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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brighid’s Quest by P. C. Cast

Brighid’s Quest by P. C. Cast
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (530 pgs)
Age: 16+
Rating: Best book
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

"I will go."

Rather than follow her family's restrictive rules, centaur Brighid chose to set out on her own to make friends and form relationships with humans as well as centaurs.

Now she's facing her toughest challenge yet. While helping guide home a grieving human—Cuchulainn, her friend Elphame's brother—Brighid finds herself beginning to care for him. An emotion forbidden by her clan.

To add to her troubles, the Great Goddess has awoken the power of the Shaman within Brighid—the first centaur so blessed in ages. And just as she's torn between taking up a power she never expected and a love she's afraid to admit to, Brighid receives a vision of a tragedy that might destroy everyone she's ever cared about…

If you enjoy fantasy adventure on a grand scope with a hero and heroine fighting against impossible odds and a love story of epic proportions, then pick up Brighid’s Quest because it delivers all that and more.

This book can stand alone easily but it is based on a series in a world so unique and special that I’d encourage readers to find the back books just for the sheer enjoyment they bring. I’ve read the others so for me it was wonderful to visit again with some of the original characters as they had charmed me and I remember them from so long ago. That being said, Ms. Cast brings enough of who they are and their back story that anyone jumping into the series with this book can easily relate. This book is Brighid and Cuchulainn’s story and the emotion captured in the pages of this book are as vibrant and touching as any reader could wish.

Brighid is part woman and part horse, a centaur. She’s a complex person, rich in personality and inner conflicts. She’s got a mother who was corrupted by power, a destiny she fights, prejudice to overcome, friends to heal and a friendship that has sneaked over into love. She’s strong, loyal, talented and destined for more than she expects. Over the duration of this story, Brighid grows in knowledge of her world and of herself. Despite all she’s fought against, all the trials she’s overcome, she never loses her compassion for others, even for those I truly believed shouldn’t get any. She’s an inspiration. She also has a delight wit which pops up at unexpected moments.

Cuchulainn is a fractured man. He lost his first love and it tore him apart. His spirit is adrift and his family fears for his life. This is about his journey to healing, not just for himself but eventually, the people of the goddess, Epona. He’s a warrior through and through and can be counted on. I liked Cu because he feels deeply, loves completely and is also loyal and courageous. His steadfast support of Brighid is as romantic as can be. Would that all men treated those they loved with that kind of honor and respect.

There are some parts that I would caution a reader of the younger generation. The conflict does turn violent and at one part Brighid is in danger of being violated – the scene could possibly be disturbing to some younger readers but with the news programs these days, perhaps not so much. To balance that darkness, the love and gentle touches between Brighid and Cuchulainn are tender, sensual and bring their romance to the next level. I had no problem with them, indeed it enriched my view of their relationship.

The children are beautiful. Liam is my favorite because he charms Brighid when she absolutely did not want to be charmed. He touches her heart and for the first time, she sees a different future for herself. It’s a wonderful moment.

Epona is the goddess and she’s just as important a character as the hero and heroine because everything they do is in her name. Most gods and goddess in stories are manipulative and love to play power games as though humans were chess pieces on a chessboard. That is far from the truth in this book. Epona is a positive, loving and beautiful creation of Ms. Cast’s mind and I’m in awe of its scope.

This review could go on and on because there is so much detail, emotion, events and characters I’ve yet to cover but this world Ms. Cast has created is an amazing place to visit. Time flew as I read because I could not put this book down. It touched my emotions on so many levels. I highly recommend this book to readers of fantasy and romantic fantasy because it is so well written. Ms. Cast has a reputation for bringing her characters to life and she succeeds much to my vast enjoyment. It’s a must read.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lord of Misrule by Rachel Caine

Lord of Misrule – The Morganville Vampires Book 5 by Rachel Caine
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Suspense/Mystery
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (231 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

In the college town of Morganville, vampires and humans coexist in (relatively) bloodless harmony. Then comes Bishop, the master vampire who threatens to abolish all order, revive the forces of the evil dead, and let chaos rule. But Bishop isn’t the only threat.

