Monthly Archives: June 2013

Forest Born

I finally got to Forest Born, Book #4 in the Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale.

Forest Born

I think The Goose Girl and River Secrets are my favourite of this series because I loved Isi and Razo as characters, but I quite enjoyed Forest Born.  

Forest Born is about Razo’s sister, Rin.  The youngest in a large family, she is Ma’s favourite and Razo’s playmate.  Life starts to change when Razo leaves for the city.  Rin discovers a secret about herself and flees to the forest for comfort.  She develops a special bond with the trees, but something happens age 15 and bond appears to be shattered.  Feeling lost and out-of-touch with herself, Rin decides to take up Razo and Dasha’s offer to accompany them to the city.  She becomes a lady’s maid for Isi, and is drawn into the fight against the latest and perhaps most dangerous threat to the Kingdom.  Rin must find herself and find peace with herself – the good and the bad – in order to help save the Prince, her Queen, and her beloved Brother.

As is a theme in the rest of the series, this book is really a journey of self-discovery.  I found Rin’s inner conflict to be much more compelling and understandable than say, Enna’s.  Rin is a quiet, unassuming person, afraid of her own power and wrapped in layers of guilt.  She has a very black-and-white view to the world (and of herself) and learns to see a little more nuance throughout. I love the balance and self-acceptance that she ultimately grasps.  I also love how it’s the kick-ass “Fire Sisters” (or so Rin calls Isi, Enna, and Dasha) that ultimately “get the job done” (i.e. save the kingdom).  I also LOVE that this book wraps up several loose ends from the other books (which I admittedly didn’t really see as loose ends until they were all tied up – it just seemed like extraordinary bad luck lol).

I think this series is well-worth reading and Forest Born is a very nice, tidy, and enjoyable conclusion!   4 / 5!

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Entwined

Entwined

Entwined is (another) adaptation of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  I will preface this review with a couple of comments:

  1. I do read very quickly, so had this one finished in the span of one evening, which meant that I didn’t get bogged down by the slower start.  Be warned, this book is quite slow in terms of action for quite a while.  I liked it despite the lack of action because I felt that the character development and interactions more than made up for the slower pace.
  2. The backdrop is a fictional but seemingly pretty traditional patriarchal society. (Although it seems that daughters can inherit the right to marry the next King, it is also clear that Parliament holds a lot of power and that women DON’T).  Feminists be warned.

I LOVED this book (though I can understand how it might not be for everyone).

Azalea’s family is thrown into mourning by the loss of her mother.  The Queen’s death leads to a rift between Father and Daughters, who push each other away at a time they need each other the most.  Feeling abandoned and unloved by their father, Azalea and her sisters are motivated to find a way to dance in memory of their beloved mother.  Dancing, is forbidden while they are in strict mourning.  When Azalea discovers a magic passage, it seems that all their wishes have come true.   They meet The Keeper, a mysterious character who offers them free use of his glorious Pavilion for dancing every night.  The girls welcome the reprieve from dreary mourning and leap at the chance.  Little do they know that The Keeper has ulterior motives in mind.

Family was a strong theme in this book, one that I felt tied together the story beautifully.  I felt like the real tale was not necessarily the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but more the story of a family trying to cope with loss and struggling to understand each other.  The King reminded me of my own dad and perhaps that is why I liked him so much.  The King seems to be a very strict, unfeeling, and humourless man on the surface, but he has hidden depths.   For me, a big part of the appeal of this book was seeing Azalea and her Papa come to understand each other.  As a reader, I understood the King a lot faster than Azalea seemed to.  That slow coming together was my favourite part of Entwined. 

