Review: Orphan Island

imagesBook: Orphan Island
Author: Laurel Snyder
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic plot: Jinny is the oldest child, or “Eldest”, of nine orphans on a mysterious island. When the next child arrives in the boat, it will be her turn to leave because the rules say there can only be nine orphans living on the island. But Jinny doesn’t feel ready to leave yet. So what will happen if she stays?

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The mystery of the island is intriguing. It’s what kept me reading. What is this island all about? Where do the children come from? Where do they go? What happened to Deen? Who made all the rules? What happened to Abigail?

2) The island is like a character itself. (And come to think of it, so is the boat.) The nine orphans are living out an idyllic childhood on a beautiful desert island… the stuff of novels. And it’s safe there, as the island takes care of its own. Is there a child out who hasn’t daydreamed this very scenario?

3) The little rhyme… “Nine on an island, orphans all…” is used quite nicely in the book.

4) I liked the dynamic between the children. Very realistic. For the most part there is comradery, but (as in real life) there’s also Eevie. Oh, Eevie. The character that you’re ready to vote off the island!

5) The book cover is beautiful. I feel it captures the mystery of the island quite well with the boat and child in silhouette. And yet the trees and foliage are friendly, whimsical, and protective (like the island in the book).

6) [*SPOILER] I loved figuring out half-way through that the island is a metaphor for childhood. Jinny cannot stay safe in childhood forever, which is why the island starts to fall apart after she refuses to leave in the boat. It’s interesting that this affects not just Jinny, but the other children as well. [*END SPOILER]

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I had a hard time liking Jinny. She kept saying what a bad teacher she was, and neglecting her duty to instruct Ess, her “Care”. (I preferred Ben or Joon, by the way. But they’re not our main character, are they?)

2) We don’t get to find out what happens once the children leave the island. Like Abigail and Deen. We’re never given any idea of the mothers left behind and why the children are sent to the island in the first place. We’re left with this instead: [*SPOILER] “Out there were answers. She hoped she was ready for them.” This is where the metaphor of the island-as-childhood breaks down. In real life, we have adults who can help guide the child through the transition into adulthood. This isn’t death where we don’t have anybody who can explain things to us! [*END SPOILER] Instead, it would have been nice if Laurel Snyder had put in some Epilogue just to help with some of those answers.

3) There isn’t a whole lot of plot/danger in this book, especially in the first half. Apparently because nothing major can hurt the children. (Even if they throw themselves off the cliff, the wind sends them safely back to land.) This is not a huge strike against the book, but if you’re expecting more things to happen, you’re in for a disappointment.

4) The children have books on the island. Some of them are described as the one with the boy wizard (Harry Potter) or the girl with a monkey and a horse for friends (Pippi Longstocking). Since this island thing isn’t part of the real world (obviously!), I wish she hadn’t used real-world books. Although, I will give her credit that at least she does NOT use the actual titles for the books. Even so, the descriptions were enough to break me out of the spell of this world she had built. I wish she had been a little more creative in this area.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3 Stars (out of 5) – I liked this book well-enough. I loved the idea of the metaphor that was played out. Would I recommend it? Probably not so much for its target audience (kids), but maybe more for adults. Which is kinda weird considering the themes of the book. Maybe this would make a good book for a read-aloud, because there is so much to discuss.

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Review: My Lady Jane

22840421Book: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Young King Edward, son of Henry VIII, is dying and he is persuaded to set his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor. Which means, she must be married off to ensure a male heir (to make sure the crown doesn’t go to Edward’s sister, Mary). But this isn’t your typical historic fiction. It’s more like the story of Lady Jane Grey set in an alternate universe… with people who can shape-shift into animal form… and where death is largely exaggerated.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I normally do not like it when authors fiddle with history. That said, the narrators of this book (and yes, there are three of them!) definitely took people like me into consideration. They prepped me very nicely in the Prologue. Changing some of the names in the story also helped me make this adjustment. So, I read the story like I would read a fantasy or fairy tale. Yes, it’s still Lady Jane Grey’s story, but… not quite. And I was okay with that! 🙂

2) Okay, so this is a “What If” book. [*SPOILER] As in, what if King Edward the VI didn’t really die at the age of 15? What if Lady Jane Grey didn’t really have her head chopped off after being queen for 9 days? [END SPOILER] What if…? What if…? This is what gives us the alternate universe. And I found that quite intriguing, actually.

