Buttermilk Sky: Review Copy

Disclaimer: Buttermilk Sky is a review copy provided by Tyndale. Therefore, the format of this review will deviate from my normal blog review format.

“Weary of the expectations imposed on her by her strict upbringing, nineteen-year-old Mazy Pelfrey left her home in the Kentucky mountains to attend secretarial school in the genteel city of Lexington. She was sure her life would change—and only for the better. Everything was supposed to be clear skies from then on.

But business school is harder than she thought it would be, and the big city not as friendly, until she meets a charming young man from a wealthy family, Loyal Chambers. When Loyal sets his sights on her, Mazy begins to see that everything she’d ever wished to have is right before her eyes. The only hindrance to her budding romance is a former beau, Chanis Clay, the young sheriff she thought she’d left firmly behind.

Danger rumbles like thunder on a high mountain ridge when Mazy’s cosseted past collides with her clouded future and forces her to come to terms with what she really wants.”

I must confess, I am a sucker for historical romance so I was expecting to like Buttermilk Sky for at least that aspect of it. I wasn’t expecting much beyond that, but the book did surprise me with how well it was written and for the occasional moment that made me chuckle. Overall it was quite a pleasant book and I’m not sorry I read it, though it was more of an “indulgence” book than a “wow this blew me away it was so good” book.

The one thing that stops me from really enjoying it, though, is the incredibly obvious romance and the overused plot devices. It’s obvious from the back cover that Mazy is going to end up with Chanis, and I’m actually okay with that…if Watson had done something more original with the other suitor, Loyal. The moment he appears, I thought, “He’s going to turn out to be some sort of insensitive cad, isn’t he?” Virtuous, hard-working country boy versus dashing rich city boy—not that hard to figure out that the country boy will win, because the rich boy will end up abusing the poor under his care to show how unsuitable he is for anyone, least of all a good Christian girl. Check. That really disappointed me because I thought Watson was bringing up some good points with Mazy’s hesitation between the two men. Choices like that are hard and it would have made Mazy’s development that much stronger if she actually had to make a difficult choice about whether to stay in Lexington or go back to her mountain town. It would have been much more interesting if Loyal had been a genuinely nice guy and took care of his tenants properly. But then he does, of course, turn out be an insensitive (and completely clueless) cad, and that’s a lot of development that’s just wasted right there.

Speaking of development, I’m not sure if Mazy actually got any. She had misgivings the entire book about whether or not she really thought she could marry Chanis, but those misgivings are never addressed fully—the book just ends with them happily married, without any explanation for what changed Mazy’s mind. It also bothered me that Eva was just completely written off without so much as even a mention at the end, and I can only assume it’s because she was a jealous, spiteful rich girl (they never get redeemed). More lost potential for a turn-around from her.

So, while I did enjoy Buttermilk Sky, I would have enjoyed it more if it had been less obvious and relied less on overused tropes to carry the plot. The fact that Watson completely misses out on what could have been a really strong conflict of choice that, given the Christian element, could have resulted in Mazy praying more than just once annoys me, along with the fact that Loyal and Chanis are cut straight out of TVTropes.

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: None.

Genre: Realistic, Historical Fiction, Christian 

Thirteenth Child: Just The Phrase “Frontier Magic” Makes Me Cackle With Glee

Thirteenth Child is written by Patricia C. Wrede. It was published in 2009 by Scholastic. It is the first in the Frontier Magic trilogy. Wrede’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Eff was born a thirteenth child. Her twin brother, Lan, is the seventh son of a seventh son. This means he’s supposed to possess amazing talent—and she’s supposed to bring doom to everyone around her. Undeterred, her family moves to the frontier, where her father will be a professor of magic at a school perilously close to the magical divide that protects settlers from the beasts of the wilderness.

Eff and Lan do not know what awaits them in such an unknown place. There are steam dragons that hover in the sky, and strange creatures that could undermine the homesteaders’ very existence. Eff is allowed to learn magic with the other students—but there’s always the threat of it going horribly wrong. As a thirteenth child, Eff always feels one short step away from complete ruin.

As Eff and Lan grow older, they face challenges they never could have dreamed of. And then their magic is put to the test in a standoff that will alter their lives forever.”

What I Liked:

So, this book is the marriage of two of my favorite things: fantasy and 1800s America (a.k.a. the western expansion, Little House on the Prairie, Back to the Future III, etc.). I’m actually not sure what time period this takes place in, since this America is so vastly different (it has magic, for one thing, which has affected all sorts of historical events), but it has that wonderful 1800s-esque feel to it that I just love. And the best part is that the main character actually conforms to the time period rather than someone who rebels against it (you know, like Suzannah Snow rebelling against 20th-century norms, and every single princess in any contemporary YA fantasy rebelling against princesshood and wanting to be a fantastic archer/swordsman rather than learn boring sewing and court manners, and any female 10th walker in a Lord of the Rings fanfic yelling at King Theoden for wanting them to go to the caves rather than fighting…you know, like that). Eff wears long skirts and puts her hair up and is shocked at Rennie for eloping and is altogether my favorite person ever.

