About This Blog

This blog was started as a place to post book reviews. The books reviewed here will be mixed. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, General Fiction, NonFiction and more. Both positve and negative reviews will be posted, as well as reviews for books written for all ages and all reading levels.

Many of the books reviewed here are ones that I have purchased for my own reading pleasure. Some, I receive free in exchange for reviews. Beginning in December, 2009 you will know which are the free ones if you read the final paragraph of my reviews.

Also of note: I choose what I will read, attempting to avoid the books on which I would end up writing a negative review... but I have been known to make mistakes. Thus you see some one and two star reviews here. Since I don't enjoy writing negative reviews, I only write them if the review was promised, or if the book was so exceedingly bad, I just had to say so. Regardless of the percentage of positive to negative reviews on this blog, I give my honest opinion each and every time, and have never received financial compensation for posting my reviews.

Note that, except for fair use portions quoted from some of the books reviewed, all copyright in the content of the reviews belongs to Lady Dragoness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Falls Flat in Character Development

By Cory Doctorow
Tor Books (2009)
Hardcover, 416 pages
Rated 3 Stars of 5 Possible

Normally, I can't wait for a good, new, science fiction book to be published, and jump at the chance to get an advance review copy. So, I got the chance and jumped on that chance... Makers is a futuristic account of inventors who dream up things that don't exist and figure out how to make those things work. Not just run-of-the-mill inventions like a new car or kitchen appliance, but really weird things like a 3D printer that will print out any invention you can dream up... no, not the plans, the actual inventions.  So, we have an alternative future, we have crazy inventions, we have likeable characters, and some not so likeable characters; in all a good premise from which to begin.

So, you're probably wondering why I'm only giving this book three stars... well, it's kinda the writing. The tale is told in little vignettes strung together into about three VERY LONG chapters... That's deadly from the start with me. I like my chapters about 30 or 40 pages in length (if something really happens in them) or shorter if less happens.  The chapters in Makers - if you can call them that - are over 100 pages long, and do not really contain  that much action.  I gave up around page 145.

Then, too, it's the characterization.  The characters in this book (both good and bad) are only minimally developed, more like a picture hanging on the wall instead of living people. To really suck me into his world, make me feel as if I belong there, a writer needs to develop both the scenery and the characters.  The scenery is just about well-enough developed, but the characters sure could use some work.

And, then, too, it's those little vignettes connected into the long chapters... yeah I know, I mentioned them already, but they drive me nuts. Sorry, Cory Doctorow, you missed on this one.

This review is simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing... Umm and I've posted a link to Dragonviews on Tor.com too, since that's the publisher's website... and where I found out about this book. Sorry I'm so late with the review; the book was published in hard cover, late October, 2009. Oh, and now the FTC has kicked in a new requirement for us bloggers... I'm told I have to say that Tor Books gave me this copy free to review, but truthfully, that makes no difference in my opinions.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Not This Author's Best Work

True Detectives
By Jonathan Kellerman
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (2009)
Rated 3 stars of 5 Possible

True Detectives stars two brothers who can't get along with each other, but must work together.  While the antagonism between the brothers is not more than mildly interesting, far too much of that relationship was included in the story.

Of far more interest was the missing persons case the brothers were investigating and the murder case that got tangled up in the initial investigation...  yet True Detectives is only an average thriller.

The first 117 pages makes one think the book is worth reading; the last 62 pages also support that viewpoint... however the pages in the middle of the book do everything possible to destroy the careful construction of the novel begun in those first pages. The middle of the book also does not make a lot of sense when combined with the ending pages.

I'd recommend this only for die-hard Kellerman fans and with the caviat that this is far from his best work. The novels starring Alex Deleware as the main character are much better than this one.

This review was simultaneously published on Dragonviews and LibraryThing

Friday, December 18, 2009

Something For Everyone

Treasury of Christmas Crafts & Foods
Joan Cravens and Judith Veeder (Editors)
George De Gennaro and William Hopkins (Photographers)
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Better Homes & Gardens Books (August 1980)
Rated 5 Stars of 5 Possible

This is an unusual book, every page full of instructions for beautiful crafts or mouth-watering holiday recipes, as well as many pages containing gorgeous photos of either the finished craft projects or the ready-to-eat food that looks as good as it tastes. The recipes are mostly for the average cook, but some are easier and some a bit more difficult to prepare.

While I've had my copy of this book approximately two decades, I find it as interesting to read now as I did then; a timeless and wonderful book to peruse during the holidays. Something for everyone can be found within these pages. Although this book does contain many different nativity scene projects done with different techniques, and requiring different skill levels to complete, there are an abundance of other craft projects so that nobody need feel left out.

Amazon.com no longer sells this new, however many third party sellers have copies available in any condition, including new, most of them at very reasonable prices. If you love crafts and cooking, this is the book for you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Seasonal Ghost Story

A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas
by Charles Dickens
Project Gutenberg e-book edition
based on J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY edition (1915, printed in England)
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham
Approximately 148 pages
Rated: 4.0 of 5 stars possible

I chose to re-read A Christmas Carol at this time of year (2008) for several reasons.  First, because of the seasonal nature of the story, and second because I was feeling in need of the "lesson" learned by Scrooge.; also to study the illustrations. There are (at minimum) three illustrated editions of this novella, each done by a different artist; the illustrations accompanying each version are quite different than the illustrations for the other versions. Mr. Rackham's style is simple, comical and comfortable... some illustrations are merely line drawings while others are a little more complex and in full color.  They add an incredible amount of enjoyment to reading this book, but are not distracting as some illustrations can be.

Dickens' prose stands out - as usual - partly because of the Victorian phrasing and cadence, partly because of the differences between British English and American English. For a modern-day American scholar, this makes Dickens a challenge to comprehend, but none-the-less an enjoyable challenge. A Christmas Carol deals with two themes which you see frequently occurring in Dickens' work: social injustice and poverty. There's an abundance of symbolism employed in this tale of Christmas, enough so that analysis of the short text is not quick and easy to accomplish. On another level, A Christmas Carol can simply be enjoyed for the excellent tale it is - which is what I wound up doing despite my original intentions.  Deeper analysis will have to wait for another day - and probably not one close to the season depicted in the story.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Bitter-Sweet Christmas Story

First, a comment and then, I promise, I'll get on with the review. :)  As with many of the other books I've read this year, The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck came to me through an online book club that I joined.  Almost without exception, those books have not been something I'd choose for myself, but the vast majority of them have been exceptionally good reading and I'm most certainly glad I joined the group.  If you're looking to broaden your own reading horizons, join a local book club or an online book club.  And now, I've yakked enough... so on with the review!

The Christmas Sweater

By Glenn Beck
Publisher: Threshold Editions (2008)
Format: Hardcover, 284 pages
Rated: 5 stars of 5 possible

Young Eddie was having a hard time adjusting to the fact that life without his father was different. His mother worked four jobs to pay for the necessary things in life, and traded hours with her co-workers so that she could spend more time with him. Eddie really only wanted one thing for Christmas, a shiny new bicycle, but he knew that his mom would have a hard time coming up with the money for that bicycle... so he prayed to God that she would find a way, and promised that he would earn it.  Like the main character in Mitch Albom's For One More Day, and like Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, after a long period of deep soul-searching, young Eddie wants his chance for atonement.

The Christmas Sweater
has another thing in common with the Mitch Albom book mentioned earlier. This is a genre I mostly don't find myself attracted to reading, and would never have chosen for myself. This novel is a tear jerker, which almost caused me not to open it. I don't normally seek those out on purpose. Still, because of my tendency to read almost anything, I decided to give The Christmas Sweater a chance. I'm glad I did. Its smaller than usual size (pages are seven inches high by 5 inches wide) makes this book easy to handle and to carry around, which you may want to do simply because it's so hard to put aside. The novel is well written, easy to read, and is one of those heart-warming stories which stay with you long after you finish. Unlike many other novels, this one ends on a positive note, so I can recommend it to all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In The Grip of History

Dragonfly in Amber
By Diana Gabaldon
Mass Market Paperback: 960 pages
Publisher: Dell (November 2, 1993)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Dragonfly in Amber - Book 2 in the Outlander series - begins 20 years after Claire's return to her own century. Claire now feels she must reveal the truth she has concealed for those two decades, her daughter's lifetime. In recounting the story to her daughter and a friend, Claire resumes the tale of her 18th century adventures where the first volume left off. In presenting this second volume, the author has continued the same high-quality writing and vivid storytelling which characterized the first book.

The dramatic and compelling tale culminating immediately prior to the battle of Culloden in 1745-46 is a gripping page-turner that I found difficult to lay aside at the beginning, and near the end, turning those pages and finishing the book took priority over sleep. The historical elements of the Outlander saga thus far lend interest and drama to the tale as well as being intensely researched to bring elements of realism into the saga which prevent its being too incredible for belief.

