Goose Chase, by Patrice Kindl

Patrice Kindl was born in Alplaus, New York, which is outside Schenectady, the youngest of four daughters of a mechanical engineer and a stay-at-home mom. In college, which she attended in St. Louis, she studied acting, before dropping out to go to a drama school in New York. After four years of less than success, she moved back upstate, got a job, got married, and eventually — in her late 30s — decided to become serious about writing. Her first novel, Owl in Love, was published to a fair amount of success, and she’s published several more since. Apparently, in the realm of odd trivia, her son is in a band, and the lead singer of that band is one of the few female master falconers in the world.

Alexandria used to be a Goose Girl, until she grudgingly did a good turn for an old woman who turned out to be a fairy godmother. Now she is as beautiful as the dawn (much more beautiful than many dawns, she reassures us), her tears turn to diamonds, and when she combs her hair, gold flakes appear. Of course, this means that the prince of one country (Dorloo) and the king of another (Gilboa) both are desperate for her hand in marriage, so they (well, really the king) lock her in a tower and attempt to convince her that she should marry one of them. Fortunately, her geese — twelve of them, all female — rescue her from that situation — but now she’s on the lam. What can she do? Will she ever get back to her simple life? Continue reading Goose Chase, by Patrice Kindl

The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry

Like so many authors, Julie Berry was a reader as a child, but she grew up on a farm, so there were also many things to do — play with the pigs, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, cats, and dogs; catch minnows, crawdads (crayfish for the northerners), frogs, and turtles; and probably muck out stables and other icky chores, but she described it as “[h]eaven.” The youngest of seven children, she’s now got four sons of her own, a husband, a cat, a B.S. in communications from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, an M.F.A. from the Vermont College of the Fine Arts, and a published novel — this one.

Our heroine, Lucinda Chapdelaine, is the daughter of wealthy merchants — or was, until they passed away under odd circumstances. Now she’s an assistant in her uncle’s jewelry shop; well, essentially the slave of her aunt, who works her to the bone, abuses her, and tells Lucinda that she should be grateful for all that they’ve done since her parents died and left her with nothing. One day a mysterious woman comes into the shop, and asks to have Lucinda’s uncle reset a jewel for her. It’s actually a very large pearl, and it sets off an odd series of events that turn Lucinda’s life completely upside down. Who is the mysterious woman? Why do so many people want the pearl? And will her life ever settle down? Continue reading The Amaranth Enchantment, by Julie Berry

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper, book 2), by Tamora Pierce

I started reading Tamora Pierce’s books in sixth grade; apparently that was long enough ago that she’d only published five books. Now she’s up over twenty-five and of course I’ve read ’em all. She has two major series, disinfection the one set in Tortall that started with the Alanna (Song of the Lioness) books (and continued through Daine [the Immortals quartet], Keladry [the Protector of the Small quartet], and Aly [the Trickster duology]), and the ones called the Circle books, set in a different world and intended for a slightly younger audience. She lives in upstate New York with several cats and a husband (hers, fortunately), and has also experimented with audio-first books (like this one) and comics.

Yes, this is the second book in the series, and no, I didn’t review the first one (Terrier), although I certainly read it. They’re part of the Tortall series, although set a couple hundred years before the other books. Beka Cooper, the main character, is an ancestor of George Cooper, the King of the Rogue and a major character in the Alanna books. Rather than being a Rogue, though, Beka is a Dog (well, a Dog-in-training in the first volume): one of the Lord Provost’s police force, trained to keep the peace and investigate crimes. Beka has already gained a reputation as being persistent and a straight arrow before the first book finishes, and in this second volume, where she is investigating counterfeiters in Corus and Port Caynn, it’s only intensified. Continue reading Bloodhound (Beka Cooper, book 2), by Tamora Pierce

M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is everyone’s darling right now. Not only have his last two movies (Coraline and Stardust) done fairly well, viagra order but he won the Newbery Award just recently for The Graveyard Book, link a novel about a toddler who runs into a graveyard to escape being murdered with the rest of his family, and is raised by the denizens there. (No, really, it is a children’s book. For more commentary, see The Colbert Report.) Anyway, Mr. Gaiman has also written a handful of books for adults and children, as well as the amazing comic series Sandman, and the scripts or translations for several movies. He’s also got a very popular blog, and now a Twitter.