For those of you who are familiar with Wrede’s Enchanted Forest books, be aware that Thirteenth Child has a completely different tone. The Enchanted Forest books are witty and parody-esque and other wonderful, humorous things. Thirteenth Child takes a much more mature tone and, while it has its moments, is not centered on humor like The Enchanted Forest books are, possibly because of the difference in audiences (YA as opposed to more Middle Grade).

This is a slow book, spanning about thirteen years (….!!! Why did I not notice that before?) of Eff’s life. But every year is just so important in Eff’s development, I can see why Wrede took the time to use the entire book as set-up rather than just start right away when Eff is eighteen. This is quite clearly a set-up book for the rest of the series, which I assume will take place over a much shorter period of time, but I love the little details and seeing each individual character grow.

Speaking of growth, I was a bit worried about William, but Wrede, besides having a fantastic main character, also does what other authors often fail to do: she realizes that people at age seven are not the same as the same people at seventeen, and has them grow accordingly (remember The Seer and the Sword, where at age seven she was all, “I could never live that way!” and I was all, “Relax. You’re seven”?). William is annoying at first, but then quickly grows into this fantastic person who is Eff’s best friend (and future love interest…?). Great writing all around, really.

The worldbuilding is fabulous. Like I said above, fantasy + Western = awesomeness. I love the creatures-as-villains aspect, especially since the creatures are part of the aforementioned fabulous worldbuilding.

I just really, really liked this book. It was impressive and had a new spin on fantasy that was so refreshing to read.

What I Didn’t Like:

While the creatures-as-villains aspect is interesting and I like the way Wrede handles it, I hope that the next books have a more concrete human villain. It seems that Wrede is setting up the Dept. of Settlement to be a major villain-y factor, so I’m hopeful.

I am about 75% sure that this is will shape up to be a “the poor creatures are just misunderstood” type of plot, and if that happens I will probably throw the book across the room.

“If you limit yourself to one way of seeing, one truth, you will limit your power.” Uhhh…okay. Sure?

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Papa looked down at Lan with a rueful expression. “Lan’s a natural magician. I’ve been thinking that something would break loose soon, but I hadn’t expected anything quite so dramatic. Nor as dangerous.”

“A natural—you mean you’re a seventh son?”

Papa nodded.

“And he’s a seventh son?”

Papa nodded again.

~Wrede 61

He paused for a minute, and sighed. “We don’t know enough about the critters on the far side of the Great Barrier,” he said, half to himself. “We don’t even know what all of them are yet. I’ve seen things on the far frontier that no one here can tell me names of. You can’t ward things off if you don’t know what they are or when they’re coming.”

Those words hit me and sank in deep. I thought of some of the tales I’d heard of failed settlements, and the reasons they’d failed. I remembered Dr. McNeil’s expedition, and how they’d almost been killed because they didn’t know to look for a swarming weasel burrow near their camp, and how Brant Wilson had saved them with his pistol and knowing about bees and a lucky guess. At that moment, I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to go into the frontier, not as a settler, but as a naturalist, to study the wildlife the way Dr. McNeil had, the way Wash said was needed.

~Wrede 195

Overall Review:

I loved this book. There’s great worldbuilding; great character development; a slow, carefully-paced plot with great attention to said development; and a protagonist that I love simply because she’s so ordinary. I knew Wrede could write funny and quirky, but here’s proof she can write darn good fantasy.

You can buy this here: Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic)

Abhorsen: A Tintinnabulation Of Bells

Abhorsen is written by Garth Nix. It is the third book in the Old Kingdom series. It was published in 2003 by Eos (HarperCollins). Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“[Orannis, the Destroyer] has been freed from its subterranean prison and now seeks to escape the silver hemispheres, the final barrier to the unleashing of its terrible powers.

Only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has any chance of stopping the Destroyer. She and her companions—Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget—have to take that chance. For the Destroyer is the enemy of all Life, and it must be stopped, though Lirael does not know how.

To make matters worse, Sam’s best friend, Nick, is helping the Destroyer, as are the necromancer Hedge and the Greater Dead Chlorr, and there has been no word from the Abhorsen Sabriel or King Touchstone.

Everything depends upon Lirael. A heavy, perhaps even impossible burden for a young woman who just days ago was merely a Second Assistant Librarian. With only a vision from the Clayr to guide her, and the rather mixed help of her companions, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the Destroyer.

Before it is too late….”

Thoughts:

I highly recommend reading all three books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) back-to-back, or at least within small periods of time. It has been quite a while since I’ve read Lirael (six months, at least, even though all three reviews were released this week. You can tell how long it’s been because my blog format is different) and I struggled to remember details that Nix had revealed in that book that were important for this one.