Violent black cyclone clouds hover, promising a storm of devastating proportions as student Claire Danvers and her friends prepare to defend Morganville against elements both natural and unnatural.

Vampires and humans can get along, right? Only when there’s understanding and cooperation—or a giant tornado heading into town to destroy everything. Now that I have your attention, you need to read Lord of Misrule.

This is the fifth book in the Morganville Vampires series, but I have to say, it’s a great read on its own. Yes, it does help to have the subplots of the prior stories explained, but really, you don’t need it.

I liked that the vampires and humans co-existed for the most part. I even liked that despite the crazy nature of a college town, things are pretty low key in Morganville. As I’d expect with a teen novel, there is plenty of angst. Claire and Shane have a gutsy little romance going and for a heroine, Claire kicks some serious behind. She is a great role model for teen girls because she sticks up for herself and those she cares about. That’s not to say she’s perfect, but she’s relatable.

The writing is tight and fast-paced. I went through this book in one sitting and raved for more! Bishop is everything I wanted to hate in a bad guy and the dichotomy of the town once they decide to choose sides gripped me and made me laugh out loud at times.

If you want a story that will pull you in and make you hunger for more, then you’ve found what you need in Lord of Misrule. I give this book 4 suns.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Court of Honor by Paula Blais Gorgas

Court of Honor by Paula Blais Gorgas
Publisher Dragonfly Pubs
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (138 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 4.5 Suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Sixteen-year-old Becky Walden has two big dreams: to become an all-state basketball player and to find a special boy to love. When she moves to a new high school, she meets Matt McRae. He shares her love of basketball, but is reluctant to fight the small town politics that has reached into the high school and tainted their sport. Can Becky lead her teammates to stand up for what's right? Will Matt fight with her or against her?

Court of Honor, by Paula Blais Gorgas features basketball, but as far more than a game. Gorgas’ Heroine, Becky, is the athletic sort but she’s been abruptly transplanted in a new school, and might well miss her moment to shine.

She does notice handsome Matt; he’s the gentle sort of guy that you just have to like. He kids around with his little brother and is nice to the new girl… and we realize he’s not as self-assured as he at first appears. He definitely doubts his ability to interact with the tall, pretty new girl… and is put off by her less than encouraging behavior at times.

Making new friends, and new enemies for that matter, is always a challenge, and makes for interesting reading. There really isn’t any one lagging moment in ‘Court of Honor,’ and even if you think you can predict the relationship between Becky and Matt, you really can’t predict much else. Their feelings are so genuinely shared, and so honestly awkward at times, it is very easy to see how challenged a relationship between them might be.

Their common ground is basketball, because Becky can really play. She hopes she is on her way to All-State for her new high school… if she can pull it off. Because, when it comes right down to it, her heart most definitely is in the right place. The game, the school, heck even the puppies are too perfect.

Readers don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this story: its all about Becky’s challenges and choices . Her devotion to the game, anticipation of the action, and interplay with the team all will transport the reader there in a completely exciting and believable way.

Court of Honor was an unexpectedly engaging story!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder

I Heart You, You Haunt Me by Lisa Schroeder
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (226 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Girl meets boy.
Girl loses boy.
Girl gets boy back...
...sort of.

Ava can't see him or touch him, unless she's dreaming. She can't hear his voice, except for the faint whispers in her mind. Most would think she's crazy, but she knows he's here.

Jackson. The boy Ava thought she'd spend the rest of her life with. He's back from the dead, as proof that love truly knows no bounds.

A love that never dies...that’s forever.

First I have to admit this book is written in a poetry-slash-train of thought fashion. Its first person which pulled me out of the story initially, but once I got into the swing of the story, I really enjoyed it. I saw the course of events through Ava’s eyes as if I went through it along with her. Feeling her grief and strife makes this a tough, but satisfying read.

But all isn’t over because he’s dead. Jackson comes back to speak to her. I like the means by which she and he deal. He may not be a living being any longer, but you feel for him as well. I liked this book and I think teens will as well because I got to relieve that awkward part of growing up where things are supposed to be one way-status quo, but because life’s like that, it isn’t. It showed me another way to deal with loss, be it a boyfriend, a friend, a pet, whatever.