Highly recommended for adult readers.  This review is published simultaneously on Amazon.com, Dragonviews and LibraryThing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Good Ol' Who-Done-It?

Bone by Bone
By Carol O'Connell
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult (December 30, 2008)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Two brothers take a walk in the woods; only one comes home. Then the father sends Orrin, his only remaining child away to finish school in a place where there are no woods in which to get lost.  For twenty years, the case is treated as a missing persons case, and no progress is made. Then bone, by bone, Josh, the younger brother starts coming home. A few weeks after the father starts finding the bones on his porch, Orrin returns.  He is now a veteran of the United States Army, Central Intelligence division, with many years of criminal investigation under his belt... and, after yet another of his brother's bones is found on the porch, he's suspcious...

When a child dies, the police take a hard look at the parents first.  Did the old man kill Josh? As we eagerly turn the pages to discover what happened to the young teen all those years ago, we discover that the brothers argued with each other on that walk before they parted. Has Orrin returned to the scene of his crime, or did someone else commit the murder?

As the story progresses, nearly everyone in town had reason to dislike Josh and his ever-present camera; anyone could be the murderer...  Carol O'Connell has created a host of interesting characters and written a compelling novel about them, a page-turner that mystery fans and enthusiasts of criminal fiction alike will not easily be able to put aside. I like the way this book was written because the characters are allowed to tell their story their own way. The point of view makes sense in relationship to the character's actions. The transitions make sense and facts don't seem out of place as with some books I've read lately.

Highly recommended.  This review is published simultaneously on Amazon.com, Dragonviews and LibraryThing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who Goes There?

Terminal Freeze
By Lincoln Child
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Doubleday (February 24, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

On the surface, Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child resembles "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell writing as Don A. Stuart. Campbell's story of a small team of scientists in the far north who uncover a creature entrapped in the ice thinking the creature has been dead for thousands of years was published in Astounding Magazine back in 1938. Terminal Freeze was published about 7 decades later. In both stories, the scientists are proven wrong - dead wrong.  Inside, the details of Terminal Freeze are far different than "Who Goes There", and perhaps even more exciting.  The initial concept is a good one, good enough that two movies have been made from the older story (one in 1951, and another, which more closely follows the initial story, in 1982,) and a third movie based on that same story is now in production... and yes, Termial Freeze does read as if it was meant to be a movie...

In fact, having seen the two films made from the older story, I couldn't help but see some flashbacks from the 1982 film while reading Terminal Freeze... how the team of scientists in this novel allowed the same mistakes to happen as happened in the other story... only in this case, blame can be laid squarely in the lap of the film crew, who were sent to cover the discovery of this creature buried in the ice... and that's where a lot of the differences come in.

Lincoln Child had to put his own stamp on the story and include his own twists, which, I'll admit were interesting in their way. Terminal Freeze is a page-turner, written for those of us who enjoy thrillers with some science fictional content. It's not too likely I would have bought this book because of it's resemblence to "Who Goes There?" but I am glad I read it...

Recommended for those who like thrillers with some scientific background.  This review has simultaneously been posted on Amazon.com, Dragonviews and LibraryThing.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Keeper of Secrets... Translations of an Incident
By Anjuelle Floyd
Publisher: Three Muses Press (2007)
Format: Paperback, 176 pages
Rated:    5 stars of 5 possible

Keeper of Secrets... Translations of an Incident is composed of eight short stories united by strong characters and revolving around one central incident. The stories are each told from a different point of view and reveal how the central incident affects the lives of the witnesses and even of people who were not present during the incident - like the ripples made by a stone as it impacts the water in a still pond.

Anjuelle Floyd is a master storyteller, who weaves the threads of her stories into a finely woven tapestry, rich with meaning. This anthology is captivating from the first sentence to the last. I've always admired writers who can weave their magic tales with an economy of words; no words are wasted here. These short, powerful stories will stay in my mind awhile just as this book will remain part of my permanent collection. I will need to read Keeper of Secrets... Translations of an Incident again - and more slowly - to absorb the full meaning of these stories.

Recommended for readers looking for extraordinary, both entertainment and intellectual stimulation are found within the pages of this excellent collection.   This book would make excellent discussion material for a high school or college literature class.

Keeper of Secrets
was sent to me free from the author in exchange for review.  This review was simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cookie Cutter Characters

Dirty Little Angels
By Chris Tusa
Pdf review copy 170 pages
Publisher: Livingston Press (2009)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

Dirty Little Angels
is the story of a dysfunctional family living in the slums of New Orleans. The story is somewhat dark and suspensful at points... While this story is fiction, it is all too accurately reflcted in real life. Financial hardship, adultry, drug usage, psychotic instability and more are depicted front and center in this book. Tragically, none of the characters seems willing to accept responsibility for or try to correct the deficits in their characters.

Aside from being set in the south and the dark tinge to the plot, this novel does not stand comparison with To Kill a Mocking Bird or any contemporary literature of which I'm aware. Other novels have at least some characters that the reader can like and care about, but the characters in Dirty Little Angels are all the same - flawed and black-hearted with few redeeming characteristics that I could find.

Sixteen year-old Hailey Trosclair is no different from the other characters in that she has her own twisted sense of right and wrong. She values her family but is far too willing to cross the faint line between legal and illegal, between sanity and insanity.  A few times, I really wanted to slap her silly; hanging out with the wrong sort of people just about got her what she deserved.  If this story had gone on much longer, I could see everyone caught in the downward spiral of self-destruction.

This review is simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Search For Fun

Search for the Flaming Chalice
By Robert Shaw Kesler
Paperback: 153 pages
Publisher: Thatcher Forest (1998)
Rated:    4 stars of 5 possible

Search for the Flaming Chalice is an anthropomorphic tale of three martins - Carmen, Alger, and Gilbert - on a quest to find the flaming chalice, which will enable them to unleash the power of the purple stone they carry. The humor, magic and adventure combine to create a delightful and sometimes suspenseful tale that will appeal to fantasy fans, both young and old. The more experienced reader will recognize literary allusions to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Shelley's Frankenstein, Rossetti's "Goblin Market," Dante's Inferno, and more embedded within the story.  Themes in the novel include friendship, family, courage, persistence, teamwork, and more, which makes the novel not only entertaining for younger readers but also a teaching tool for those a little older.

The main villain of the piece is Attila, an evil sorcerer.  I found him a bit weak in characterization, almost a joke at some points and perhaps too easily defeated as well... yet this didn't detract too much from my over-all enjoyment of the story, as too strong a villain would not be appropriate for a children's story.

That said, I hereby give this highly enjoyable tale a strong 4 star rating for being both entertaining and educational. I recommend this book to readers age 8 and up.

This review has been simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Alternate History

By Diana Gabaldon
Publisher: Dell (1992)
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 850 pages
Rated 5 Stars of 5 Possible

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon—when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"--in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.*  Thus begins Outlander and its six - yes, six sequels... and more to come.

There is a heavy element of romance in Outlander and all those massive sequels, so the publisher classifies them with the romances, though these epic tales contain so much more than just romance. The author says her Outlander books "...belong to no genre -- or to all of them, according to how you want to look at it."  I'll go along with the all genres point of view.

Initially, I was a bit disappointed that Outlander does not contain as much fantasy as I was hoping  for, but that disappointment quickly took a back seat. The historical aspect of Outlander captivated me from the beginning and I was delighted to find that, despite the heavy romance elements - which I was delighted to find were not entirely formulaic - my interest in the story never waned. The action and adventure kept me entertained from the first page all the way to the last... I had a difficult time putting this book aside for sleep, so huge amounts of my waking hours were spent engrossed within the pages of this excellent book.

While Outlander contains a considerable amount of violence, that aspect of the story isn't entirely gratuitous.  Readers who are up on their history will know that 18th century Scotland was characterized by the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745, the latter of which will account for much of the violence.  Another reviewer mentioned the Scottish clan tartans as used in Outlander being an anomaly in that time period, however, that is a minor point that should not interfere with the reader's enjoyment. If not for that reviewer's mention of the historical inaccuracy of that point, I never would have known, and for me, it did not detract from the story.

* Synopsis of Outlander, copyright Diana Gabaldon.

Recommended reading for adults 18 and up who can tolerate the violent aspects of a novel for the sake of historical accuracy.

This review has simultaneously been published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Double Cross?

by Joseph Finder
Hardcover, 400 pages
St. Martin's Press (2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

When Roger and Lauren Heller are attacked on the way back to their car from the restaurant where they had just finished eating dinner, Lauren is knocked unconscious. By the time she awakens 24 hours later, Roger has disappeared. Worried about his dad, young Gabe calls in his Uncle Nick, Roger's brother, who also happens to be a private detective. Not long after Nick Heller is on the case, a mysterious and somewhat cryptic e-mail appears in Lauren's inbox, suggesting that Roger is dead. Will Nick find his brother? Is Roger really dead or just hiding out?  And just how and why is Victor Heller (Nick and Roger's father) involved in all of this?