Despite that, though, this book was pretty much tension and nail-biting galore, as Lirael and Co. race to defeat Hedge and Orannis. I especially liked the final conflict with Orannis, as all of the heroes gathered together to defeat it. Both Lirael and Sam get final moments of character development, although I wish more time had been spent on Sam. I felt as if he had less time devoted to him here than in Lirael.

I think one reason I prefer Lirael and Abhorsen to Sabriel is that Sabriel had that romance between Sabriel and Touchstone bogging it down. Lirael and Abhorsen do not have romance as a main plot, so much more time could be spent developing tension, plot, and development rather than characters having fits of jealousy over misunderstandings. Abhorsen in particular is a very tightly-paced book, with very little downtime in between plot events/action sequences. I know “epic” is overused, but I would say that Abhorsen is the most “epic” of the three books. Sabriel was introduction, Lirael was set-up, and Abhorsen is the realization of both.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, death, disturbing images.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

Lirael saw something like a long, spindle-thin rat—with burning coals for eyes—leap aside as the Dog struck. Then it was coming straight at her, and she felt its cold and powerful spirit rise against her, out of all proportion to its rat-like form.

She screamed and struck at it with her sword, blue-white sparks streaming everywhere. But it was too quick. The blow glanced off, and it snapped at her left wrist, at the hand that held the bell. Its jaws met her armored sleeve, and black-red flames burst out between its needle-like teeth.

Then the Dog fastened her own jaws on the creature’s middle and twisted it off Lirael’s arm, the hound’s blood-curdling growl adding to the sound of the thing squealing and Lirael’s scream. A moment later all were drowned in the deep sound of Saraneth as Lirael stepped back, flipped the bell, caught the handle, and rang it, all in one smooth motion.

~Nix 101

Overall Review:

Abhorsen is basically the quintessential last book: all the plot threads are wrapped up, the Big Bad is defeated, there’s a happy ending with just a bit of a mystery to leave readers guessing, and the characters become fully realized in their positions. Nix’s writing is very engaging and he can certainly create engaging worlds with engaging characters. My only problems with the book were a lack of remembrance of details and not enough focus on Sam, as well as a general slow start.

You can buy this here: Abhorsen

Walls Within Walls: What’s Hidden Behind The Walls Of Their Apartment?

Walls Within Walls is written by Maureen Sherry. It was published in 2010 by Katherine Tegen. Sherry’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“After their father, a video-game inventor, strikes it rich, the Smithfork kids move from their cozy Brooklyn neighborhood to a swanky apartment on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

One day Brid, CJ, and Patrick discover an astonishing secret about their apartment. The original owner, the deceased multimillionaire Mr. Post, long ago turned the apartment itself into a giant puzzle containing a mysterious book and hidden panels—a puzzle that, with some luck, courage, and brainpower, will lead to discovering the Post family fortune. Unraveling the mystery causes them to race through today’s New York City—and to uncover some long-hidden secrets of the past.”

What I Liked:

What a fun puzzle book! I love books that involve riddles and secrets and treasure hunts, and this one balanced the riddles with the everyday worries and goings-on of kids really well. I loved that the kids felt uncomfortable and strange in their new life and I loved the interactions of the parents with the kids. Very well done, Sherry.

Ok, so that man in their apartment was legitimately creepy. Maybe it was the invasiveness or maybe I just was really connected to the kids at that point, but that was creepy. Imagine a six-year-old thinking that some strange person is just going to pop out of their closet at any moment. Creepy.

I loved the background behind the puzzles; it wasn’t just a treasure hunt, it was a treasure story with a rich, detailed background (and lots of history, too!). This wasn’t some stranger that just left clues in the apartment for some random person to find. Eloise, and through her Mr. Post, were real (in the fictional sense, of course) people involved and had stories to tell that made the kids want to find the answers not for themselves, but for others.

The illustrations in here were lovely. I really enjoyed them.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing!

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

Quickly, CJ went through the other words, scribbling down, “Seven clues on seven structures get water from above to rupture.”

“What does that mean?” asked Pat.

“Excellent question, little man,” said CJ. “Excellent question.”

“Hey, guys,” said Brid, “I think we should do as this little piece of paper says. I think we should return this library book.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” CJ said.

“Yes, definitely the right thing,” said Pat, happy to agree.

~Sherry 22

CJ said, “Are you mad I didn’t take you with me to the storage room? From now on, we’ll do this stuff together. Okay, Brid?”

Maybe he shouldn’t have told her so much at once, he thought. “I know you want to include Patrick more, and I think he can be a big help to us. We certainly have a lot of work to do,” he continued.

But Brid didn’t answer. She simply pointed behind him with terrified, enormous eyes.

“What?” CJ turned around just in time to see the figure of a man moving quickly down the hallway and darting into Patrick’s bedroom.