M is for Magic is a collection of his already-published stories that he put together for children; the title, as he says in the introduction, is after Ray Bradbury’s similarly-collected (already published and picked for children later) works with titles such as R is for Rocket and S is for Space. The titles include “The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” “Troll Bridge,” “Don’t Ask Jack,” “How to Sell the Ponti Bridge,” “October in the Chair,” “Chivalry,” “The Price,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “Sunbird,” as well as “The Witch’s Headstone,” which is an excerpt from The Graveyard Book. Continue reading M is for Magic, by Neil Gaiman

The Magician (Nicolas Flamel, book 2), by Michael Scott

Michael Scott is still an expert in Irish folktales and mythology, generic as far as I know. Last week I reviewed the first book in this series, erectile which I believe was his first book for YAs. The third, information pills The Sorceress, is due in May. His other books include collaborations with well-known authors (and actors) including Morgan Llewellyn, who is also famous for her novels about Ireland — both historical and historical fantasy. I can only imagine the exactitude that two such scholars would bring to their works. Another one of his works, Whom the Gods Love, is set in ancient Etruria prior to the height of the Roman Empire; apparently his was the first set in such a time period.

Since this is a book 2, then I will cut here. Josh and Sophie are twins, and they’ve done everything together — until now. Sophie’s magical powers were awakened in book 1, but not Josh’s, and he feels left out. They’ve travelled magically to Paris to save their lives and that of Nicolas Flamel, the alchemyst, whose book containing the elixir of life has been stolen. He’s now aging and will die if they can’t get the book back so he can make more of the potion before month’s end. In Paris, they encounter Niccolo Machiavelli, also immortal, and the Count St. Germain. Machiavelli is unfortunately on the side of the people who stole the book, and he and John Dee are chasing after the twins — who might be the twins from a prophecy. Will they survive?

While the plot is fairly active, I realized while writing this that not much happens until the very end (and I’m not giving that away). Things happen — a lot of them — but they don’t really advance the overall plot all that much. That having been said, what I enjoyed the most about this book was the characters and the character development. Sophie and Josh actually develop a glimmering of personality, and they actually start to differentiate themselves from each other. More importantly, Nicolas Flamel gains some depth and turns into a much rounder character. When the reader started to understand that his motivations were more than just the obvious, I started liking him more.

The characters who are new in this book — Machiavelli, St. German, and St. Germain’s wife, Joan of Arc — are even more wonderful than learning more about our old friends. If Machiavelli had survived into this century, I feel confident that he would be exactly how Mr. Scott describes him. He was so ambiguous and yet exactly there that he stole the show for me. I expect that St. Germain will be a favorite with many readers; based on the semi-historical figure, he’s currently very stereotypically French (think Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) and very flamboyant, which is sort of interesting for an immortal who needs to keep a certain amount of privacy. Joan of Arc is great, too, albeit described as “the tiny Frenchwoman” too many times for my tastes. She and Scathach have a great, long-term friendship that shows us a slightly different side of both women.

I’m sure this is an important installment, and I’m sure the threads that Mr. Scott has set up will eventually weave into the larger story seamlessly, but this felt very much like a middle book in a trilogy to me. (The series is supposed to have six parts, eventually.) I’m glad he introduced new characters and expanded upon the old ones, because without it, the book might have fallen a bit flat. I’ll certainly be looking for the next volume, partially to see how far we’ll get in the story, but mostly to revisit with the characters I enjoy so much. I’d recommend it to fans of the first book, but it certainly can’t be read on its own. Those looking for a series shouldn’t skip it. 3.5/5 stars.

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

Cynthia Kadohata was born in 1956 in Chicago, side effects Illinois, and is of Japanese-American heritage. Her grandparents married in Japan and then emigrated here, and her mother was born in southern California. Although Ms. Kadohata was born in the North, she spent a good deal of her childhood in Southern states, during an interesting time, racially speaking. She received a B.A. from the University of Southern California, and has studied on a graduate level at a couple of venerable institutions. Many of her novels feature east Asian-American protagonists in coming-of-age stories. This volume, from 2004 and intended for middle-grade readers, is no exception, and it won the Newbery Award.