Ava’s a strong girl. She wants to remember Jackson, but she’s not willing to devote her life to him. I liked the happily ever after because it’s what we all have to deal with. Loss is inevitable. Sometimes, coming to terms is just what we need.

If you want a book that will make your heart ache, make you laugh, and make you think, then you need to read I Heart You, You Haunt Me. I give this book 4 suns.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by L.J. Smith

The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle by L.J. Smith
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (256 pgs)
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

Torn between two vampire brothers

Damon: determined to make Elena his, he'd kill his own brother to possess her.

Stefan: desperate for the power to destroy Damon, and protect Elena, he gives in to his thirst for human blood.

Elena: the girl who can have anyone finds herself in the middle of a love triangle . . . one that might turn deadly.

Angst, torture, and mid-terms... typical high school stuff. That is unless you’re a vampire. Then, well, it’s a tad harder.

I gotta tell you, the characters you meet in the first book are still around, with much of the same angst, but this time, they show a maturity (for high school kids), that’s refreshing. Yes, things are still drama packed, but this time it’s more cohesive. You feel more for Damon and his bad-boy antics. He’s a draw—he’s handsome, enigmatic, and not at all a good boyfriend match, but like chocolate, you can’t not fall for him. I also like how Stefan is pushed to be something other than the perfect match. I like how he’s not allowed to fester in his role as the good guy, but has to be a little bad to meet his own goals. I can’t give away too much or I’ll ruin the story.

Elena is an intriguing heroine. She wants to do what’s right, but her interest is piqued by Damon’s dark side and she's lusting after Stefan’s hunkiness. But she’s easy for teens to identify with because... who hasn’t fallen in puppy love (well, puppy love if you’re talking vampires) with more than one guy? You want to see her get her heart’s desire when she figures out what that is.

This story is good for the 14+ age group, though it may be enjoyed by younger readers. But be warned, this is one adaptation that’s better if you read the book than rely on the television show. Trust me, there is more depth in the book, and you feel more like you’re hanging out with your own friends in the book.

If you want a great book for a long weekend, then this is the vampire story for you. I give The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle 4 suns.

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Misfit by Barbara Stremikis

March Misfit by Barbara Stremikis
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical, Inspirational
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (270 pgs)
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Fern

When a mudslide destroys her home and kills her parents, fifteen-year-old Cara Talbot is sent to live with a distant cousin, his wife, and five sons on a dairy farm in Indiana. The stink of cattle, a tiny bedroom loft, and two brothers who resent her intrusion make life a bitter struggle. As she copes with her grief, she finds solace caring for an autistic child, who helps her see the softer side of Nicolas March, another family misfit.

March Misfit is a poignant and unforgettable tale about starting anew; surrounded by people, difficulties, and circumstances beyond your control. Although told through varying perspectives, this is orphaned fifteen-year old Cara’s story. When she enters into a large family living on the edge of poverty -- all of whom are virtual strangers -- she is the focal point and foundation of the work. It’s an amazing journey that enraptures from start to finish, and once I started, I couldn’t put the book down.

In the beginning of the story, you are introduced to a devastated Cara who has been sent to live with the March family. They are so unlike the family and home she lost, living in an impoverished milk farm with endless chores and responsibilities. There is little to no room in their home, and her presence seems to annoy her male cousins more than anything else. The first chapter truly sets the tone, using stellar description and imagery to place the reader in the center of Cara’s situation. Could you imagine being ripped out of a life of love, comfort, and happiness only to be given a room with a curtain for the door, a bathroom that is adjoined to the living room, and zero privacy?

As the story progresses, the relationships unfurl like the petals on a flower, slow but sure. You have the autistic son, Alan, whose family has no idea what he suffers from. The mischievous and impulsive Gideon, who gives Cara a hard time. The patient and understanding David, who extends a much needed amount of friendship. Mr. and Mrs. March, whose marriage seems to be suffering due to Mr. March’s poor decisions and toxic jealousy. And of course, there is Nicholas, the son who is the shunned thread who holds the family together, yet, has a secret of his own. Each character brings something to the table and, as the layers build, it makes for an amazing story.