Joseph Finder has created an interesting new hero for this new series of books, of which Vanished is only the intriguing start. Vanished is quickly paced, a thriller full of action and suspense from the beginning to the very end, yet has enough description to bring the characters to a fully fleshed state. This page-turner grabbed me by the collar and didn't let go until I finished reading every last page; it left me wanting more.

I was ready to give Vanished my highest rating when, with about 150 pages left to read, I suddenly "saw" the ending.  This predictability isn't something I like to see in a really good book (surprise endings are the best) but I have to admit the plot twist was something worth reading. Although I already knew what would happen, I just wasn't sure of all the details... and at that point, I was already so deeply hooked, I couldn't put the book down; I had to finish.

Vanished isn't for everyone, as the violence does get rather graphic in a couple places. Still,I recommend this book for those adult readers who like thrillers and/or action packed novels and can handle the violence.

This review has been simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Search of Opportunity

Shanghai Girls
By Lisa See
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Random House (May 26, 2009)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

Shanghai Girls is about two sisters, Pearl and May, who leave China in the 1930's and their struggle to reach America, where they hope to find new lives while they are still bound to the old. The sibling rivalry and the love and secret shared between the two sisters helps make them come alive for the reader.

Fairly well written and nicely researched, Shanghai Girls still had it's good parts and it's bad parts for me.  The good parts: Characters of both sorts - those you love and those you love to hate - are depicted in this novel. The characters are fully fleshed so that they seem real and the reader can care about them. The background is historically rich and accurately depicted. This last is one of the essential criteria for good historical fiction.

Now for the bad parts. The first half of the novel drug on far too long yet almost didn't have enough of interest in those pages to keep me from putting the book aside forever.  I'm glad I got past that.  The other thing that bugs me is that May and Pearl left China, not knowing what had happened to their father. That question was left for the reader's imgaination to resolve.  Unresolved things, such as this novel's cliffhanger ending that begs for a sequel can be either good or bad, so I won't try to categorize that, but I will say that the ending (approximately last 4 chapters) seems a bit clumsy, contrived, or rushed compared to the rest of the story.

There were also a couple of surprises, which I won't catergorize. Nor will I reveal those surprises in case you, who are reading this review, have not yet read the novel. I will say that one of the surprises felt like being stomach punched, the other felt a bit like betrayal... so that both, though not the type of surprises one normally enjoys finding, did add some drama and perhaps a touch of realism to the story.

Recommended for fans of the author and perhaps for those who enjoy reading novels with a historical background, but for those who like stories with more upbeat content... well, I'd say you should be looking elsewhere.  If Shanghai Girls were set to music, the signature tune would be composed in a minor key.

This review is simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Take Control of Your Life

The Songbird In My Heart:
The Magnificence of Being, a Simple Message of Grace

Mark Steven Rhoads
Belle Vista, LLC (2009)
Paperback, 208 pages
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

The Songbird In My Heart is a compilation of prose and poetry, complimented by photos. At first glance, the prose and poetry seem to have little to do with each other until one stops to contemplate the meaning of the poetry and actually attempts to understand the prose text.

Once comprehension dawned on me, I discovered a couple of things. First, that the author's statement about this book being intended to be read on a lazy contemplative afternoon is absolutely the right path to take.  In fact, reserving several such afternoons to read this book would not be a bad idea... The other thing I discovered is that I am not the intended audience for this book; before I began reading Songbird, I was fairly cognizant about where my life is headed - neither this, nor any other piece of literature is going to change that.

So, okay, I'm not the target audience, but I have been enjoying the photos and most of the poetry... all is not lost. The sometimes autobiographical prose is sometimes a bit less clear or requires more contemplation than I've had time to give it.  For the intended audience this could be a very beautiful book in more ways than one.  For myself, I'll finish this reading, but I don't think this book is something I'll need to read again.

Recommended especially for those who enjoy reading spiritual literature.  This review has been simultaneously posted on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Secrets Revealed

Deep Secret
By Diana Wynne Jones
Hardcover: 383 pages
Publisher: Tor Books (March 1999)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Rupert Venables is the Junior Magid assigned to Earth and also to the planets of the Koyrfonic Empire. When the Emperor dies without a known heir, Rupert begins his investigation and attempts to find the heir, whom Rupert knows must be there somewhere... Then, to complicate matters, Rupert's senior dies and appoints Rupert the senior, which, of course means that Rupert needs to leave the Koyrfonic empire and search Earth for a suitable magid to fill his old position.

The intense and sometimes humorous tale of Rupert's adventures - and mis-adventures - appeals to fantasy lovers, both young and old. The setting of the story in an alternate England adds a layer of charm to the story, even though the envelope of suspension of disbelief is pushed a bit far in some places. Readers deeply engrossed in the story likely won't notice the unbelievability too much.

Recommended for readers age 10 and up who are looking for a page-turning, fun to read adventure.

This review was simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, LibraryThing and YABooks Central.com.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Flights of Fancy

The Pirate Princess And Other Fairy Tales
By Neil Philip
Hardcover, 88 pages
Arthur A. Levine Books (2005)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

The characters of these seven fairy tales by Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav are dreamers, darers, doers, questers, finders, keepers, sages, seekers. Their stories will remind you of every fairy tale you've ever known, though they are like none you've ever read before: fascinating adventures folded with deep spiritual meaning, vividly rendered by storyteller Neil Philip and illustrated by artist Mark Weber.*

These little-known stories will appeal to the young and young-at-heart of all ages from the read-to-me set all the way up to adults who enjoy a flight of fancy from time to time. The book is generously illustrated, with color pictures on nearly every page; in fact, some pictures take an entire page all to themselves, yet care was taken to see that the pictures enhance the stories.

The typeface is large and easy to read, with generous spacing between the lines of text. In all, this is a quality production that would be a wonderful gift for the children on your Christmas giving list, perhaps even one that will be cherished by the whole family.

This review has been simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, LibraryThing and YABooks Central.com.

*Book description taken from front flap and copyright of same belongs to author of book.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Magical Adventure

Pasha and the Lost Mountain   
by Gary Webster
T.C.C (The Children's Collective)
Kindle format: 304 kb
Paperback: 222 pages
Publisher: Fullproof Publishing Inc (June 26, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible.

Pasha and the Lost Mountain is a magical tale about the adventures of two children and their dogs. The ancient plot of good against evil is depicted in a new series of books aimed at young adults who like a little fantasy in their reading material. This fun and fanciful page-turner appeals to all ages.

While some readers may not appreciate some of the humor in this highly readable novel, the majority of readers will probably like the action and adventure the protagonists experience while on their missions. This author, in his debut novel, has created some lovable and realistic characters.

Recommended for readers of fantasy and fiction ages 10 and up.

This review is simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and LibraryThing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sequel Crashes

The Widows of Eastwick
John Updike
Paperback 308 pages
Afred Knopf. NEW YORK (2008)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

The Widows of Eastwick is a direct sequel to The Witches of Eastwick, which was published some 20 years before.  Not only a long time between books in a series, but the author went round-about instead of making this an interesting story.

The first half of the book drags on forever, with too much description, very little action or dialogue, and almost nothing of interest for the first 100-150 pages. Near the middle of the book, it gets better - for awhile. Near the end, it becomes more like the beginning of the book, but still more interesting than the very slow start.

Not recommended... unless you're a fan of the author with a *must have* imperitive for all of his books. For most people, this one would be better passed by.

This review is simultaneously published on Library Thing, Dragonviews and Amazon.com

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sweet Comfort

The Sugar Queen
By Sarah Addison Allen
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Bantam (May 20, 2008)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Sweet and bidible, yet shy twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini lives with and cares for her aging mother. Though Josey has outgrown her devilish childhood pranks, everyone remembers the unlikeable child she was and will not let Josey forget that part of herself. To compensate for having no friends and comfort herself, Josey eats all manner of sweets and reads romance novels while hiding in her secret closet each night.

Sarah Addison Allen weaves a spell-binding tale of romance and mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat and turning page after page to find out just how much Josey doesn't know about the father she idolizes, even though he passed from her life when she was still very young. We also discover why Josey's overbearing and quite unpleasant mother is so bitter.

While being somewhat predictable, The Sugar Queen is a fresh look at romance with a small dose of mystery thrown in and generously laced with humor and compassion. This book is eminently readable and not too sticky sweet despite it's constant references to sugary treats in the names of every chapter as well as in several points throughout the text. Recommended for romance readers as well as those looking for something different.