~Sherry 121-122

Overall Review:

I love treasure hunt books, and this one has a great, historical (in parts) background to go along with it! The plot isn’t just focused on the hunt, either, and includes aspects of the kids’ lives that make the treasure hunt plot just that more endearing to me. Joe Torrio was creepy, but he gets better.

You can buy this here: Walls Within Walls

Lirael: So Much Better Than Sabriel

Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr is written by Garth Nix. It is the second book in the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. It was published in 2001 by HarperCollins. Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Who is Lirael? Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother, ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large extended family living in the Clayr’s Glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight—the ability to See into the present and possible futures—that is the very birthright of the Clayr.

Nonetheless, it is Lirael in whose hands the fate of the Old Kingdom lies. She must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil—one that opposes the Royal Family, blocks the Sight of the Clayr, and threatens to break the very boundary between Life and Death itself. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog, to help her, Lirael must find the courage to seek her own hidden destiny.”

What I Liked:

Boy, was this book way better than Sabriel. At least, I enjoyed it much more. While it’s the standard trilogy format and the book was mostly set-up for the third, I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. I liked Lirael a lot better than Sabriel (and I liked Sabriel, but Lirael is a much more appealing character type to me) and I just wanted to give Sameth a hug. I think the most interesting aspect for me was that they are essentially character opposites. All Sameth wants is to avoid his family inheritance, and all Lirael wants is to get her family inheritance. I loved Lirael’s development, and although Sameth didn’t get that much, I’m hopeful that his will come through in Abhorsen, the next book.

We only got a glimpse at the world and the mechanics behind it in Sabriel. In Lirael, we start to see more, such as the making of the Charter and the Nine, and the mysteriousness of Mogget and the Disreputable Dog. The world-making here is superb, and Nix is taking common fantasy tropes and making them new and unique. I especially like the contrast between the technological, advanced world and the magic world.

I complained a bit about the writing in Sabriel, but I didn’t notice it at all in this book. I don’t know if it’s because it was written six or so years later so Nix’s writing has improved, or if I just was into the book more and didn’t notice it because of that.

I didn’t like Touchstone in Sabriel, but I have to admit, the story of him trying to throw a marble throne at somebody is hilarious.

What I Didn’t Like:

Nothing much. I felt it was a bit obvious about Lirael, but I think it was supposed to be. The reveal about Hedge at the end felt a bit melodramatic.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, death, suicidal thoughts.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Mogget fanart by KPetrasko

Passages/Quotes:

In an instant of that blink, the globe disappeared, leaving behind a dog. Not a cute, cuddly Charter sending of a puppy, but a waist-high black and tan mongrel that seemed to be entirely real, including its impressive teeth. It had none of the characteristics of a sending. The only hint of its magical origin was a thick collar around its neck that swam with more Charter marks that Lirael had never seen before.

The dog looked exactly like a life-size, breathing version of the stone statuette. Lirael stared at the real thing, then down at her lap.

The statuette was gone.

~Nix 100

That night, as he had done scores of times before, Sam unlocked the cupboard to the left of his workbench and steeled himself to look at The Book of the Dead. It sat on a shelf, shining with its own ominous green light that overshadowed the soft glow of the Charter lights in the ceiling.

He reached out to it, like a hunter trying to pat a wolf in the vain hope that it might be only a friendly dog. His fingers touched the silver clasp and the Charter marks laid upon it, but before he could do more, a violent shaking overtook him, and his skin turned as cold as ice. Sam tried to still the shakes and ignore the cold, but he couldn’t. He snatched back his hand and retreated to the front of the fireplace, where he crouched down in misery, hugging his knees.

~Nix 233-234

Overall Review:

Lirael continues the great worldbuilding of Sabriel and builds on it by adding more cool gadgets, more hints to what is going on behind the scenes, and characters that completely outshine the ones from Sabriel. Lirael is the hesitant but powerful protagonist that I love, and Sameth is nothing at all like Touchstone, thank goodness. Mogget has great snark and the Disreputable Dog is hilarious. Lirael is one of those few books that deserves the title “The Sequel Is Better Than the First.”

You can buy this here: Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr

The One: What Did I Just Read And Why Did I Read It?

The One is written by Kiera Cass. It was published in 2014 by HarperTeen. It is the third and final book in the Selection trilogy. My reviews of the first two books can be found here and here. Cass’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The time has come for one winner to be crowned.

When she was chosen to compete in the Selection, America never dreamed she would find herself anywhere close to the crown—or to Prince Maxon’s heart. But as the end of the competition approaches, and the threats outside the palace walls grow more vicious, America realizes jut how much she stands to lose—and how hard she’ll have to fight for the future she wants.”

What I Liked:

As in the The Elite, I liked America’s determination to prove that she could come up with bright ideas, and she does do some pretty cool things throughout the book, like when she goes home and has a Queen Voice Moment. I also liked how her relationship with Celeste changed, and the moments with the other girls were very sweet.