This is a book that can be enjoyed by teens, as well as their parents. Author Barbara Stremikis has created something that is a breath of fresh air, with characters you’ll think of long after you’ve finished. I was impressed with her ability to shift from character to character, focus on their separate issues, and merge them all together seamlessly while maintaining the somber tone and feel of the work. There is so much more here than the story of a heartbroken teenager who is trying to find her place in the world, but rather, focuses on true life circumstances and the way they shape and mold our decisions, thinking, and way of life.

A definite must read, be sure to put March Misfit on your TBR list.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Elder Magic: Book Three of The Desert Magic Trilogy by Cindy Davis and John Richters

Elder Magic: Book Three of The Desert Magic Trilogy by Cindy Davis and John Richters
Publisher: L & L Dreamspell
Genre: Action/Adventure, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (303 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 suns
Reviewed by Orchid

The legendary magician Kaen, long thought dead, awakens. Young magician Narle and his healer friend Laan are swept up in the chase to prevent the Elder mage from reclaiming her Talisman and unleashing its terrifying potential. Powerful forces block their way and the huge mercenary, Ramadar, seeks death for all magic users. Narle tops his list. The Desert Magic Trilogy concludes in a clash of forces amidst the crumbling ruins of Kaen’s castle.

Magic, mayhem and evil weave their way through this story. The characters are good or bad, sometimes they go from one to the other. Elder Magic is exactly the right title for this book – the source and spells of the magic used by the mages has been harvested from the magic of the past.

The Talisman of the ancient mage Kaen has been stolen. The thief has also taken half the magic from the node in Worlton. The chest of Dorea who was Kaen’s twin, forces apprentice mage Narle, and healer Laan to set out on a journey. They believe they are going to recover the Talisman, but the chest has other ideas.

On their journey they come across men and women who have risen from the dead, magical amulets with strange properties and spells unkown in their time. Narle and Laan believe they know who is friend and who is foe, but unfolding events cast doubt in their minds.

Magical pupil Josella has the Talisman which is filled with magic stolen from Worlton’s Node, but she has to fight to retain her possession of it. Narle and Laan are not the only ones to follow her across the frozen countryside, but she is determined to use the Talisman to make herself a power in the land.

I enjoyed this book. Set on a planet which is technologically challenged, magic fills the gap. There are good and bad in both mages and the unmagical people. Magic spells are simple, but draw on the mage’s inner store of magic, amulets or nodes. The spells can be very effective, but usually last only for a short time. Sometimes the spells go awry and cause unexpected results.

The journey takes all concerned across the barren and cold wastelands of the country, nearer and nearer to the place the chest wishes to go. The horses carrying the travellers are strangely empathic with their riders and play a big part in the story.

This tale drew me through the pages at a steady pace. I felt I could close the book when I wanted, but knew I would have to go back to find out what happened. Not a novel of extreme excitement but definitely one that gets its hooks into the reader, forcing them to carry on reading to the end.

When I finished reading the last page I was left with a warm, satisfied feeling.

I haven’t read the previous two novels of this series, but if Elder Magic is anything to go by, they should be equally good to read.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Enna Burning (Bayern Book 2)by Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (317 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Asphodel

Enna and Princess Ani became fast friends in The Goose Girl, but now that Ani is married to Prince Geric, Enna returns to the forest. Then Enna’s simple life changes for ever when she learns of her power to wield fire. Enna is convinced that she can use her ability for good — to fight Tira, the kingdom threatening the Bayern borders. But the power of the fire grows stronger and she is soon barely able to control it. Enna becomes more and more reckless and is captured by the Tiran army. A handsome and manipulative young captain drugs and holds Enna prisoner until Ani and her old friends Finn, and Razo attempt to free her. But has the desire to burn already gone too far?

Enna Burning is the direct sequel to Goose Girl and picks up the events of that book roughly a year and some months later. After her mother fell ill, Enna left Princess Ani's (or Isi to her friends) side to go back to the Forest and take care of her. Over the past year many changes have come to the Forest people; including new rights given to them by Geric and Isi, citizenship for Forest dwellers and a sense of true community.