This review is simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and Library Thing

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Tale of Ancient Greece

Glory and the Lightning
Taylor Caldwell
Hardcover: 500 pages
Publisher: Doubleday and Co. Inc. (1974)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Glory and the Lightning is based on the life of Aspasia, the beautiful and intelligent courtesan who eventually became the companion of Pericles, ruler of Athens. Rejected by her father, and hidden from him by her mother, Aspasia, when she is but a few days old, is given to and raised by a woman who runs a high-class school for courtesans. Aspasia receives an education well above what most women of her time are allowed.

Much research and imagination went into the creation of this marvelous tapestry of ancient Greece. While the culture has it's attractions, the barbaric treatment of most women at that time is likely to be repulsive to some. Still, I find the novel to be a page turner. The historical facts presented here are accurate enough to give the reader a clear picture of the early 5th century BC... and if the author took a few liberties with her facts... well, the book IS sold as fiction, not a book of history, after all.

I recommend this to readers interested in fiction that is laced with lots of imagination and has some interesting historical personages as the main characters, as well as some relevant historical information.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bizarre Excuses

The Cat Ate My Gym Suit  
by Paula Danziger      
Format: Paperback, 148 pages  
Publisher: Yearling (1983)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

Marcy Lewis, a girl with a poor self-image and a slight weight problem hates gym class, so she gives her teacher some bizarre and untrue excuses why she can't particpate in the class activities. This book's title is just one of those excuses. Then, along comes Ms. Finney, a new English teacher who does not believe in saluting the flag and teaches her classes using controversial methods that make the more conservative members of the community - including Mr. Stone, the school principal - feel uncomfortable. Marcy's father is also opposed to the methods used by Ms. Finney. The thing is, Ms. Finney not only teaches good English and makes her classes interesting, she also teaches good commuication skills, thinking outside the box, and gives the students a new-found confidence in themselves.

The concept is good, the writing decent, but the humor falls flat all too often, so I'm downgrading the rating of this book to just three stars because I don't feel the story has the impact it could possibly have. Of the suporting cast of characters, Marcy's mother could be a little more aware that she's probably a big part of her daugher's weight problem by serving ice cream whenever Marcy comes home after a bad day at school - of which there are far too many... Mother, of course does realize her contribution to Marcy's excess weight but is rather slow to do anything about it; nor does Marcy ever seem to realize what she is doing to herself.

And then there's the little brother, Stuart. He loves Marcy with the innocence that only very young children seem to have, but he's far too cute and is not just a scene stealer but a complete show-stealer. Too much focus is on little brother. More focus should be on Marcy, since she is the main character and little Stuart only part of a large supporting cast.

Recommended for Paula Danziger fans... and might be usable as a discussion book in junior highschool English classes.  Regrettably, it's not for everyone.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fantasy At Its Zaniest

Dark Lord of Derkholm
By Diana Wynne Jones
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow; 1st edition (October 29, 1998)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Derkholm is a fantasy world peopled with wizards and griffins and dragons and a variety of other interesting types of people, including some who are ordinary and some extraordinary.  It is also a tourist attraction for another world, but the people of Derkholm are fed up with the tyrannical Mr. Chesney and his pilgrim parties so they petition their High Chancellor to put a stop to these expeditions once and for all.

What follows is more fun than a barrel of monkeys when Wizard Derk is chosen to be this year's Dark Lord and his son Blade is chosen to be the Wizard Guide. Even the dragons and griffins have to get into the act... and then, of course, Murphy's Law intervenes. Dark Lord of Derkholm is fantasy at its zaniest. I haven't laughed so hard since I first read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy many years ago.

Recommended to fantasy lovers age 12 and up who are not put off by some violence in the story, which, in this case is a necessary part of the plot.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Almost A Changeling

The Secret Garden
By Frances Hodgson Burnett
Hardcover: 375 pages
The Phillips Publishing Co (1910, 1911)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Written nearly 100 years ago, The Secret Garden is one of many coming of age stories in existence. Mary Lennox, a very unpleasant young girl, is suddenly orphaned. She travels from India, where she was born and spent the first part of her life, to England so that she may be cared for by her only surviving relative, an old Uncle, who has a secret that he has kept for ten years.

The author had me intrigued first with Mary, then with her Uncle's secret... and after that, with Mary's progress as she becomes more civilized, changing from a half-wild and completely unlikable person into someone the reader can care about and who is important to other characters in the story...

Despite variances in the English language which have occurred within the last century, I found this refreshing and delightful tale was easily understandable and quite different from most of the YA novels of today. I recommend it to all readers from age 10 and up who are looking for something different. 

While this book can probably be found either used or in a new edition at many bookstores, the reader will also be able to download The Secret Garden free from Project Gutenberg. There are several different formats from which to choose at the first link, Or, if you prefer to listen, Project Gutenberg has several different audio formats available as well.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Madness and Mayhem

First Family
by David Baldacci
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (April 21, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

A child's birthday party ends in a kidnapping. Murder, mayhem, and secrets are soon to be revealed. The First Family of the USA is clearly involved, but just how deep does their involvement go?  A former Secret Service agent turned PI is chasing her own demons, but puts her own concerns aside to follow up on the kidnapping along with her partner, another former Secret Service agent...

David Baldacci's thriller is gripping, non-stop action, slightly reminiscent of some of the early John Grisham novels but also clearly a different style of writing. Fast paced and very ingriguing, I found First Family very hard to put down. While this is the fourth book featuring the two former Secret Service agents, First Family stands on its own, it is quite readable as a stand-alone book.

Be warned, however, if you are looking for a book that's been carefully edited and free of typographical and grammatical errors, this isn't it. Without even looking for such errors, I found about five of them throughout the novel.  Unlike other reviewers, I didn't get bored reading First Family, nor do I believe it precisely fits into the old formulaic kids' detective story format. And oh yes, those annoying typos? The story was so gripping I didn't have time to be annoyed at the editing - or lack thereof - but I do think such sloppy editing reflects badly on the publisher and on the author...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Clearly Written

An Introduction to Art and Drawing
By Linda Drewry
Paperback: 150 Pages
Publisher: Darnley Publishing Group
Rated: 4 stars of 5 possible

Two years ago next week, I started posting my book reviews on this blog. In that amount of time, I've reviewed several art instruction books... some are better than others.  An Introduction to Art and Drawing by Linda Drewry is one of the better instruction books I've attempted to use. Unfortunately, you can't just go out and buy it new at your favorite bookstore, and probably not used either. :(  I know I'm not letting go of my copy... The main purpose of the book is as a text book for the art class I'm currently taking via correspondence course from Stratford Career Institute, which also seems to be the only source for obtaining this excellent book.

Over the last four years, I've attempted via use of several different media, to learn how to draw.  Of all the different sources I have encountered, this book is the only one to actually explain perspective in a way that has helped me improve my skills. This improvement in skills is slowly beginning to allow my sketches to take on a more realistic look exactly as I wanted. The explanation of concepts is, for the most part, clearly written and illustrations are to the point as well as frequent enough within the text to bring out those concepts more clearly.

About one dozen practical exercises plus three full-fledged drawing projects is enough to give even a very raw beginner a pack of educational resources and  explanations on which to build his or her drawing skills. Recommended for art students of all ages from 14 and up... if you can find it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Suspenseful and Surprising

by Hillary Jordan
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Windmill (January 1, 2008)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Mudbound starts off in an ominous mood, with two brothers burying their father.  The weather in the Mississippi Delta has been rainy for the previous three days, but they have finally gotten the break in the weather they were looking for, so the brothers decide it's best if they complete the necessary digging as quickly as possible...  In a shifting, kaleidoscopic viewpoint, the story is told piece by piece, while suspense builds. Laura McAllan's voice holds the package together - she both begins at the true beginning and fills in some of the details left out of the other characters' chapters. We soon discover that the old man is both abusive and racist, and that even his own family despises him.

Being a resident of the real Mississippi Delta, I feel obligated to point out that the author has taken some liberty with her geography.  In reality, there is a Marietta, Mississippi - near which the story says the farm, Mudbound, is located - but Marietta is not as close to Greenville as Ms Jordan would have you believe.  I will forgive her that discrepancy for giving us this wonderful novel... a little slight of hand with the location of the towns mentioned doesn't harm the story...

Mudbound has the flavor of a historical novel blended with mystery and suspense all in the same tightly written package. The characters are fully fleshed and of both types, those you love and those you love to hate.  Long before the story ends, you'll figure out what's inevitably going to happen... yet there's still a compulsion to continue reading. A surprise is buried in the twisted ending which will leave you feeling both shocked and devastated, yet that ending is wholly appropriate to this compelling tale.

This isn't a YA book by any stretch of the imagination and is also not recommended for those sensitive to violence. Yet with that caviat in mind, I do recommend this book to the majority of readers looking for something that doesn't fit into the "light and fluffy" category

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Search Of The Truth

The Daugher of Time
By Josephine Tey
Hardcover: 206 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible.