As contrived and sappy as I thought the entire romance was, I must admit that I did feel a slight pang when Maxon said the whole “Break my heart” bit.

Oh! And the part where Georgia tells America that she’s the best person to have the crown because America doesn’t want it is great, too.

What I Didn’t Like:

Again, the world. I had a hard time immersing myself simply because everything seemed so flat and poorly-developed. The world just does not seem realistic to me and the castes and the rebels seem contrived to create tension. I just never got the world, and world is a big deal for me when reading fantasy/sci-fi/dystopian books like this one.

Oh, my goodness, “Honduragua.” Just…no.

It’s also horrendously convenient that all of America’s and Maxon’s problems are solved in one fell swoop at the end. Oh, the king is a tyrant and doesn’t want Maxon and America to get married? Bam! He’s gone. Oh, that issue with the castes? Bam! Solved. Oh, America feels guilty about telling Aspen that they’re through? Bam! He was in love with someone else the entire time!

I seriously don’t understand the attraction of these books; the romance isn’t great and neither is anything else…

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“As it’s gotten smaller, it’s gotten worse. I mean, I knew it would, but…it feels like it’s moving away from trying to be the girl that Maxon would pick to making sure the other girls won’t be the one he picks. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

She nodded. “It does. But, hey, this is what you signed up for.”

I chuckled. “Actually, I didn’t. I was sort of…encouraged to put my name in. I didn’t want to be a princess.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She smiled. “Not wanting the crown means you’re probably the best person to have it.”

~Cass 46-47

I took off one of the beautiful earrings that Maxon had given me, then the other. I placed both in Adam’s hands; and he stood there, dumbstruck, as my beautiful bracelet followed. And then—because, if I was truly going to do this, I wanted to give everything—I reached behind my neck and unclasped my songbird necklace, the one my dad had given me. I hoped he was watching and not hating me for giving his gift away. Once I dropped it into Adam’s hand, I curled his fingers around the treasures, then stepped to the side so that he was standing directly in front of King Clarkson.

I pointed toward the thrones. “Go, faithful subject, and pay your debt to the king.”

~Cass 178

Overall Review:

Thank goodness that trilogy is over. America had a few good moments, but the rest of The One was contrived, too convenient, and wrapped up too nicely in a neat little bow (I know, usually I complain if an ending is too open-ended!). From the very first book, the world failed to pull me in and failed to feel realistic, and that, I think, is the major drawback of the series.

You can buy this book here: The One (The Selection)

Sabriel: Great Worldbuilding, But Touchstone Is Boring

I’m going to be posting a book review every day this week!

Sabriel is written by Garth Nix. It is the first book in the Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series. It was published in 1995 by HarperCollins. Nix’s website can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“Ever since she was a tiny child, Sabriel has lived outside the walls of the Old Kingdom, away from the random power of Free Magic, and away from the Dead who won’t stay dead. But now her father, the Mage Abhorsen, is missing, and to find him Sabriel must cross back into that world.

Though her journey begins alone, she soon finds companions: Mogget, whose seemingly harmless feline form hides a powerful—and perhaps malevolent—spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories.

With threats on all sides and only each other to trust, the three must travel deep into the Old Kingdom, toward a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death—and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.”

What I Liked:

So, normally, I don’t like books about necromancers. Kelley Armstrong’s trilogy was fantastic fun, though, and this one, while darker, has great worldbuilding. Although I had to keep looking back to see which bell does what, the setting, the mechanics, the world, sucked me straight in. There’s this sense of the vastness of the Old Kingdom that is made all the more vast by the fact that Sabriel and Touchstone seem to be some of the only people in the world, and often the only ones. Even when they’re in a large city, such as Belisaere, they somehow seem to be the only people there (or at least the only ones that matter). Oppositely, Ancelstierre is packed with people—soldiers, students, teachers. It’s a fascinating contrast, and I wonder if this is somehow tied to Sabriel’s character and the development she undergoes.

Speaking of Sabriel, I love how while she’s in Ancelstierre she’s all “I’M THE BEST MAGE EVER” and then when she gets to the Old Kingdom she’s all “UH, NO I’M NOT.” She still manages to pull off incredible feats that all protagonists obligatorily (and obviously) must do to be a Good Protagonist/Hero (Why must all protagonists be The Best??), but those are mostly mitigated by her inexperience and lack of knowledge about the Old Kingdom. Her character development is mostly good, and the part at the end when she and Rogir are fighting was brilliant.

Obvious romance is obvious, but at least it wasn’t so completely centered in the plot like a lot of YA books tend to do.