Unfortunately not all are happy with the concessions that the Bayern royalty have granted them, one of whom is Enna's older brother Leifer who has never left the Forest. Seeking to bring the power back to his people Leifer uncovers an old secret that changes not only the course of the Forest dwellers lives, but that of Enna in particular.

As a sequel the book works very well. We catch up not only with Enna, but also Razo, Finn, Isi, Talone and Geric. We learn what everyone has been up to in the last year, as well as the rising tensions with the Tiran people. The Enna of Goose Girl and the Enna of Enna Burning are like two sides of the same coin. In Goose Girl, Enna was a sassy, confident, brave and loyal friend to Isi. She believed in her and sought to help her when no one else did. In Enna Burning however she is a disquieted young woman, uncertain where her path lies and uneasy about the restlessness she feels no matter where she is. She left Isi's side because she felt no longer needed, and is discontent with the Forest's simpler life.

She begins to feel as if she has a place after her brother finds a piece of vellum that calls strongly to the kinship she feels with Fire. She feels the danger in it though, sees the misery and chaos it can cause if she doesn't control it and once again flees--this time scared that she'll hurt everyone she loves. In the enemy's camp she learns more about herself then she thought possible; the strength of her endurance (and weakness), the limits she places on herself and what it means to be both a Forest dweller and city girl. The Enna in the Tiran camp, facing off against Sileph, longed to be just Enna again for a little while. Enna without the fire. Enna who didn't burn. It was who she was, just as Isi had her wind and animal speak, Enna had her fire that stoked her every thought and feeling.

I admit my heart was in my throat a couple times, when I as a reader could understand and see things that Enna could not (not yet at least). Enna's emotions burn hot and flare quickly, she's a passionate girl who was all at odds with the sudden changes of her life. I felt so bad for her, but at the same time I could see the growth and maturity that each bump in the road afforded her. At the end, when she realizes certain things about Sileph and herself, I cheered her on.

While I still prefer Isi's story and think it the best, Enna Burning was a wonderful, enriching follow-up that gave us a chance to see how our friends in Bayern have been doing as well as learn a little more about Isi's own protector, Enna. A great companion book to Goose Girl.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Breach of Worlds by Dana Davis

Breach of Worlds by Dana Davis
Publisher: SynergEbooks
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 12+
Length: Full Length (185 pgs)
Rating: 4 Suns
Reviewed by Orchid

It would take several days to reach the valley where the sorceress lived, less if she could catch a ride on some wagon or other. Many people were afraid of the valley woman, afraid to venture there. Not Nara. She’d had her share of beatings. She was anxious to meet this mysterious woman who struck fear in the biggest of men, and wondered what it was like to have such power.

Suddenly, the hairs on her neck stood on end. Someone watched her. She tugged her hat down and peered around. At first, she didn’t see anyone. Finally, she noticed a girl standing near a dress shop across the street. The girl wore a long, blue dress with a high bodice. Jewels sparkled around her neck and lace decorated her cuffs and collar. Her dark hair hung in deliberate curls around her shoulders, creating quite a contrast to her pale skin. She smiled in Nara’s direction.

Nara slipped into the adjacent alley and flattened herself against the wall. She swallowed hard and cursed. This girl would surely tell someone about her. High ladies were like that, always putting their noses in a stranger’s business.

Nara is desperate to leave the orphanage. She feels a strange compulsion to travel to the sorceress and ask for sanctuary. Once she has passed her eleventh birthday she can no longer resist the pull to leave.

She arrives at the property of the sorceress and is very surprised to find Mirin the sorceress is living in a cottage, not a castle or large house. Nara is adopted by Mirin and over the next few years forgets her life in the orphanage. Nara is introduced to all who visit Mirin as the sorceress's niece. She discovers Mirin is not a sorceress at all, but a mage.

Events in the world of the mages are coming to a head as good and evil are driven to a standoff. Mirin and Nara journey to join the other mages and Nara discovers secrets about her adopted aunt and her own background. She also discovers more about her family, in particular her parents and grandparents.

The cover of this book reminded me of an old style Christmas card. Nara's story is set very much in this style. The beginning of the book is reminiscent of the Victorian orphanage era.

