty darned excited about my reading roll so far! Fingers crossed it's not a fluke.  Here's the review:

Even though I am very familiar with the Tudor period, I was surprised at the amount of historical information packed into this young adult novel about Anne Boleyn. Told from the perspective of Elinor Valjean, maid to first Queen Catherine of Aragon and then to Anne Boleyn, we see the rise and fall of one of history's most notorious women, and it's not a very flattering light in which she's cast. 

Elinor makes no bones about her feelings for Anne; she's on Catherine's side and only serves Anne because Anne likes her (presumably for her  musical abilities). Opposed to Anne from the get-go, there's seldom a nice word said about her in this "diary" that Elinor keeps. While Elinor herself grows up and marries, she keeps her gaze on both the wicked Anne and the saintly Catherine (through her mother's and sister's continued employ in Catherine's household). Elinor reports mostly on the major events of the times, and only toward the end does her opinion of Anne alter as she watches the queen face her accusers and death with dignity. 

This book is highly readable, cut into easily digestible, sporadic diary entries. If Elinor is very opposed to Anne, that can be forgiven as the book is seen through her eyes. I did grow a bit weary of her continued reinforcement of the stereotypes of both Anne and Henry, and this really doesn't offer new take on the story. Still, it would be a good entry into history for a young adult as it does tell the tale from a generally interesting viewpoint. 


Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Quickie (No, not that kind)

Spy Smuggler: My Story is told through the eyes of 13/14 year old Paul, whose father was killed while opposing the German occupation of France. Paul is desperate to show his disdain for the Germans, and is disgusted that his uncle Maurice seems to do his best to stay on the friendly side of them. When Paul rebels against his teacher who supports Hitler, he finds himself behind bars, facing a very real threat on his life. But fate intervenes, and Paul's uncle rescues him...and then recruits him to join the Resistance, with whom he has been covertly working for years. Paul jumps at the chance, even though it will place him in harm's way and may even get him killed.

This is a very fast read, probably most suitable for those reading on grades 4-8 levels. Paul is not always the nicest kid around, but he is very realistic, and definitely committed to the cause. The glimpse of what a young man fighting for French freedom during World War II is well written and vivid, and the inclusion of a timeline at the end is quite welcome. There are actual photographs included as well. While not high literature, it's evident the author has done his research and this would be a good inclusion in a unit on the history of the Second World War.


First Book of the New Year

Heather Wells should be in the final stages of planning her wedding to private investigator Cooper Cartwright, but the beginning of the semester brings all sorts of problems at Fischer Hall, where she is assistant residence hall director. Moving freshmen in usually involves issues, but when a new student happens to be a prince, there's bound to be trouble. Oh, and one of the resident assistants turns up dead...Yeah, the wedding may have to take a back seat.

Heather is a fun, real character whose antics and thoughts are often enough to make me laugh out loud. The relationship she has with her boyfriend is both sweet and mutually supportive, and her friends all have unique personalities that bring life to the story. There isn't a very deep mystery here; in fact, Heather gets sidetracked early on by a noisy rebellion of some fired resident assistants, as well as the situation with the prince and assorted other issues. And really, the mystery's not the point; Heather's so busy looking forward to her wedding and deciphering the problems that that much alone would be enough. To be honest, the mystery was only of interest to me in seeing how Heather would deal with it.

I'm not sure if this is the final book in the series, but it definitely has the hallmarks of being so; Heather's mother finally makes an appearance, and despite everything, the wedding day approaches with all the technicalities usual to such a date. If it is the last in the series, it's a good one; if not, I'll be more than happy to see where Heather goes next.


Thursday, January 02, 2014

Impossible To Put Down

My last book of 2013, my first review of 2014…things are good so far! And in other news, I just realized that this is the very first review of this book on Amazon. That *never* happens to me. Cool beans.

Laurie Halse Anderson's The Impossible Knife of Memory has all the hallmarks of a young adult novel: boy/girl relationship, troubled parent, good friend with her own issues. If you left it at that, it would be the same old story that fills so many YA novels. Thankfully, Anderson's writing and her sense of character make this book a cut above the rest.

Hayley's job is to make sure her father stays sane and doesn't hurt himself. Or at least, that's the job she's been saddled with and she doesn't know any other way of life. Her father is a veteran suffering from PTSD; as a result, when he isn't drinking or doing drugs, he's running away to try to dull the pain. This year, her eighteenth, he's taken her home to her grandmother's house and enrolled her in school (something she hasn't been attending since riding shotgun with him while he was a truck driver). Suddenly Hayley has the school officials looking at her, expecting her to do and be things she's not used to, and her father's condition is a minefield of issues. At least Hayley has a friend in Gracie and a boyfriend named Finn; there are people out there who care what happens to her. But holding it all together may end up being too much for all of them.

Hayley's situation had me so angry I couldn't see straight; sadly enough, there are plenty of kids out there who must be the parent to their own parent, and her problems just keep multiplying. I watched as events spiraled out of control and became completely absorbed in Hayley's desperation as she tried to make everything work out while keeping her walls up. Anderson makes the story work without becoming too overwhelming or too neat; it would be interesting to see what happens as Hayley's life progresses. This glimpse into what a child of a PTSD vet may endure is illuminating and riveting, and Anderson remains one of the best young adult writers around.