Truth is the daugher of time - Old Proverb

While laid up with a broken leg, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard becomes interested in one of history's most famous and vicious crimes. Taking up his friend's suggestion that he do some academic investigation, Grant determines to find out whether Richard III killed his brother's children to secure his own claim to the crown or whether Richard could have been the victim of the usurpers of England's throne. Can Inspector Grant uncover the truth after all these centuries?  Josephine Tey (aka Elizabeth MacKintosh) weaves a compelling tale in which she defends Richard III against the horrible accusation posed in most history books.

The main character, Inspector Grant, strikes me as being a work-a-holic, never content to relax or to accept the status quo. I was fascinated by the information uncovered by Inspector Grant and would have liked to have seen a bibliography of sources used to provide the alternate view of history. Such sources would make possible my own research along the lines this character followed.  As it is, I now question whether historians have given us an accurate account of the happenings roughly 520 years past and do not lightly accept one author's view of history.  Perhaps that is enough...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Powerful and Deeply Moving

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult (February 10, 2009)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

It is 1962 and the world is at a volitile stage.  Immediately prior to the beginning of the civil rights movement, a young college graduate - Miss Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan - becomes interested in the plight of colored women working as maids to the elitist white women in Jackson Mississippi. "A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't." - (Stockett, 2009)

Ms Stockett does a good job of realistically portraying the characters, making the reader a part of the story from page one. Her antagonists (especially the hypocritical and pushy Hilly Holbrook) were so realistic I wanted to tell them where to go, just as I would do in real life with people bearing the same personalities... and I wanted to alternately hug and beat some sense into the annoyingly passive Elizabeth Leefolt. who does only what she's told instead of showing any of her own initiative.  Miss Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny are, of course, to be admired for their determination and courage and daring.

Important historical events such as the murder of Medgar Evers and the assinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy were accurately placed at the times where they belong. This helped give a realistic historical sense of the times depicted as well as enhancing the story. The liberties taken with history were minor - using a couple of songs prior to the time those tunes had actually been released - which actually helped the story progress rather than working against it as a major historical flaw would have done.

The Help is one of the best new novels I've read this year - quite possibly the best of the best.  It should not be missed.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Worthwhile, but Not For Everyone

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
by Tiffany Baker
Hardcover: 341 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (January 8, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County explores the prejudices and discriminatory practices used against a girl born with a hormonal disorder that causes her to become enormous. How she deals with the townspeople makes an intriguing story, but some parts push the suspension of disbelief a little too far.

For instance, in one chapter, the main character talks about things that happen before she was born. She could not possibly know these things from personal experience, yet she speaks as if she were watching on the sidelines or directly involved. She does not say "I was told..." or any similar phrase to qualify her narration of these events. Fortunately, the chapters in this book are not extremely long and the author does not obviously continue this disturbing practice in later chapters.

In all, the novel is a nicely paced, smoothly narrated page turner that I found well worth reading. Most parts of the story are so realistically told that I had to keep reminding myself "this is fiction."  The author does a credible job of making the reader a part of the world of this story, which has an appropriately satisfying ending.  Recommended to readers age 14 and up who are looking for something very different to read and who can tolerate the bit of pushing on the suspension of disbelief envelope which happens early in the story.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The True Cost of Power

The Fifth Ring
by Mitchell Graham
Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Eos (January 28, 2003)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

A young boy's fencing skill earns him a prize at once beautiful and terrible: a ring which contains the power to enslave a world. To his sorrow, young Mathew Lewin learns the true cost of wearing the awesome ring.

The Fifth Ring is a dark fantasy tale; mostly action with few completely developed characters. Those few characters are of both necessary types - the ones you can care about and the ones you love to hate. The book also contains a couple of nice features; a map of the fantasy world occupying two full pages near the front of the volume and a six page glossary of names and places in the back.  If one reads the glossary first, this creates a foundation for better understanding the story.

Due to the powerful rings in this tale, a comparison with Tolkien's Lord of the Rings briefly crossed my mind; however, this is a far different and much less complicated saga, more suited to the average person than Mr. Tolkien's work.

The well-placed bits of description in this tale don't slow the pace of the action, as can happen when too much descriptive detail is provided. Recommended for readers ages 12 and up who favor action over description and enjoy tales set in fantasy worlds.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Gripping Suspense

Three Weeks to Say Goodbye
by C.J. Box
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books (January 6, 2009)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is the story of a couple who has adopted a baby girl and waited nearly 9 whole months for the adoption to be final, only to find out that the birth father has not signed off his parental rights. Instead, he chooses to come forward at the last minute to claim his daughter...

The young father's motivation seems sinister, even though he has his own father, a powerful judge, on his side.  The judge's reasons for wanting to claim the baby sound logical and upstanding in one way, but do not ring true in other, more horrifying ways. When the need for legal action becomes apparent, the adopive parents run a race against time to find anything they can use against the judge and his son.

Three Weeks to Say Goodbye is full of suspense, gripping, a page-turner that I could not put down, and there are surprises at every turn of the page. The combination makes this one of the best new novels I've read this year. There is a bit of violence involved, but only where it serves a purpose in the story, not spread throughout the pages in a gratuitous manner.

Recommended for readers age 17 and up who are looking for a suspense/thriller that will keep the reader awake nights.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Invasion From Outer Space

Gray Apocalypse
by James Murdoch
Hardcover: 350 pages
Publisher: Demand Publications (April 1, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Gray Apocalypse is a science fiction/thriller based on the premise of aliens taking over the earth. Yes, it's been done before; the alien invasion theory is one of the oldest plots in science fiction literature. Yet, there are so many different ways to develop the premise that a different author can easily come up with a new twist on that old plot.

Character development in this book is nicely handled, the pace at which the story progresses is - for the most part - appropriately paced. I found the main characters both interesting and likable right away, but I had some reservations about Michael Kendon when I learned he had a secret Russin name that others were calling him by; thoughts of "double agent" slipped into my mind more than once... yes, I can be the suspicious type sometimes...

So, great literature, it's definitely not... but yes, a fun read and something different than the space opera/humans colonizing other planets thing I've been reading too much of lately.  Despite the somewhat slow start, the suspense and the plot details kept my interest to the end.  Readers looking for hard Science Fiction probably won't be satisfied with this, but for those looking for a well-written suspense thriller, Gray Apocalypse fills the bill nicely.

Great start for a new author; I'll be looking forward to his next book - on which, I hope, he is hard at work.

This review was simultaneously published on Amazon.com, Dragonviews, and Library Thing. I also reserve the right to republish this review on other sites that I may deem suitable.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Intricate and Touching

Lark and Termite
by Jane Anne Phillips
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Knopf (January 6, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

There are times when a book crosses my path that I would not have purchased for myself, but I read the book because it's there in front of me. Most of these are disappointing and a discouraging waste of my time. After all, I should know what I like, should I not? However, sometimes there are surprising exceptions to that rule.  One such exception was a book I received at Christmas in 2007; For One More Day by Mitch Albom haunts me still, though I've only read it the one time. 

Now, Lark and Termite has moved into my mind right beside For One More Day... yes, Lark and Termite haunts me in that same inimitable way.  It is a story of the power of loss and love, the echoing ramifications of war, family secrets, dreams and ghosts and the unseen, almost magical bonds that unite and sustain us.  Lark, a girl on the verge of adulthood cares for her younger brother Termite.  As the story unfolds, we see into the hearts and thoughts of the leading characters, even Termite, who, unable to walk, talk or express himself in a normal fashion, nevertheless has ways of making his wants and needs known to those around him, if only they would listen.  Lark listens to her brother.

Lark and Termite is nicely paced and each of the main characters tells a portion of his or her story in turn. While the point of view shifts with each chapter, the transitions are very well done. The kaleidoscopic viewpoint does not jar the senses as could be the case with a book written by a less skilled author.  I could not put it down.  Lark and Termite is a relatively short novel yet has as much or more impact on the reader's senses as longer books do.  Recommended for readers ages 15 and up who may be looking for one of those stories that touch your heart.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Could Be Better

The Silent Man
by Alex Berenson
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult (February 10, 2009)
Rated 3 Stars of 5 Possible

The Silent Man is a tale of international espionage and terrorism, which, if properly told, could have been spellbinding. The concept is good, and there's sufficient realism in the telling. However, to me, the story lacked one important thing. Action.  Especially near the middle of the book, everything happens too slowly for words.  The story drags on for at least 100 more pages than needed for an excellent novel. 

While most of the characters are forgettable, I have to say, I do like the main pair; Wells and Exley have the chemistry between them. I liked the touch of romance thrown into the mix - just enough to suport the realism but nowhere near enough to eclipse the drama and suspense of a real thriller.  This author is on the right track, but, in my opinion, not quite there yet...  Some editing and revision could have greatly improved this novel.