The scene quickly changes to the countryside of apple blossoms and sunshine, giving Nara a life she has only dreamed of in her first eleven years. When the war of the mages changes her life once again, Nara is angry. She wants to continue the happy life she has experienced with Mirin, but this is not to be.

Breach of Worlds is a story of a young girl's journey from being alone in the world to finding friendship and family when she least expects it. As she grows older, Nara finds out things about herself that surprise and frighten her. The pleasant beginning runs throughout the book with lightheartedness and darkness weaving its way through the story.

I would recommend this book to children of twelve years old and older. It has magic, evil, warmth and trickery. All the things to make you read to the end of the book.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening by L.J. Smith

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening (Book 1) by L.J. Smith
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (322 pgs)
Sun Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Tiger Lily

A deadly love triangle

Elena: beautiful and popular, the girl who can have any guy she wants.

Stefan: brooding and mysterious, desperately trying to resist his desire for Elena . . . for her own good.

Damon: sexy, dangerous, and driven by an urge for revenge against Stefan, the brother who betrayed him.

Elena finds herself drawn to both brothers . . .

who will she choose?

High school can be a pain. If you’re a vampire, it sucks. If you’re a girl whose in love with said vampire... well, it can be the pits. But then again, if life were easy, what would a high school kid have to complain about?

Sound like your life? A little? Then you need to read The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening.

I know, I know. This story is on the television. It is, but I have to tell you, reading the book is much better than just watching it. Many stories lose something when they go from the written page to the small screen. This is one of those stories.

Elena has a lot of dimension beyond being a pretty high school senior. She’s smart, but she’s also nosy. I liked her adventurous spirit, although at first, I wasn’t real thrilled with her almost callous approach to her boyfriend. But then again, who is totally nice all the time when dealing with a pest? High school kids can identify with her actions.

Stefan and Damon are a great tag team in that both are handsome, damned, and enigmatic. You want to see Stefan get with Elena. The struggle to overcome evil and desire is interesting, but a little adult for some 'tween readers. Still, there is the expected drama of high school... the bullies, the drama queens, and then the paranormal happenings around them.

You feel like you’re in the story with them and watching them grow is like watching your friends come of age. Once you read this book, you’ll want the second and third installments, it’s that good.

If you like vampires and the strife of the teen years, then you need to read The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening. You don’t regret it. I give this book 4 suns.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Thyme in a Flask by Glen Quarry

Thyme in a Flask By Glen Quarry
Publisher: Eloquent Books
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (292 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 4 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Glen Quarry’s Thyme in a Flask is the story of a young man thrust into the role of hero in a parallel world.

Jon Chandler is an ordinary seventeen-year-old guy living a pretty ordinary existence.

But things become extremely extraordinary when Jon is forced to take on the difficult task of locating a magical flask and finding his way back home.

Joined by the confident and beautiful Dorthea (who challenges him constantly) and his best friend, Samuel, an eight-foot, 480 pound gentle giant, this threesome is in for the adventure of their lives.

Propelled into a strange, parallel world where things aren’t always what they seem, Jon and his comrades must solve a series of riddles in order to locate the flask and return safely home. Few people have ever explored this world inhabited by powerful demons and wizards. Jon, Dorthea and Samuel’s strength, mental acuity, and emotions will be tested to the limits. The love/hate relationship between Jon and Dorthea simmers constantly, threatening to dismantle their precarious hold on reality and jeopardize their quest to locate the flask and find their way home.

What they’ll learn about themselves and about life will prove to be far more priceless than a magical flask.

Glen Quarry has written an enchanting and amusing story with intricate twists and turns. Fantasy fans will eagerly anticipate the sequels to this author’s timeless story of good versus evil.

An engaging narrative opens Thyme in a Flask, with the aura of the old-time fairy tale. Indeed even the time it is set in is fairytale-ish, being sometime long ago, one presumes from the medieval sense of things.

But then time is the issue. At the start, Princess Joanna discovers her father, King of the magical land of Elisinor has the power to travel out of time. We soon discover the magic flask with the power to stop time is in the hands of none other than the father of Smithy apprentice Jon Chandler, who is very far from what he seems, and far more than even he suspects.