Other bonuses:

  • The Princesses are named alphabetically after plants, which I think is hilarious. Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Evening Primrose (Eve), Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and baby Lily.  Most of them have pretty distinct personalities which make them easier to tell apart.  I also liked that they are not all grown up (much more realistic) and that as a lot they are mischievous and prone to Scandal.
  • There is a bit of a love story and not just Azalea gets her happy ending.
  • Azalea is a bit prone to fainting, but still qualifies as a strong female character in my opinion because she fights for what she believes in AND tries to save herself / her sisters  / her father at the end of the day.  Despite the fainting, I thought she was a feisty, passionate and interesting character who didn’t wait around for other people to rescue her.
  • There is just enough magic to make the Dancing Princesses part of the story work – but at the same time it doesn’t override the story.
  • They are not rich Royalty – a funny twist on the story but one that I enjoyed.  Their livelihoods and keeping are at the whim of Parliament.  This creates its own problems and I thought added an interesting element.
  • I laughed and cried over this book (out loud!)
  • I thought it was a clever adaptation on the Twelve Dancing Princesses story!

I give this one a 5 / 5, and look forward to re-reading it again in future.

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Etiquette and Espionage

Another Steampunk book:

Etiquette and Espionage

I’m loving the world that Gail Carriger creates!  This story seems to be set a bit before Soulless starts, and features at least one recurring character (Lady Sidheag Maccon and a young Genevieve Lefoux, for those of you who are interested). I love a recurring character!

Sophronia Temminnick is a covert recruit to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.  Her mother, despairing of Sophriona’s tendencies to climb things, read books, and show interest in mechanics, is happy to send her off to what seems to be a desirable quality establishment.  Unbeknownst to her mother (or indeed Mademoiselle Geraldine it seems), the school is more than meets the eye.  The young ladies enrolled are learning to finish … skills not limited to dancing, dress, and deportment but also deception, destruction, fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out diversion, death, and deviousness (i.e. espionage – I couldn’t think of a better “d” synonym).  Delicious!

I found this book:

  • Highly amusing
  • Full of fun steampunk gadgets and references including a pet mechanical dog (named Bumbersnoot!)
  • Chock-full of strong female characters!  Sophriona fits the bill very nicely!
  • Quick to read
  • Well-Balanced – “real-world” (okay, Steampunk Victorian Era) and supernatural (werewolves, Vampires)
  • The first in a series! Yay!

Definitely in “YA” territory, I loved it.  Another 5 / 5!

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Spirit’s Princess / Spirit’s Chosen

Spirit's Princess

After enjoying Sphinx’s Princess / Sphinx’s Queen so much, it was a natural extension to try another series by Esther Friesner, beginning with Spirit’s Princess.

Himiko is the young daughter of a Cheiftain.  Her father heads the Maka clan and Himiko’s family is bound by his word.  She is a spunky daughter who adores her elder brother, Aki.  Spirit’s Princess follows Himiko as she grows from an impulsive child into a self-assured shaman.  Admittedly, the plot line isn’t a strong thread, but the book is a bunch of little events all coming together.  It’s not a dramatic story, but a tale of a girl figuring out who she is and how to be that person.

I’ve seen some of the Goodreads Reviews and I’ve come to the conclusion that:

  1. If you’re going to enjoy the book, as I did, you must be prepared for gross historical inaccuracies.  Since I didn’t know the history to begin with, this wasn’t a problem for me.  It’s fiction, and it borders on the fantasy.  I’m okay with that.
  2. You’re going to have to read both of these together.  The ending of Spirit’s Princess is lacking enough that I don’t think it can really be a stand-alone book.
  3. Accept that the cover is terrible and move on.
  4. Be warned that Himiko is a bit of a brat, particularly in her youth.  As she grew into her own person, I liked her more and more.
  5. It’s a slower paced book, with no clear plot direction for most of it.  You have to be okay with meandering.

I did enjoy it, but didn’t LOVE it, so I’ll give Spirit’s Princess a 3.5 / 5.

Spirit's Chosen

Now for Spirit’s Chosen, which I ended up reading a while after Spirit’s Princess because I had to wait for it to become available through the library.