Recommended for die-hard espionage fans only... not quite suitable for everyone.  Reader discretion is advised.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Russian Lit or Soap Opera?

Anna Karenina
by Leo Tolstoy
Copyright 1873-1877
??? pages
Rated 2 stars of 5 possible

In nineteenth century Russia, carrying on an extra-marital love affair wasn't quite the thing to do. The novel follows the trials and tribulations of Anna Karenina as she rejects her passionless marriage in favor of pursuing her doomed love affair, enduring the hypocrasies of society.

Anna Karenina is said to have been Tolstoy's best work. If so, I certainly don't want to waste my time on anything else he wrote... This might have gotten a slightly better rating from me if I could have finished it... but the story is complex and each character seems to have multiple names, making the action - what there is of it - difficult to follow.  Most of the characters are forgettable and some downright unlikable, even though we are supposed to like them. Even though I liked Anna to a certain degree, I still wanted to alternately slap her for her lapses in judgement and support her for putting up with her very much unlikeable husband.

Someone else mentioned that it reads like a soap opera, and I have to agree, it very much does resemble the soaps. When things happen in this story, they happen slowly - almost as if one is watching a motion picture at slow speed. While I usually  enjoy long and complex novels, this book is different.  Anna Karenina is certainly not for everyone.  All I can say in it's favor is, I'm glad I didn't spend money on this novel.  I got mine from Project Gutenberg, hence no length listed.  Wikipedia has links to a couple other versions.  Recommended: If you're not 100% certain you will love this novel, either borrow it from your local library or read one of the versions available online free, otherwise it's not worth the cost.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Conspiracy on the High Seas

The Red Wolf Conspiracy
by Robert V. S. Redick
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (April 28, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Mr. Redick's debut novel, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, takes place in a fantasy world in which the main mode of travel is by sailing ship, which leads to adventure on the high seas for the story's main characters. This story begins shortly after a terrible war, when a six-hundred-year-old ship sets sail for enemy lands in order to create an enduring peace between the world's two greatest monarchies. When the characters uncover a dark conspiracy surrounding the Red Wolf, a legendary and dangerous artifact, they must face a host of dangerous foe and fight for their very lives while uncovering secrets that could destroy both empires.

While the first half of this novel is fast-paced and well written, I found the middle to be slow and cumbersome, not nearly as well-fashioned as the first part. The ending, though satisfactory and set to merge well with the sequel, failed to make up for the humps, bumps and downright clumsy feel of the middle part of the book, where some elements seemed ill-timed or out of place.  The concept is marvelous, very intriguing, but the middle of the story could benefit from some editing and possibly from another draft to smooth out some of the inconsistencies.

Over all, not bad for a first novel.  I eagerly await the next installment of the series and hope to see some improvement in the flow of the storyline. Recommended to adult fantasy and sea-faring fans who don't mind the violence, which may be disturbing to some readers.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Killer Suspense!

by Catherine Coulter
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult (June 24, 2008)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

Readers looking for action and suspense might be interested in Tailspin, which begins with a plane crash and the daring rescue of an unconscious man from the burning aircraft, continues with a young woman being stalked by a killer, and takes the reader on the ride of his or her life before the story ends.

Catherine Coulter is probably better known for her romantic suspense novels than for anything else, yet she has come up with a winner in the FBI series. The suspense develops rapidly and though there are some threads of a romance between two of this novel's characters, the romance isn't the main focus of the novel.

Though the story drags a little in a few places and some of the scenes appear a bit contrived, the novel is still worthy of reading; one's suspension of disbelief isn't pushed too far. Something new grabs the reader's interest on almost every page.  Recommended for adult readers looking for a change of pace from general fiction or a long binge of fantasy.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Queen's Thief

The Queen of Attolia
by Megan Whalen Turner
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (April 26, 2000)
Rated 4 Stars of 5 Possible

When Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, discovers that his country is at war with Attolia, he must steal a man, he must steal a Queen, he must steal peace. Eugenides discovers that his greatest triumph - and his greatest loss - comes in capturing something the Queen of Attolia thought she had lost long ago... © 2000, Megan Whalen Turner

This second volume of The Queen's Thief  series inserts its hook in the reader within the first few pages and does not let go until you've reached the end of this amazingly well written tale about the Queen of Attolia and the talented thief who can steal anything he wishes.  The shades of romance entertwined with the non-stop action and page-turning adventure make Mrs. Turner's novel into an unforgettable fantasy for young and old alike.

While many series books become too dependent on the volumes which preceeded them, The Queen of Attolia is either a new adventure for someone who has not read the first volume of the series or a beloved addition to the longer saga. The Queen of Attolia entertwines nicely with the first volume and leaves one expecting more, which, natually, follows in volume 3 of The Queen's Thief  series; yet this stand-alone quality is invaluable for leading readers to an author they may never have tried before as well as allowing the reader to choose whether to read a single adventure or the entire series.

Recommended for readers ages 9 to 99 who don't mind a bit of violence in their fantasy.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Decisions and Discussions

The Brave Apprentice
by P. W. Catanese
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Aladdin (June 21, 2005)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

"Seven at one blow!" That's what they say about the Brave Little Tailor -- he killed seven foes with one blow. But no one can prove it's even true. Besides, that took place a long time ago, and the Brave Little Tailor is now an old man. So what happens when an army of angry trolls invades his kingdom? Excerpt above © 2005 P.W. Catanese.

Find out when you read this further tales adventure. Rather than retelling the old fairy tales, P. W. Catanese has come up with the concept of sequelizing those old favorite stories, writing original stories based on the old concepts, but carrying them to a new generation of fans and introducing readers to new characters.

While the publisher markets this novel for readers between the ages 9 and 12, it is also fun for fantasy readers of any age who would like a quick, easy read without leaving their favorite genre.  As should be expected in a tale of good versus evil, there is some violence which may make this story unsuitable for readers ages 10 and under, depending on the individual reader's maturity level. With that caviat, I recommend parents of the younger readers preview this novel ahead of their children and turn it into a prompt for a great family discussion after everyone has read the book.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Deep, Dark, Mystery

Among the Mad
by Jacqueline Winspear
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (February 17, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible.

Among the Mad is like reading three books in one. First, it's an intriguing mystery that begins with an investigation into a mad-bomber/suicide which occurs on Christmas eve, 1931. That investigation ultimately leads to a related investigation - into the threatening letters recieved by Britian's Prime Minister over the Christmas holiday. When clues begin pointing to a potential suspect, the investigation takes on a new and more dangerous dimension.

While some readers may think that reading the perpetrator's diary entries - and thus his point of view - detracts from the mystery a bit, I don't believe that information detracts very much from the story; indeed it adds another, deeper dimension to the tale which more than makes up for any detraction from the mystery.

Secondly, Among the Mad delves into the reaction of men and women suffering from shell-shock, which occurred during their war-time military service. This is what we describe today as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In this examination of an often over-looked psycological disturbance, one can see a relationship to the author's carefully chosen title.  These parts of the tale provide an insight to the psychological and emotional abyss  into which the collateral victims of war often fall.

Last, but certainly not least, Among the Mad gives us a marvelous picture of London and the surrounding countryside between the big wars.  Kudos to Ms. Winspear for a wonderful, if somewhat darkly themed novel that I can recommend to mystery fans ages 14 and up with a single caviat. The violence described in some portions of the novel is slightly graphic and may not be suitable for some readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bitter Sweet Disappointment

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
Hardcover: 290 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 27, 2009)
Rated 3 stars of 5 possible

This novel is a bitter-sweet story of love, coming-of-age, and personal relationships. It examines the racial discrimination practiced against Japanese-Americans during World War II. While the war-time story of the 1940's is rich and complex, the part of the story taking place four decades later falls flat.

The war-time portion of the story, when Chinese-American Henry Lee, befriends a Japanese-American girl Keiko Okabe, and deals with his father's anti-Japanese sentiments holds the reader's interest well. The conflict Henry experiences with his father seems to dominate this portion of the story, yet there are the sweeter moments too; the time Henry spends with his friends; his budding relationship with Keiko.

The post-war segments are woven throughout the novel and deal with Henry's relationship with his son as well as Henry's memories of an earlier time. Henry's search for another copy of the rare Jazz recording he and Keiko had bought together, dealing with the loss of first his wife, and then his sax playing friend add some dimension to this part of the story but are handled in a less satisfactory manner than the wartime portions.