It takes a while – and several more chapters – to sort out the danger to the good land and all its people, as well as the amazing cast of characters that will stand up for their home. First is young Jon, along with Dorothea and a friendly giant. Tensions between various characters are well-established through dialogue, and very believable. As they are all driven by good – we trust they will see eye to eye eventually. They must flee their home world and struggle through a puzzling maze in a world utterly unfamiliar. For the readers, sorting the people and events is a slow process, but very worthwhile. This is not a book to rush through, but to savor, consider, and read back through.

There is not the faintest bit of predictability in this work. The utterly original world and plot make this an engaging read, while the style encourages one to slow down, consider, and enjoy the intricacies. Certain characters are standouts, as of course is main character Jon: smithy apprentice, and more, as there is more about him than meets the eye…especially if he doesn’t want you to see.

The narrative style is rich in description, revisits back-story, contemplates feelings and emotions, and somehow it all wends together to maintain that magical tone established at the outset. It indulges in lengthy explanations, but they are magically engaging.

This is not fast-paced, but for select spaces. It is rather an old fashioned read; comfortable, charming, and it begs to be read aloud. Children will love this – but one not need be a child to enjoy it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Merlin's Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton

Merlin’s Harp by Anne Eliot Crompton
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 14+
Length: Full Length (241 pgs)
Rating: 3.5 Suns
Review by: Fern

When I was yet a very young woman I threw my heart away. Ever since then I have lived heartless, or almost heartless, the way Humans think all Fey live.

Among the towering trees of magical Avalon, where humans dare not tread, lives Niviene, daughter of the Lady of the Lake. Her people, the Fey, are folk of the wood and avoid the violence and greed of man. But the strife of King Arthur’s realm threatens even the peace of Avalon. And while Merlin the mage has been training Niviene as his apprentice, he now needs her help to thwart the chaos devouring Camelot. Niviene’s special talents must help save a kingdom and discover the treachery of men and the beauty of love…

Take a journey into a time when knights reigned, magic existed, and there were still unexplored regions in the land. Merlin’s Harp is a story that combines many of the tales of old and creates a new version of King Arthur, the round table, Lancelot, Merlin, and the fabled Avalon.

Told through the narrative of Nivienne, a fey who has lived on Apple Island in Avalon all her life, this isn’t the tale that you remember. In this fable, Nivienne is front and center, and the stops along the way create her own unique journey. Those around her are the supporting cast – her fellow fey, King Arthur, Merlin – all of which come into play as the mystery unfolds and the hidden villas are revealed. It’s an intricate puzzle that unravels piece by piece, creating new variations which are far more than you anticipate.

Written in a lyrical fashion, at times I found myself wondering if a fourteen-year old fascinated by shimmering vampires would find appeal in Merlin’s Harp. To be certain, it’s beautiful at times, yet here and there the narrative and dialogue became cumbersome and drew me away from the story. This isn’t the average YA fanfare, yet strives to provide something fresh and unique in a genre saturated by angst and modern-day calamities. Yes, there is a smidgen of romance, but ultimately, this is a tale of love, loss, forgiveness, and acceptance. Nivienne has many tragedies that mark her soul, each one painful and heart-wrenching. It’s not always an easy read, however, when the twists and turns occur, it’s enough to draw the reader back in and ensure they’ll continue flipping the pages through to the end.

Fans of the Arthurian legend will enjoy Merlin’s Harp, although it should be stated that some of the themes, while not graphic, are adult in nature. If you want to experience the legend through the voice of a young-woman, this is exactly what you’re looking for.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Storm Swept by Linda Palmer

Storm Swept by Linda Palmer
Publisher: Wild Horses Press
Genre: Paranormal, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (151 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 suns
Reviewed by Snapdragon

When Jenny Jefferson agrees to help her sister open a B&B, she doesn't know that Jase Edwards will be working there, too. Jenny and Jase have history--an angry encounter at her sister's wedding four years ago. This time around their chemistry is as intense and supercharged as the lightning snaking down from the storm clouds overhead. Not even a mischievous house ghost can distract them from each other. But something far more sinister lurks in the shadows, and its eye is on Jenny. Can she and Jase unravel the mystery of the house's tragic past before history?