What I Didn’t Like:

Was it that necessary to have that scene where Sabriel overhears a couple having sex and gets all jealous because she thinks it’s Touchstone and the maid? Okay, maybe it had something to do with her character development (or at least the romance development), but it just seemed incredibly voyeuristic (and more graphic than these things usually are in YA) and also unnecessary. Ok, yeah, Sabriel has the hots for Touchstone. We get it. He’s literally the only guy she’s met (who’s “available”). He’s also not even a very well-developed character and incredibly boring. Sabriel is ten times more interesting than Touchstone. Mogget is more interesting. I mean, not everyone can be or is interesting, but at least make him likeable before making her jealous. As it stands, the scene felt completely out of place and unnecessary.

While Nix’s tendency to skip “the” in front of some words (“She touched bells and sword,” etc.) bothered me, at least he was consistent with it. I got more used to it as the book went on.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 16+

Warnings: Violence, sexual situations.

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Fantastic fan art by Ashley Hankins Illustration (http://ashleyhankinsillustration.blogspot.com/2013/03/sabriel.html)

Passages/Quotes:

Quashing her natural curiosity to find out exactly what had happened, Sabriel folded the man’s arms across his chest, after first unclenching the grip that his right hand still had on his sword hilt—perhaps he had not been taken totally unawares after all. Then she stood and drew the Charter marks of fire, cleansing, peace and sleep in the air above the corpse, while whispering the sounds of those same marks. It was a litany that every Charter Mage knew, and it had the usual effect. A glowing ember sparked up between the man’s folded arms, multiplied into many stabbing, darting flames, then fire whooshed the full length of the body. Seconds later it was out and only ash remained, ash staining a corselet of blackened mail.

Sabriel took the soldier’s sword from the pile of ashes and thrust it through the melted snow, into the dark earth beneath. It stuck fast, upright, the hilt casting a shadow like a cross upon the ashes.

~Nix 32-33

“This is a Mordaut,” she said to Touchstone, who was stifling a half-born yawn. “A weak spirit, catalogued as one of the Lesser Dead. They like to ride with the Living—cohabiting the body to some extent, directing it, and slowly sipping the spirit away. It makes them hard to find.”

“What do we do with it now?” asked Touchstone, eyeing the quivering lump of shadow with distaste. It clearly couldn’t be cut up, consumed by fire, or anything else he could think of.

“I will banish it, send it back to die a true death,” replied Sabriel. Slowly, she drew Kibeth, using both hands. She still felt uneasy, for the bell was twisting in her grasp, trying to sound of its own accord, a sound that would make her walk in Death.

~Nix 161

 Overall Review:

Sabriel has some great worldbuilding and I’m eager to see what happens to this world that is just slightly revealed in this book. Sabriel has some good development, although in the romance department it fell way flat. Why should I care about Touchstone again? The ending was fantastic, specifically the resolution of Sabriel versus Rogir, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

You can buy this book here: Sabriel (Abhorsen)

Black Beauty: “I Was A Horse!”

Black Beauty is written by Anna Sewell. It was first published in 1877 (!!); the copy I read was Scholastic, 2005.

Summary/Blurb:

“Although Anna Sewell’s classic paints a clear picture of turn-of-the-century London, its message is universal and timeless: animals will serve humans well if they are treated with consideration and kindness.
Black Beauty tells the story of the horse’s own long and varied life, from a well-born colt in a pleasant meadow to an elegant carriage horse for a gentleman to a painfully overworked cab horse.”

What I Liked:

Nobody I’ve read can get into an animal’s head in a realistic world as well as Anna Sewell in Black Beauty. Gail Carson Levine, who wrote the Introduction to the version I read, puts it quite simply: “I was a horse!” It makes you wonder if Sewell is like this world’s version of Eliza Thornberry, because the reader’s ability to empathize with Black Beauty, to become Black Beauty, is all because of her. I love horses, always have since I was little, and Black Beauty is a beloved book of my childhood. When I was younger, I read it because of the horses, but now that I’m older I can more appreciate what Sewell was trying to do.

This book is quite good historically, showing things like the non-work on Sundays, the fashions of the time, and other little cultural and farm-related things, as well as just how important horses were to the economy in general. I find it interesting how Merrylegs, and Black Beauty at the end, are given to someone on the condition that they are not sold. I suppose if horses were such a big commodity, ensuring that your horse is in a good home and won’t be sold away from it is a good bargain to make.

While I think Sewell got a bit heavy-handed and repetitive with her “don’t mistreat animals!” message at times, most of the time she was just rock solid and spot-on. I absolutely loved John Manly’s speech on ignorance (quoted below) and I also loved how, after chapters of depicting everyone who mistreats animals as scoundrels/drunkards/harsh people, she had the one chapter where the driver basically explained that he couldn’t help the state of his horse because of the nature of his job (directly related to a scoundrel, but still). I also like what Sewell was implying by linking mistreatment directly with some sort of flaw or vice in a person (pride, drunkenness, laziness, etc.). Bad thoughts, behavior, and feelings feed directly into one’s treatment of other people and animals.