3) I really liked the character of Bess, Edward’s sister. She’s a smart and capable character. You can see the beginnings of what would become Queen Elizabeth I. [*SPOILER] Kudos to the authors for how they brought her to the throne at the end of the book. Without much head-rolling! [END SPOILER]

4) The love story between Jane and G was done well. I guessed about the alternate night-day thing pretty early on, and how this would naturally keep them apart. [*SPOILER] With him being a horse during the day (when she’s human) and her a ferret during the night (when he’s human). [END SPOILER] But I also thought this brought a nice romantic tension to the story.

5) The Shakespeare connection had the potential for me-not-liking-this. But I actually did like it! Of course, early on I recognized G’s efforts at poetry as belonging to the yet-unborn bard. (The only thing I didn’t like was how the narrators actually had to explain this later in the book… Just in case we didn’t get it??? I wish they’d have left that one alone!)

6) I liked trying to fit my knowledge of the true historical events with the book events… Especially seeing how the authors “fractured” these events into what, in essence, becomes a fractured fairy tale. (Note: After reading the book, I went to youtube for some refresher history lessons about the real Lady Jane Grey!)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I felt the second wedding was unnecessary. At least describing it in full detail. :/

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love history and I love the story of Lady Jane Grey. Fortunately, I love a good sense of humour and fractured fairy tales. So, I guess this book fits quite well with all those categories!

Pet Peeves / We are Not Amused

20170928ma_4871.jpgThis post is about a pet peeve of mine. It often comes up in fantasy novels or historical fiction. These are the stories where we are most likely to have a King or Queen.

So, what’s the pet peeve?

It’s when a king or queen is addressed incorrectly.

Never call a Queen “Highness” or even “Your Highness”. That’s what you call a Princess. Please don’t call her “milady” or “My Lady” (I’m pretty sure that’s only a Lady, as in the wife of a Knight).

The proper way to speak to a King (or Queen) is to say: “Your Majesty”. And “Sire” is okay. (If it’s a Queen, you may call her “Madam”, I believe.)

Don’t call a King “Your Grace” (I think that’s a duke) or “Your Excellency” (a bishop?).

I’m definitely not an expert in this, but I know enough to know this much. And it drives me crazy when some fictional kingdom breaks these rules of etiquette. Not because the author is doing in intentionally (I’d be okay with that if there was a good reason, like the ignorance of one of the characters).

No, mostly it’s because these authors just don’t know.

I can’t tell you how many times this pet peeve of mine creeps into books I read. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to quit reading the book. (Although, if the story and characters are good enough, I’ll grit my teeth and finish it.)

Authors! All I have to say is this: If you have royalty in your story, please address them properly.

We are not amused.

P.S. The photo I’ve included was taken at the Prop Warehouse at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. I was trying to think of a photo to go with this post and I remembered this throne. I thought, What’s more royal than a throne? And especially a throne like this one?!

 

Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

9780062074676_zoomBook: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Perry is adopted as a baby by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. What Perry doesn’t know yet is that she’s Bamarre, not Lakti (like her parents). When the fairy, Halina, shows up (and fairies only show up to Bamarre), her whole life changes. No longer is she the pampered daughter, but now she’s a daughter on the run…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Perry is a beautiful mixture of likeable and believable. She’s been raised to feel superior to the Bamarre, and this flaw in her comes out again and again. Even when she is learning to become one of them. Even with this unlikeable trait, I felt drawn to her.

2) Gail Carson Levine is the Queen of the Re-imagined Fairy Tale. With some of her books, it’s obvious right away which story she riffing. Think: Ella Enchanted. With other books, it creeps up on you and you slowly realize which fairy tale she’s conjuring up. Think: A Tale of Two Castles. This book is akin to the latter. [*SPOILER] There are hints on the first page (with the reference to the hair and the fact that the father was caught in the garden), so it soon becomes clear that this is a Rapunzel story. And I LOVE Rapunzel stories. When Willem is climbing the tower and we see (with Perry) that Lady Mother is in the tower now… we know this can’t end well! [END SPOILER]

3) I like how other little fairy tale elements are brought into the story… like the table-cloth and the seven-league boots.

4) The twist on the Father (Lord Tove) and Lady Mother left me guessing throughout the book. The revelations are wonderfully done and our loyalties morph as Perry’s do.

5) Levine is also amazing in her world building. One of the best I’ve seen. I actually believe in her worlds. I love that she doesn’t always explain things to the reader, but just says them, as if we should already know… Like the history of the Bamarre and the Lakti. She doesn’t dumb things down and tell us: “Well, I’ve created this world where it’s like this.” Instead, she treats it like it’s real and that we already know this, and then, lo and behold, we do get to understand the whole situation. (She also does this well in A Tale of Two Castles.)