Told in the first person in a comfortably conversational style, Storm Swept engages the reader immediately. Just out of school Jenny, (asthmatic) agrees to take over as cook at pregnant sister Lucy’s bed and breakfast.

She isn’t there five minutes when she meets her brother-in-law’s brother, handsome and kindly Jase. Before they have any chance to get acquainted though, a myriad of problems, from major to minor, confront them.

The B-n-B is everything one could imagine: a real chandelier-clad Victorian Mansion bursting with atmosphere…but everything seems unfinished, none of the renovations are complete. What’s more the place is loud and kind of creepy. Lucy the sister is in tears half the time. She admits the harassing ghost about the place almost at once, but Jenny isn’t known as the ‘sensible one’ for nothing.

She doesn’t worry about any ghost, she can’t wait to start cooking in her summer chef position, and, suspiciously soon after meeting Jase Edwards , she semi-dumps the super-hot, hair-obsessed Nick. There’s no quick happy relationship for the two of them though.

First, there’s a few regrettable statements between them, then they argue over someone else’s relationship, and somewhere in there we realize these two characters are a lot alike. Both Jase and Jenny are hard-headed and stubborn, alongside being well-meaning and caring. It’s wonderful to meet two characters you thoroughly admire, even though their mutually antagonistic approach is incredibly frustrating (and also intriguing) from the romantic point of view! From that point forward you will just want to know how this all ends. We know they are both loyal… but couldn’t one of them be a bit less hard-headed? Dialogue is snappy and fun and sometimes sarcastic.

Storm Swept is a fun and lightning-fast read; the romance is wonderful and in many ways unpredictable and the house’s creepiness factor becomes more and more believable, adding to the overall suspense. Romance fans should mark this one a must-read.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Kulak's Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone

The Kulak’s Daughter by Gabriele Goldstone
Publisher: Blooming Tree Press
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 5 Suns
Reviewed by Dandelion

Olga likes little things - especially the tiny apples in the orchard in the spring, or her baby brother's little toes. But when her family is labeled 'Kulak' and exiled to Siberia, she starts to hate little things - especially the bedbugs that overrun the barrack at night, or the lice that carry the dreaded typhus. Suddenly Olga's little world is overwhelmed by Stalin's big plans.

Though this is a story that is more heartbreaking than anything else, it is also beautifully written, a tale that highlights the plight of families called “kulaks” under the Stalin administration in the early 1930s. These families, who were considered threats to the new government because they refused to turn over their farms to become collectives, were exiled to transition camps, work crews, and other temporary barracks around the country. Olga, the eleven-year old main character in The Kulak’s Daughter, finds herself and her family one of the many who end up at Yaya, a Siberian transition camp, in 1930.

The beginning of the story, though, takes place on Olga’s family farm, where she lives a simple, enjoyable life with her parents and siblings, her school friends, and her beloved pet dog. It is only as the Soviet government changes – and her father’s beliefs do not – that all is torn away from her. The barracks where she ends up spending miserable months bear a stark resemblance to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and Goldstone does an excellent job of painting a bleak picture of this reality in a manner that’s still appropriate for its middle grade target audience. The minor characters are all well developed, from Olga’s little sisters to her brother Albert to the quirky but lovable Sasha, who befriends her at Yaya. Goldstone’s details bring to life the darkness and desolation of a place where lice and typhus ran rampant, and where trying to maintain some kind of hope and dignity was almost impossible.

The fact that this book is based on a true story makes it even more heart-wrenching. It is a gem of a historical novel, and I recommend it highly. While it isn’t all sad and depressing – hang in there for an uplifting ending – the Historical Note at the end suggests that Olga’s character faced much more in the years that followed her time at Yaya. I do hope that this author is planning a second novel about those years, because I will definitely read it.

If you do not know anything about this period in history – and I did not – you will find a true education in The Kulak’s Daughter of what happened to millions of Russian families under the Stalin regime in 1930/1931. Bravo to Gabriele Goldstone for bringing this story to life!