Unfortunately, I found Spirit’s Chosen to be a bit disappointing.  Himiko already knows who she is and what path she wants to follow, so there was no self-discovery to ease the slow story.  Himiko is much more likable (less of a brat) but much less spunky in this second novel. In Spirit’s Chosen, Himiko tracks down the Ookami Clan in order to rescue her people, and most importantly her baby brother.  Things don’t go quite as planned and Himiko is captured as a slave herself.  She must find a way to survive and ultimately achieve her initial goal.  As her powers as a Shaman are slowly recognized, Himiko becomes closer and closer to reaching her aim.

Thoughts:

  1. Still the slow pace.
  2. There was a bit of a love story which did add some spice to the story.
  3. I felt like Himiko was a much more passive player this time around.  She didn’t seem to actively try to change her fate – a characteristic I yearn for in a strong female character.
  4. I also didn’t really buy-in to the Shaman part of the story.  I normally love tales of Magic, but the Spirit world didn’t capture my imagination.
  5. I felt that the climax was a bit too… convenient.  I didn’t believe the change of heart experienced by one of the characters, and I was annoyed (and saddened) by the death of another character.

Although it didn’t really do it for me, this wasn’t a terrible book, so I think it still warrants a 3 / 5.  Not a re-read.

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River Secrets

River Secrets

River Secrets by Shannon Hale is book three in The Books of Bayern series (preceded by The Goose Girl and Enna Burning).  It picks up where Enna Burning left off, but this time it follows Razo.  I LOVE this series, I LOVED this book – Razo is such a fun, impish, adorable character.

The war with Tira is now over but relations are still fragile. Isi and Geric are sending an ambassador to Tira in an exchange of goodwill.  Razo doesn’t quite understand why he is chosen to accompany the ambassador.  This elite mission boasts Bayern’s best and brightest but Razo has always been small and terrible at sword or javelin.  He leaps at the chance to accompany the mission.  Familiar faces are part of the group: Talone, Enna, Finn.   The group must try their best to convince the Tiran assembly to avoid another war.  Someone is plotting against them and depositing burned bodies near the Bayern lodgings.  Resentments are high and Razo’s strengths are key to figuring out the mystery behind the bodies and perhaps saving them all.

Razo just keeps getting better and better.  This book really allows him to blossom and grow up.  It also proves that brawn isn’t everything (not that we didn’t know that before).  There are some fantastic new characters, including Lady Dasha, and it’s always fun to see old characters from a bit of a different perspective.  I’m very excited for book #4!

I loved this one so much it gets a 5 / 5!

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A belated note on Tuesdays

I just wanted to give a quick update, since I’ve missed the last two Top Ten Tuesdays.  I do love lists, but find that as summer approaches committing to a weekly meme is not feasible.  So, I’m going to try to get in a Top Ten Tuesday when I can (intermittently as they seem to take me longer to write and I’m failing to find inspiration for the topics recently) and I’ll try to post something (a book review, a thought, or a waiting-to-read) when I can’t. 

Happy Reading! 

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The Goddess Test

The Goddess Test

Apparently I’m big into retellings and myths lately.  The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter is the story of Kate, a girl struggling to say goodbye.  Her mom is in the last stages of terminal illness – Cancer, and they’ve moved to the small town of Eden so her mom can die in her childhood home.  Sounds grim right?   Things get weird when Kate meets Henry – the tall, handsome, mysterious stranger who lives in the Manor House.  She makes a bargain to save a life … one that may change her destiny forever.  Henry = Hades.  Kate accepts his offer to stay at the Manor and try to pass 7 tests.  The result is immortality … or death.   But Kate will do anything for the chance to save her mother.

I really liked this book.  It was light but not too fluffy, and I respected Kate a lot.  She definitely felt like a strong female character – one who had good morals and values.  You just have to accept that things are going to be a bit strange (it’s following the story of Persephone after all).  I liked the characters and I thought the book moved quickly.  Even characters that I initially disliked (i.e. Ava) had moments of redemption.  This was a fun, modern twist on a classic greek myth.

A solid 4 / 5.

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