I also liked what Sewell had to say about religion, and I liked how many (all?) of her “good guys” were religious. Jerry’s chapters, especially, stand out to me. This is why the late-1800s are my favorite time period.

What I Didn’t Like:

I think the animal mistreatment ran away from Sewell a bit at times, and I feel that she credits horses with more intelligence than they actually have (but what do I know? Plus, that’s sort of the point of an anthropomorphic book like this one), but that’s it.

Rating: 5/5

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: Mistreatment of animals, death of animals.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Realistic, Children’s

Passages/Quotes:

“Well, my dear,” she said, “how do you like him?”

“He is exactly what John said,” he replied. “A pleasanter creature I never wish to mount. What should we call him?”

“Would you like Ebony?” said she. “He is as black as ebony.”

“No, not Ebony.”

“Will you call him Blackbird, like your uncle’s old horse?”

“No, he is far handsomer than old Blackbird ever was.”

“Yes,” she said, “he is really quite a beauty, and he has such a sweet, good-tempered face and such a fine, intelligent eye—what do you say to calling him Black Beauty?”

~Sewell 18

Only ignorance! Only ignorance! How can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness?—and which does the most mischief heaven only knows. If people can say, ‘Oh, I did not know, I did not mean any harm,’ they think it is all right. I suppose Martha Mulwash did not mean to kill that baby when she dosed it with Dalby and soothing syrups but she did kill it, and was tried for manslaughter.”

“And served her right, too,” said Tom. “A woman should not undertake to nurse a tender little child without knowing what is good and what is bad for it.”

“You were a good deal cut up yourself, Tom, two weeks ago, when those young ladies left your hothouse door open, with a frosty east wind blowing right in; you said it killed a good many of your plants.”

“A good many!” said Tom…. “I was nearly mad when I came in and saw what was done.”

“And yet,” said John, “I am sure the young ladies did not mean it! It was only ignorance!”

~Sewell 74

 Overall Review:

Black Beauty is a children’s classic, a book that deserves to be read by horse-lovers and non-horse-lovers alike. Sewell has many, many good messages in here, which are much better and deeper and truer and more long-lasting than those of most children’s literature today. She can get heavy-handed, but by that time you will actually be Black Beauty and won’t mind all that much.

You can buy this here: Black Beauty (Scholastic Classics)

The Elite: Trying To Make Sense, But Failing

The Elite is written by Kiera Cass. It was published in 2013 by HarperTeen. It is the second book in the Selection trilogy, the first of which I reviewed here. Cass’s website can be found here.

Summary:

“The Selection began with 35 girls. Now, with the group narrowed down to the Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon’s love is fiercer than ever. The closer America gets to the crown, the more she struggles to figure out where her heart truly lies. Each moment she spends with Maxon is like a fairy tale, filled with breathless, glittering romance. But whenever she sees her first love, Aspen, standing guard, she’s swept up in longing for the life they’d planned to share.

America is desperate for more time. But while she’s torn between her two futures, the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want—and America’s chance to choose is about to slip away.”

What I Liked:

Like the first book, the middle of this one had the same sort of strange attraction—it was hard for me to put it down once I hit Chapter 10 or so. Maybe it was because America kept flip-flopping between Maxon and Aspen and so was in tears nearly all the time because of it. I sort of liked America’s inability to stay dry-eyed for more than a chapter at a time. More seriously, I did like her determination at the end to prove people wrong and to show that she could be a good princess if she tried.

I was legitimately sad when Gregory’s diary turned out to reveal that he was an Evil Dude. The diary was the most interesting part of the whole book. I thought he actually made some good and interesting points, especially in the beginning before you find out that he really just wanted power.

Forget Maxon as my favorite character (although I am solidly “Team Maxon,” mainly because Aspen is way too boring and bland). Queen Amberly rocks.

 What I Didn’t Like:

The beginning of this book is rough. I found myself wondering why in the world I was bothering to read this series, it was that bad.

Sigh. Why is the king always the main villain? It would have been much more interesting if the king was not a power-hungry tyrant as they always are. Now this series just got more boring.

Aspen still is way too boring of a character. And the love triangle and America’s flip-flopping just make her seem flighty/fickle.

The world that Cass is attempting to build still makes no sense, and the reveals are still too exposition-y and thus clunky. The diary was the best mechanic she’s used, proving that she can actually worldbuild half-way decently. So…why doesn’t she do that for the rest of the time?

Rating: 2/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence, one extreme (for the series) sensual scene, domestic violence.

Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult

Passages/Quotes:

“He let me borrow one once, just to see.”

“Oh, that’s very interesting! What did you read? Can you tell me?”

I bit my lip. “It was one of Gregory Illéa’s personal diaries.”

Dad’s mouth dropped open before he composed himself. “America, that’s incredible. What did it say?”

“Oh, I haven’t finished. Mostly, it was to figure out what Halloween was.”