While I found Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet to be worth reading, and the parts of the story based on historical incidents accurately depicted, the inter-woven style of the narrative proved to be more than a little distracting, the transitions between decades a bit hard to assimilate.  Clearly, this novel isn't for everyone.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Epic Within an Epic

The Asteroid Wars
By Ben Bova

The Precipice   (2001) 352 pages; 5 stars
The Rock Rats  (2002) 384 pages; 4 stars
The Silent War  (2004) 384 pages; 3 stars
The Aftermath  (2007) 400 pages; 4 stars

Publisher: Tor Books
Series rating: 4 stars of 5 possible

The Precipice: Two very rich industrialists believe they may have the key to the Earth's salvation and embark upon a partnership with the goal of moving Earth's heavy industries into outer space... but only one of the partners really has Earth's best interests in mind.  Mr. Bova highlights current environmental issues and creates an intense if somewhat traditional good-guy, bad-guy space opera with compelling characters that made me want to continue reading beyond the ending of The Precipice.

The Rock Rats: Taking up right where The Precipice left off, The Rock Rats continues the story of good versus evil, albeit with a change of characters - some of the characters in the first novel of the series gave their lives for the cause in which they believed. I dropped one star from the rating because this second novel suffers from "middle novel syndrome." The Rock Rats carries the burden of sustaining the reader's interest while allowed to provide few resolutions to the questions left open by the first novel... and the characters here (most of whom were continued from The Precipice) are less affable than characters no longer present in the story.

The Silent War: The third novel begins about six years after the end of The Rock Rats. The strange interlude where Martin Humphries visits the artifact on a distant asteroid doesn't make sense here, but provides some foundational information for later in the story. After this interlude, the story resumes from the point where it left off six years earlier. A good bit of the length of this third entry in the series is marred by a plodding pace that could have been vastly enhanced by some objective editing. The problem with "middle novel syndrome" continues from The Rock Rats... and, well, this part of the story is just plain less interesting; however it is still worth reading because it provides some of the background needed to fully understand the concluding novel in the series.

The Aftermath: A family of four Rock Rats out prospecting for valuable ores to bring back to their habitat for processing is attacked by a maniac. Their space ship disabled and rendered both deaf and blind when the main fuel tank is punctured, the radar and antennas destroyed. One family member, in an effort to distract the attacker, separates himself from the others using the control pod to abandon ship.  Predictably, the remainder of the story becomes one of searching and survival, with some surprising twists. Mr. Bova manages to bring the interest level almost back up there with The Precipice, yet his slow-paced beginning to the concluding novel of this sequence earns a one-star drop in the rating for this part of the over-all story.

Conclusion: If you're a Ben Bova fan, the series is a must-read. If you like space-opera type stories, with compelling characters, you'd probably like The Precipice, which does well as a stand-alone, and perhaps The Aftermath too. The middle novels don't stand too well on their own so I can't recommend them unless you're into the entire series as I am. Not recommended for readers under age 15 due to sensitive subjects being addressed. If you like these and still want more, this epic is just part of a larger epic known as The Grand Tour.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Study of Human Nature

Of Mice and Men   
By John Steinbeck
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Penguin (January 3, 2002)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible.

Of Mice and Men is an allegorical tale of commitment, lonliness, hope and loss; this parable examines the predatory nature of human existence. Strong characterization and abundant symbolism fill the pages with lessons to be learned and a story never to be forgotten. There is a lot of information packed into this slim, novellette length story, which takes place during the great depression of the 1930's.

George and Lenny, the story's two main characters, are migrant farm workers with the all-american dream. They want to own their farm, on which they would be able to earn their living and share the chores.  While the characters are fictional, the setting in California's beautiful and fertile Salinas valley is quite real. Imagining one's self as a part of the tragic and strangely moving, dramatic story is easy to do. While the end of the story is a bit predictable, the reader should also remember that it is probably inevitable given human nature; another ending to this story would not likely have been as appropriate.

Recommended for those who enjoy some drama and don't always require a happy ending.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Questions and Answers

by C.J. Cherryh
Hardcover: 585 pages
Publisher: DAW Hardcover (January 6, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Regenesis is a mixture of hard science fiction and thriller/murder mystery all rolled into one long, fantastic novel. The young protagonist, Ariane Emory, works hard to discover who killed her illustrious predecessor and to ensure that she does not meet the same fate. The many details to this intricate and long-awaited sequel to Cyteen make the novel a slow starter; however, those with enough patience to continue reading will be rewarded. 

Regenesis supplies some of the answers to questions originating in the previous novels, yet the answers lead to more questions, hinting at deeper motivations that are not entirely explained. Was the first Ariane Emory killed because she knew too much about things going on in the Defense department? Regenesis hints that this may be the case, but does not fully answer that question. And there are more unanswered questions of a similar nature... some for which incomplete answers are provided, and a few questions for which no obvious answers are provided at all. Of course, these unexplained motivations leave me ready and even eager for the next novel, which is not entirely a bad thing.

Ms. Cherryh is an accomplished writer, drawing the reader into her world, and more, making that world so real that the reader is reluctant to depart, even when the story has concluded. The characters are very realistic and multi-faceted. Getting to know them was my pleasure; my hope is that there will soon be a next novel in this very interesting series.  Recommended to readers age 16 and up. Even if you don't usually read science fiction, you might want to try this novel, which does very well on its own as well as being a compelling entry in the Cyteen series.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dystopian World

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury
Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 23, 2003)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Farenheit 451 is a dystopian novel depicting a world in which firemen don't put out fires, they start them... to burn books.

Written over 50 years ago, some claim that this science fiction classic doesn't hold up well today... but I have to disagree with statements like that. In fact, I can't help but think that the readers who say this classic isn't as good today as it was when written must somehow have held unrealistic views of how good the book really is. As for myself, I held no unrealistic expectations that it would be anything more than the slightly better than average I always thought it was.

So, what still resonates for me in this book? Not just the general apathy of the citizens to politics and the distant war, but also their fear of the idea that people can disagree with each other and yet still hold valid opinions makes Farenheit 451 a favorite for me.  The people in Farenheit 451 seem to think that having an idea that's different than everyone else's is evil - as evil as reading and possibly believing what the books say; yet in the real world, it's the differences of opinion that make life interesting.

Unfortunately Bradbury was dead on with that prophetic vision of the future. The real world does look much like the world of Farenheit 451 in the apathy of the people toward politics and the distant war, also in the people's willingness to ban certain books because they disagree with or are afraid of the ideas contained within...

As for his women... well, those he depicted in the novel were not (I think) meant to represent EVERY woman... Unfortunately, I've known one or two like Montag's wife, and more than a few like Clarisse, so who's to say that he got it entirely wrong.  I like Clarisse a bit better than Mrs. Montag... quite a bit better... even though she comes across to me as somewhat of an airhead. These two aren't the only women in the book, but they are the most prominent ones... Unfortunately, Mrs. Montag's friends are much like her; shrewish and nasty, not someone with whom I would want to associate. I'm glad that not everyone is like those women. Even the dreamers like Clarisse get tiresome after awhile.

Still, more than 50 years after first publication, Farenheit 451 is worth reading and retains it's place in my personal library and in my heart. Recommended to science fiction readers age 15 and up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creeping Horrors

Duma Key: A Novel
by Stephen King
Hardcover: 609 pages
Publisher: Scribner (January 1, 2008)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

Edgar Freemantle, a construction contractor in Minneapolis, suffers major injuries in a freak accident. By the time he recovers from the majority of his injuries, and most of the resulting confusion has passed, his wife has left him. Shortly after his release from the hospital, Edgar decides to start his life over again. Since his injuries have resulted in the inability to resume his former career, Edgar decides to re-establish his connection to the artist within. He moves to Florida, and an island called Duma Key.

In a frenzy of creation, Edgar paints enough pictures to put on a one artist exhibit in a near-by town. Edgar's pencil sketches and paintings seem benign, but are they? Duma Key isn't just any horror novel. It's sneaky, subtle, and deceptive... The horror creeps up on you like a thief in the night; it reaches out and grabs you before you even realize it's there. Duma Key is a page-turner; once it grabs you it does not let go.

A must read for Stephen King's fans, Duma Key would also be ideal for the horror enthusiast who has never read a Stephen King book. In fact, Duma Key is probably Mr. King's most brilliant and horrifying novel to date.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Demons Rule The Night

The Warded Man
By Peter V. Brett
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (March 10, 2009)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

The Warded Man starts off as three separate but inter-related tales which take place in a land where demons rule the night.  Being outside after the sun goes down isn't wise or safe. There are many breeds of demon ranging from dog-sized to man-sized and larger, any one of which is powerful enough to kill a human. The demons don't travel alone, but like wolves and other animals, they hunt in packs.  While defensive magical symbols (known as wards) can be used to keep the demons from attacking, magic isn't the entire answer to the demon problem.

Mr. Brett's concept is enticing and his prose well written, his characters appealing.  I was hooked on page one and didn't want to put this book down until it was finished.  I became a part of this world while I was reading about how the characters survive, the primitive society in which they live, and, all too often, die prematurely. Simple things like infections, caused by close contact with sharp demon claws, are deadly because few know the herbs with which to treat such injuries.

The three tales entertwine even more closely near the end of this non-stop adventure. The low level of technology available to the general population and the even lower instance of literacy in this world are intriguing and bring another level of interest to this not-to-be-missed debut novel. I eagerly await the next novel in this brand new fantasy series, which I recommend to all readers of fantasy age 14 and up.

Note: The author has been collecting review links on his website. Among others, he links back to my review of The Warded Man here: http://www.petervbrett.com/news/#reviews

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Explore The Ancient Myths

A Short History of Myth
by Karen Armstrong
Paperback: 159 pages
Publisher: Canongate (2005)
Rated 5 stars of 5 possible

A Short History of Myth is a greatly shortened and yet still precise history of how and why mythology was created and preserved for future generations. The volume is condensed into about 150 pages of highly readable text and 9 pages of references which amount to over 100 sources consulted by the author in preparing this volume. Enough information is given about the sources used that the reader can track down these references for him/her self if interested enough to follow up on the infomation presented in this volume.

Reading about the origins of mythology is a refreshing aside from my usual reading material without being too technical to understand and without being dry and boring as so many texts on the subject can be. I was intrigued with the mythological changes over the millennia and amazed at how similar some myths are to others and yet how differently they were presented to later generations.

For readers interested in mythology, this slim volume provides a wealth of information between its covers. A specialized volume like this one won't appeal to every reader, yet readers interested in the subject matter will enjoy it. Highly recommended as a starting point for those who are just getting interested in mythology and for those readers already interested in the subject who haven't read every book on the market.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Action Packed

Beat the Reaper: A Novel
by Josh Bazell
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 7, 2009)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at the worst hospital in town. He has a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he would prefer to keep hidden. Nicholas LoBrutto, Dr. Brown's new patient, has three months to live, and a very strange idea; that the good doctor is a hitman for the mob!

The story is non-stop action from the start, and a page turner that I found hard to put aside. One thing I found that detered some of my enjoyment of this novel was the foul language used by Dr. Brown and some of the other characters in the book, but I dismissed that as part of the characterization because the rest of the book is so interesting. There is a brief scene featuring nudity and consensual sex, and, throughout the book, also a certain amount of violence, which I figure goes with the territory in any story about a mob hitman.

The author's narrative style, alternating chapters point of view between doctor and mob hitman, is captivating; the story is very fast paced. Even after accounting for the language, sexual content, and violence, I can still rate this book a 4 star novel and recommend it to adults over 18 who aren't sensitive to things which some may find objectionable.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fantasy and Historical Romance

Queen of Dragons
by Shana Abé
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Bantam (December 26, 2007)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

While the publisher is selling this as a historical romance, there's more of fantasy than romance in it... and good fantasy too, I must say. I was thoroughly enchanted by the idea of a race of shape shifters who can take on human or dragon form at will - or turn to smoke on a whim - so that I could not lay this book aside for long. While Queen of Dragons is the third of The Drákon series, it is the first I've read by this author. Set in the late 18th century, this tale is a generous blend of fantasy, romance, suspense and adventure that leaves the reader feeling both satisfied and ready for more.

Readers who are strictly reading for the romance may not like this book much because of the scarcity of romantic scenes, yet those who enjoy other genres may like this for variety. Recommended to readers ages 17 and up who like or don't mind some romance in their fantasy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lunar Adventure

This Place Has No Atmosphere
Paula Danziger
Paperback: 156 pages
A Yearling Book/Bantam Doubleday Dell (July 1, 1989)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Aurora is happy in her school and part of the "in" crowd. She has a best friend who is also a celebrity. An attractive boy has asked Aurora to Homecoming. She has (or so she thinks) everything she could want... but her life is about to change. Aurora's parents have accepted new jobs - on the moon! This means that Aurora and her younger sister will have to leave their old schools and their friends behind when they go with their parents to become part of the colony on the moon.

When Aurora complains that "this place has no atmosphere," while speaking of the lunar colony, to her friends back on Earth, she's not talking about the air... so of course I had to keep reading to find out if Aurora decides to change her mind. Paula Danziger does a good job capturing the teen voice of Aurora in this science fiction spoof. This fast-paced easy reading adventure covers some good points about being one's self wherever you happen to live. I found the story enjoyable yet thought provoking and recommend it to readers of all ages from 12 on up.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Retreat into Fantasy

Valdemar universe: The Mage Wars Trilogy
By Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
Series Rating: 4 stars of 5 possible

Book 1: The Black Gryphon
Paperback: 464 pages
DAW (January 1, 1995)
Rated: 5 stars of 5 possible

Book 2: The White Gryphon
Paperback: 400 pages
DAW (March 1, 1996)
Rated: 4 stars of 5 possible

Book 3: The Silver Gryphon
Paperback: 400 pages
DAW (March 1, 1997)
Rated: 3 stars of 5 possible

Roughly 20 years ago, Mercedes Lackey imagined a universe which she called Valdemar, and began writing tales of that universe. Fast-forward about 10 years from the beginning publication of the Valdemar universe tales to the Mage Wars series. These three tales of Valdemar are most definitely not the first and might not even be the best; however, I did find them well worth reading.

The Black Gryphon, Skandranon, awed and amazed me both with his irreverent views of his situation and his irascible temper. Skan's sarcasm was both appropriate to the situation and also funny. At the same time, his brash and over-confident manner leads Skan both into and out of trouble. I found Skan's friend, Amberdrake intriguing... an enigma to most, since he reveals as little of himself as possible.

The White Gryphon takes up the story of Skandranon, Amberdrake and their people ten years after the cataclysm which destroyed the stronghold of the world's most powerful Mage, killing Urtho, creator of the gryphons, and sending his forces into exile. Having built a secure stronghold, the people of White Gryphon soon discover that they've erected their city on land claimed by the Black Kings, who suddenly appear in the harbor aboard a fleet of ships ready for battle. Travel to the homeland of the Black Kings and negotiations for a peaceful alliance account for most of the content of this book, which could have been better thought through... although a who-done-it mystery is included once the people of White Gryphon reach the court of the Black Kings.

The Silver Gryphon begins a dozen years after peace between the people of White Gryphon and the Black Kings has been negotiated. Amberdrake and Skandranon have settled into comfortable lives, but things are not so tranquil for their children. At first, I was disappointed that this third volume deals with the adventures of the next generation rather than directly with Amberdrake and Skandranon... until I realized that intervals between the events depicted in these novels would mean that the heroes of the first and second novels have aged quite a bit; time for someone else to take center stage. This novel does not seem to be as well thought out as the first two, yet it is worth reading.

I can recommend these to fantasy readers of all ages from 13 and up.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

American Revolution

April Morning
By Howard Fast
Hardcover: 184 Pages
Madison Park Press (2006)
Rated 4 stars of 5 possible

Well written and researched,April Morning is about the start of the revoutionary war. The story follows 15-year-old Adam Cooper who, though still months short of his 16th birthday, feels that he should be treated as a man. Adam's father has other ideas until that fateful April morning when Adam signs the muster book with the other men.

The events in this vividly described but short novel all happen either the day before or the morning after Paul Revere's famous midnight ride, and later that same day. Despite the short length of this novel, the character development is superb. While the story's main characters are fictional, the events portrayed are historically accurate without much "literary liberty" being taken with history for the sake of the novel.

Though I am usually not big on war stories, I must say that Howard Fast is a master story teller and that, without reservations, I enjoyed reading this novel. April Morning is easy to read and fast paced but I still only recommend it to readers of historical fiction ages 15 and up. The events depicted may be too graphic for younger readers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Analysis and Symbolism

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (June 1960)
Rated: 5 stars of 5 possible
“...They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us." That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
This brilliantly told story of two motherless children takes place during the great depression. Some of the events depicted in the story are based on real events of the time; the town and the characters are fictional. The lessons Jean Louise (Scout) Finch and her brother Jem learn are priceless lessons on courage, prejudice, honesty, justice, and injustice and more.

To Kill a Mockingbird grabbed my attention immediately. While this novel is entertaining, it is not a "fluffy" read. The story also bears deep analysis of the symbolism used by the author.  For instance, the mocking bird is symbolic of innocence.

While the story is told in first person by an adult Scout reminiscing about her childhood, she recounts a child's observations with an adult vocabulary. This perspective adds a depth to the story that would not be present if the vocabulary used was that of a child. Young Scout appears to be wise beyond her years (not quite nine at the end of the story); she is also a recipient of her father Atticus's unique parenting style. He believes that the instances of disobedience, the mistakes and errors in judgement made by his children, contain valuable lessons which can help them to better understand and deal with life if they can grasp these lessons.

Recommended to readers who like to read and analyze a story. There is much material for analysis here and many study guides available online and elsewhere for the reader who is so minded. Yet unlike many stories deep enough to withstand the extended analysis, I can also recommend this to readers who just want to be entertained.