6) I like the fairy, Halina. I won’t say more.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The cover of the book kind of weirds me out. I don’t know why. There are elements in it that I like. I like the blue overtones. I like the hair flying. Maybe it’s the weird glowing blue on her boots???

2) I was expecting an explanation of why Lady Mother gives the seven-league boots to Perry. I thought that maybe a deep secret is that Lady Mother is (secretly) Bamarre? But alas, this is one of those details that isn’t explained, and ends up giving us lots of questions. Like why did the mother hide the boots from the father? And why give them to Perry in the first place? Did I miss something???

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love Fairy Tales and Gail Carson Levine definitely delivers with this book! As I said before, she’s the Queen. Maybe the Fairy Queen? Long live the Fairy Queen!

Review: The Wizards of Once

wizards-of-onceBook: The Wizards of Once
Author: Cressida Cowell
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Xar is a Wizard (but without magic) and Wish is a Warrior (with a magic sword) in a place where Wizards and Warriors are taught to hate each other. Brought together, they form an odd team against a deadlier threat. The Witches, thought extinct, are back.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Xar and Wish are likeable, but also have their own quirks (and at times can be unlikeable!) I like that Xar is not just a copy of Hiccup. He shares some attributes with Hiccup, but he’s different enough.

2) I liked how Wish’s eye patch comes into the story. (I won’t spoil it.)

3) I really like the talking raven, Caliburn. I love his philosophy and his wisdom. Great character!

4) As with How to Train Your Dragon, the illustrations in the book are wonderful and unique. They add the extra oomph.

5) I like how the parents in this series are not quite the bumbling idiots from HTTYD. I respected them. I even feared them (especially Wish’s mother: Queen Sychorax). Yet, the children each seek approval and love from these parents, which ultimately humanizes them.  (Note: I noticed in the early HTTYD books, Cowell portrays her parents as 2D buffoons. But then in the later books, especially during the dragon rebellion, this changes slightly. I wonder if she rather regretted this earlier characterization?? And with this new series, I’m guessing she wanted to start with a different tone.)

6) The Witches make for a formidable foe. I like how she ties the plot points together. When we finally meet the Kingwitch, I was like: Yeah, that makes sense.

7) The Unknown Narrator is a nice touch. I have my guesses, but I can’t/won’t say for sure yet. I’m assuming this is something that will play itself out as the series continues.

8) I don’t like cliffhanger books. I like a book to have its own ending. This book has that! Yay! But, it’s also lets you know that there’s more to come. (Which is a good thing. Because now I am excited for Book 2, which probably won’t be out for a year and a day. But I’m cool with that.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wasn’t too crazy about Squeezjoos, the little baby sprite. He was a little too much like Toothless-meets-Jar Jar Binks. I like Toothless. I don’t care for Jar Jar.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – Which is a high rating from me. (Rarely do I rate a book 5 stars.) This book is definitely written by the author of How to Train Your Dragon, but it has enough differences that it is its own book/series. I was afraid the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I’m glad to say, it passed the test… with flying colours! 🙂

Review: Stolen Magic

stolenmagicBook: Stolen Magic
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 2.5 Stars

Basic plot: Elodie, her masteress the dragon, and Count Count Jonty Um are all on their way to Elodie’s home island of Lahnt. Suddenly, they discover that the Replica, a statue that magically keeps the volcano from erupting, has been stolen. Now it’s up to them to deduce, induce, and use common sense find the thief.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is the second book in “A Tale of Two Castles” series. I really liked the first book, so it was nice to join Elodie and the Dragon again. And Count Jonty Um as well.

2) I liked the introduction of Master Robbie and the friendship between him and Elodie.

3) The Dragon is a delightful character.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The first book is based (very lightly) on the Puss in Boots fairy tale (which was a delight to discover while reading it). This book doesn’t seem to be based on anything. To my mind, this makes the story a little bit weak. I think Levine is usually strongest in weaving those classic tales into her own stories… which is why “Ella Enchanted”, “Fairest”, and “A Tale of Two Castles” are top-notch reads. This one seems to be missing that little magic. (Maybe it was stolen?? Ouch!)

2) The three characters are split up for most of the story. I love the interplay between the three main characters, which obviously can’t happen if they are all in different locations.

3) I wanted to know who stole the Replica, but when I did find out the truth, I didn’t really feel relieved or satisfied. In fact, I really hate to say it, but I found I didn’t really care that much.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 2.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book was okay. It was SO close to getting 3 Stars, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s just not Levine’s best writing. It’s not exactly a bad book either, it’s just… okay. It was nice to revisit the same characters from “A Tale of Two Castles”.