~Cass 59

“We watch, of course. We see what happens here. The riots, the rebels. It seems people are not happy?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. “Your Majesty, I don’t know if I’m the best person to talk to about this. I don’t really control anything.”

Nicoletta took my hands. “But you could.”

A shiver ran through me. Was she saying what I thought?

“We saw what happened to the girl. The blonde?” she whispered.

“Marlee.” I nodded. “She was my best friend.”

She smiled. “And we saw you. There’s not much footage, but we saw you run. We saw you fight.”

The look in her eyes mirrored the way Queen Amberly had looked at me this morning. There was unmistakable pride there.

“We are very much interested in forming a bond with a powerful nation, if that nation can change. Unofficially, if there is anything we can do to help you acquire the crown, let us know. You have our full support.”

~Cass 185

 Overall Review:

Mediocre writing, bad worldbuilding, clunky exposition and dialogue…but for some reason I still couldn’t put The Elite down once I hit the middle. Was it America’s constant crying and flip-flopping between Maxon and Aspen? Was it Gregory’s diary, which was probably the best part of the book? Who knows? All I know is that I’m looking forward to reading The One, although whether it’s to finally end this trudge or to see if Cass can pull something original and half-way decent into the last book remains to be seen.

You can buy this here: The Elite (The Selection)

The Enchanted Castle: Can You Recommend Me To A Good Hotel?

The Enchanted Castle was written by Edith Nesbit. It was first published in 1907 by Unwin. More information about Nesbit can be found here.

Summary/Blurb:

“The enchanted castle is a country estate in the West Country of England, as seen through the eyes of three children, Gerald, James and Kathleen, who discover it while exploring during the school holidays. The lake, groves and marble statues, with white towers and turrets in the distance, make a fairy-tale setting, and then in the middle of the maze in the rose garden they find a sleeping fairy-tale princess.

The “Princess” tells them that the castle is full of magic, and they almost believe her. She shows them the treasures of the castle, including a ring she says is a ring of invisibility, but when it actually turns her invisible she panics and admits that she is the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, and was just play acting.

The children soon discover that the ring has other magical powers…”

What I Liked:

Another book I read when I was younger! This one I remembered not nearly as much as Tom’s Midnight Garden and others, though. Nesbit has a way of writing that reminds me quite a bit of Diana Wynne Jones (Nesbit inspired DWJ, I believe); the plot advancement and revelations are very similar.

I loved the dialogue and the way the kids spoke; I don’t know what it is, but earlier writers did such a good job at writing kids that made them actually sound like kids—mature kids, even (mature kids are different from kids who sound too old for their age. Mature kids show their maturity through their actions as well as their words. So says I.). I loved Gerald’s talking like he was the hero of a story and Mabel’s bravery and all the rest. I loved the British slang and the old ways of speech from the late 1800s-early 1900s.

The mystery and the enchantment were almost palpable, especially in the section with the statues. It is at that point where both the children and the reader are starting to realize that there is something more than just the ring at work here, and the moments with the moonlight and the Hall are just beautiful.

This is quite an advanced book for children, and it is all the better for it.

What I Didn’t Like:

I actually found myself a little confused about the whole deal with the Hall, and in places the book dragged.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 8+

Warnings: A tiny bit of scary images, for those who may be younger.

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s, Realistic

Passages/Quotes:

“What are you so cross about?” Gerald was quite calm. “You said you’d be invisible, and you are.”

“I’m not.”

“You are really. Look in the glass.”

“I’m not; I can’t be.”

“Look in the glass,” Gerald repeated, quite unmoved.

“Let go, then,” she said.

Gerald did, and the moment he had done so he found it impossible to believe that he really had been holding invisible hands.

‘You’re just pretending not to see me,” said the Princess anxiously, “aren’t you? Do say you are. You’ve had your joke with me. Don’t keep it up. I don’t like it.”

“On our sacred word of honour,” said Gerald, “you’re still invisible.”

~Nesbit 28-29

“Can you recommend me to a good hotel?” The speaker had no inside to his head. Gerald had the best of reasons for knowing it. The speaker’s coat had no shoulders inside it—only the cross-bar that a jacket is slung on by careful ladies. The hand raised in interrogation was not a hand at all; it was a glove lumpily stuffed with pocket-handkerchiefs and the arm attached to it was only Kathleen’s school umbrella. Yet the whole thing was alive, and was asking a definite, and for anybody else, anybody who really was a body, a reasonable question.

~Nesbit 86

Overall Review:

The Enchanted Castle is an enchanting (ha!) book by an author who influenced such authors as C. S. Lewis, Diana Wynne Jones, and J. K. Rowling. The children’s adventures with the ring are both scary and exciting at times, and some of the most magical and inexplicable moments are some of the most beautiful. It dragged on enough that I can’t picture myself reading it over and over, but it is a delightful book.

You can buy this book here: The Enchanted Castle (Puffin Classics)

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