Katie Takeshima’s sister, Lynn, is her world. Lynn is four years older, and she protects her sister as much as she possibly can. When the family’s Asian grocery store goes under in the mid-1950s, the family moves to Georgia where Mr. Takeshima can get a job in a chicken processing plant. The world is very different down there; it’s a small town and there are only 31 Japanese people out of 4000 residents. Many people won’t talk to them, but Katie’s fine. She has a best friend already — Lynn. Even though the family struggles with finances and working so many hours a day in awful conditions, and even though the two grow up and Lynn makes other friends, the sisters remain close — until Lynn gets sick. Continue reading Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie is of Spokane/Coeur d’Alene heritage; he was born on the Spokane reservation in Washington and had hydrocephalus when he was a kid. He attended the local white high school and played basketball before going to Gonzaga and Washington State University. A B.A. in American Studies later, check he started writing poetry, and then novels, winning the great-young-novelist kind of awards. One of his short stories was adapted, with his collaboration, into the movie Smoke Signals. This novel is his first for YAs, and has won many more awards.

The story was inspired by his own life: Arnold Spirit, Jr. (called Junior on the rez) was born in the same town (Wellpinit) as Mr. Alexie, and made the same choice to go to Rearden, the all-white high school with an Indian as their mascot, after the same incident — discovering that his geometry book was the same book his mother had used, thirty years earlier. There, he has to confront his own heritage and what that means to him — as well as what his decision means to the rest of his reservation. He fights his own expectations, the expectations of the other students, and the expectations of his old best friend, Rowdy. Continue reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Nation, by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett — I mean, ed Sir Terry Pratchett — is one of England’s finest humorists, ever. He’s written something like fifty volumes in his Discworld collection, all set on a strange world that actually is flat and contains some of the most humorous people in fiction. He’s sort of like the brain-child of Charles Dickens and Jonathan Swift, but on crack (in a good way). He’s also recently been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and therefore has been slowing down his appearance schedule and writing. This novel is not part of the Discworld books at all, and was published mid-2008.

Mau is just about to be initiated from boyhood into manhood in his tribe, which lives on an island in the Pelagic Ocean, when a giant wave comes and kills everyone but him and the grandfather birds. Ermintrude (who quickly renames herself Daphne, given the chance) is thirteen and 139th in line for the British throne, and was traveling on a boat when the wave came and capsized her on the island. They are the only two humans on the island at first, and they have to learn to survive, both together and separately. Also, 137 specific people have died, and although she doesn’t know it, Daphne’s father has just been named king. She’s a princess now — but will her father or anyone else ever find her on the island? Continue reading Nation, by Terry Pratchett

The Alchemyst (Nicolas Flamel, book 1), by Michael Scott

Michael Scott, generic who is Irish, apparently usually writes books for adults; he seems to have written some in conjunction with Morgan Llewellyn and Armin Shimerman. A good deal of his books are about Ireland, and he is considered an expert on Irish folktales and mythology. He is also a screenwriter; he worked for the company who produced Riverdance, as well as scripting importnat events such as the Special Olympics, when they were held in Ireland in 2002, and the Irish Film & Television Awards. A couple years ago, he published the first book in a six-part series for young adults; the series has been optioned by New Line Films. The second volume — The Magician — has already been released, and book 3 (The Sorceress) comes out in late May of this year.

Sophie and Josh Newman are fifteen-year-old twins, spending the summer in San Francisco with a great-aunt while their parents, both archaeologists, go off on a dig. Josh has a job at a bookstore, and Sophie at the coffee and tea shop across the street. One day, someone comes in and attacks Nick Fleming, the owner of the bookstore, steals a magical tome from him, and kidnaps his wife, Perry. Unfortunately, the twins get involved enough that Nick Fleming — who is actually Nicolas Flamel — believes they are in danger, and takes them with him. They must get the book back within a month, or the Flamels will die. Also, there’s a strange prophecy about twins — could that mean them? Continue reading The Alchemyst (Nicolas Flamel, book 1), by Michael Scott

Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel

When I was searching for new books recently, prosthesis on the internet, I came across the publication date for the third book in this series (Starclimber), which reminded me I’d never read book 2. The series started with Airborn, and I’d bought the second volume for my husband for his birthday in 2008. In any case, Kenneth Oppel is Canadian, and has written a couple series for children; he has won a fair number of awards, mostly Canadian. Born on Vancouver Island, he spent his childhood either there or in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is the opposite end of the country. The first two books in this trilogy were recently released in paperback, and the third book will be published very soon.

Skybreaker continues the story of Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, and because it’s a sequel, I’m cutting the plot discussion. Continue reading Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel