Book Review: Unwritten by Tara Gilboy

Unwritten
Tara Gilboy
Jolly Fish Press, October 2018
ISBN 978-1631631771
Trade Paperback

Gracie is basically a good girl. Inquisitive and tenacious, maybe she sometimes skirts the rules. Not so unique for a twelve-year-old, and really, it is only one of Mom’s orders that Gracie disagrees with. She believes that information is knowledge, knowledge is power and she has a burning need to know her own story, in its entirety.

Because, Gracie’s tale has already been told. Well, written.

Of course, neither Gracie, nor her maternal parental unit, had ever actually read the book by Gertrude Winters. At best, they know a fraction of the tale. Gracie was told only that they escaped the fictional Bondoff, ruled by cruel Queen Cassandra, so that Gracie could live a safe life. Here, in the real world.

Not good enough for this curious lass. When Gracie sees that Ms. Winters will be visiting a book-store nearby, she realizes her opportunity to obtain answers, but can’t show up empty-handed. The single parchment page torn from her story will be perfect. Despite specific instructions to the contrary, she unlocks the box.

Ms. Gilboy’s fresh, magical fantasy somehow feels like a cozy classic…but with a kick. Determinedly focused, Gracie can be a bit gruff. But Walter, her fictitious friend who is wholly unaware of their parallel lives, is more patient and pragmatic. His approach is practical, in a methodical, kind of way. Whereas Gracie knows just enough to be dangerous and in pursuing answers, she plunges back into the unraveling role written so long ago.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2018.

Book Review: Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Frogkisser!
Garth Nix
Scholastic Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-1-338-05208-4
Hardcover

Start with a dash of Monty Python’s sly humor, add a double helping of the best of Brian Jaques, sprinkle with a triple pinch of classic fairy tale and stir gently. When done, you have this delight of a book. Princess Anya and her ditsy older sister Morven are worse than orphans. First their mother died, then their father, the king, after marrying their stepmother, who remarried the evil sorcerer, Duke Rikard. Stepmom is more interested in roaming far away to study botany instead of taking any interest in the princesses. Anya’s careful to remind everyone the duke is her stepstepfather.

Duke Rikard delights in growing his power, even though every increase drains his humanity. When he turns Morven’s current suitor into a frog and dumps him in the moat, Anya realizes she has to act. Little does she know that this decision will turn out to be much bigger and have further-reaching consequences than she could possibly imagine. She must go on a quest to gather ingredients needed to create a lip balm which will allow her to kiss an array of creatures so they can return to their original form. The list is daunting, druid blood, witches tears, three day old hail and freshly pulled Cockatrice feathers. Hardly a quick trip to Walmart.

Accompanied by Ardent, one of the Royal dogs, she sets off. Shortly after meeting a reformed witch, whose wannabe robber son Shrub, has been turned into a newt, Anya realizes the evil Duke has turned a pack of weasels into human sized baddies that are pursuing her and her companions.

In order to fulfill her quest, Anya braves a giant, a coven of bickering witches, Ethical robbers, unethical robbers, the Grand wizard (who lives in a hollowed-out dragon skeleton, a flying carpet with an attitude. That would be more than enough to deter most young girls, but Anya’s made of much sterner stuff, allowing her to do a lot of kissing that would turn most princesses into quivering masses of jello. She’s able to wrap her head around the realization that her initial quest was merely the tip of the iceberg, gather an army, and save the day. How she does that makes for a truly dandy read, great for tweens, teens and light fantasy loving adults. It would be a good family read-aloud choice and I’d love to see it as a movie.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2018.

Book Review: Dead Upon a Time by Elizabeth Paulson

Dead Upon a TimeDead Upon a Time
Elizabeth Paulson
Scholastic Press, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-64046-6
Hardcover

A brand new fairy tale that feels familiar and comforting, complete with an evil witch (most probably), a damsel in distress, err….. make that a “resident tragic orphan”, and an ostracized giant killer with an opportunity for redemption. Ms. Paulson unravels the bewitching narrative with relish and wit.

As young Kate trudges through the woods to her grandmother’s cottage, clever clues reveal this will be no ordinary story. “It wouldn’t do for someone with her bloodline to be spooked by a common forest.” Nostalgia nudges oh so briefly and is quickly brushed aside. Creepy quickly turns to true danger.

Having essentially grown up on her own; being actually attacked by wild wolves, then stumbling into the frigid cold of the abandoned home atop the mountain, Kate realizes she is absolutely alone. Her grandmother would never have left willingly. Intricate, eerie, woven tapestries taunt, seeming to tell a story of several sufferers imprisoned in separate, yet strikingly similar cells.

The folks in the village below, for reasons unbeknownst to her, have tolerated Kate, at best; allowing her to sleep in a hayloft in exchange for mountains of mending until her presence could not be tolerated and she was forced to move to the next neighbor. These were not people that would help her find and rescue her grandmother. The boy who dared to taunt a giant however, was the exception to just about every rule. He was also wanted, would be almost impossible to find.

The tendrils of mystery have slipped from the pages and ensnared this reader. As Kate plummets down the mountain, her all encompassing love for the only family she knows creates empathy and her fierce determination in the face of utter despair drums up hope. Her resolve strengthens, her courage becomes clear; the pace quickens and the mystery becomes an adventure.

Forming the most unlikely of alliances lends humor to harrowing situations while bonds are built based on trust. Answers earned along the way applaud the intelligence and observation skills of young adults while pointing to the pitfalls of jealousy. With what can only be called a witchy way, Ms. Paulson wraps the winding story satisfactorily…and yet, I can’t help but think (make that “hope”) that this is not The End.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2016.

Book Review: Dearest by Alethea Kontis

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Title: Dearest
Series: Woodcutter Sisters #3
Author: Alethea Kontis
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy

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DearestDearest
Woodcutter Sisters #3
Alethea Kontis
HMH Books for Young Readers. February 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-07407-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

What drew me to the first book in the Woodcutter Sisters series and the second and, now, the third, is the covers. The designer is listed as Christine Kettner but, as Art Director, Ms. Kettner is not the actual artist. Whoever it is, that artist and Ms. Kettner have true magic in the their minds, eyes and fingers. I’ve seen other beautiful covers but these stand out and just one glance tells me this is an Alethea Kontis book; that’s brilliant branding at its best.

Opening Dearest takes the reader into Ms. Kontis’ unique world of fantasy and magic, a world I’m always glad to returen to. Other authors offer re-tellings of fairy tales and some do it very well but the Woodcutter Sisters series has a certain feel to it, a feeling that you’re immersed in the story and, in this case, sharing the journey with Friday. I love Friday—I think she’s my favorite of the sisters so far mainly because she’s so sweet and kind—and Tristan is also very likeable but it’s the seven brothers as a group who make this tale so much fun.

There are a few missteps, especially when coincidences happen too frequently, and the only reason I can stand the insta-love is that this is, after all, a fairy tale but, generally, I’m happy with this entry in the series and will eagerly await the next one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2015.

The Other Woodcutter Sisters Books

EnchantedHero

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About the Author

Alethea KontisHer published works include: The Wonderland Alphabet (with Janet K. Lee), Diary of a Mad Scientist Garden Gnome (with Janet K. Lee), the AlphaOops series (with Bob Kolar), the Woodcutter Sisters fairy tale series, and The Dark-Hunter Companion (with Sherrilyn Kenyon). Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines.

Her YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012 and the Garden State Teen Book Award i 2015. Enchanted was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award.

Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives and writes in Florida, on the Space Coast. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.

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Book Review: The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue

The Chronicle of Secret RivenThe Chronicle of Secret Riven
Keeper of Tales Trilogy Book 2
Ronlyn Domingue
Atria Books, May 2014
ISBN 978-1-4516-8891-7
Hardcover

This story, which is Book 2, introduces Eve (Secret) Riven, as a small quiet child. So quiet, she never speaks. When she is only four years old Secret discovers she can talk mind-to-mind to plants, insects, and animals—and they can speak back to her.

Secret’s mother has the uncanny ability to speak and translate arcane languages and spends her time working for a single patron whose translation needs take up all her time, leaving little for Secret. And although Secret’s father dotes upon her, he is often away from home on business. The child is very lonely.

The story follows Secret through her school years, where she graduates with honors, until she takes a job with Fewmany, an enormously wealthy inventor and entrepreneur. His background is obscure and mysterious.

During this time, Secret makes a few friends. Nicholas, who will become king of the nation, for one. Another is Old Woman, who lives in the forest reached only through a mysterious tunnel, and gives the child the love for which she yearns. And there is Cyril the squirrel, who first led the child through the mysterious hollow tree that takes her into a peaceful land where time stands still.

The world-building in the story is breathtaking. The characterization is beautifully developed. The writing is lovely. The plot? Well, it moves very slowly, allowing time for all the above mentioned features to progress. Although Secret’s story is a fine one, in the end, the book left me a bit unsatisfied. I wanted to see some resolution, but instead am left hanging, presumably to await the third book of the trilogy.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, May 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Book Review: Don’t Fall by Rachel Schieffelbein

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Title: Don’t Fall
Author: Rachel Schieffelbein
Release Date: 2014
Publisher: Swoon Romance
Genre: Young Adult Romance

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Dont FallDon’t Fall
Rachel Schieffelbein
Swoon Romance, May 2014
Ebook

From the publisher—

In which a teenage girl endures the over-protective love of her adoptive mother until she falls for a boy who has her wanting to spread her wings, pitched as a contemporary retelling of RAPUNZEL


Seventeen-year-old Anya leads a very secluded life in a house on the edge of town with her adopted mother. She doesn’t go to school, but instead has a private tutor. Her over-protective mom keeps her so sheltered that she doesn’t even have a best friend.


But Anya doesn’t seem to mind. She has her books, her photography, and her daydreams, and would do anything to please her mom. Until one day at the library, the only place she’s allowed to go, she takes a picture of a beautiful boy.


Before long she’s lying to her mom, and sneaking out late at night to meet Zander. But Zander wants more than a secret romance. If Anya wants to be with the boy of her dreams, she will have to risk her relationship with the only other person she’s ever cared about.

Billed as a contemporary re-telling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, Don’t Fall is essentially a tale of love in the face of great odds. In this case, those odds have to do with Anya breaking away from years of what must be called a form of emotional abuse but only being able to do so because Zander’s love gives her the strength to escape.

It’s easy to like these two even while feeling they’re both very immature. Anya is understandable because her emotional growth has been severely stunted by her mother’s behavior but Zander is simply a few years behind his chronological age; rather than 18, he acts as though he’s 15 and experiencing his first love. In a way, this might not be surprising because he’s the youngest of five children but his parents don’t really seem to baby him. Truth be told, they can hardly wait for him to move out to his own place. That in itself is a little odd—he’s moving into an apartment with his cousin but he has no job so how is he going to pay his share of the rent?

Anya’s childishness, for lack of a better word, is typical of a teen who has grown up completely under the control of a parent and it’s really something of a miracle that she hasn’t rebelled before, perhaps violently. My sympathies were with her more than with Zander because I couldn’t help feeling her fear of confronting her mother wasn’t misplaced and Zander’s insistence that she do so, as well as his manipulating her into doing what he wanted was rather selfish and narcissistic although I still liked him.

Then there’s the mother. If ever a parental character was unlikeable, this is the one. There have been people in real life who respond to tragedy this way but, when the reason for her actions was revealed, I felt no sympathy for her, nor did I when everything came to a critical point. To me, she broke the trust a parent has with a child and her motivations do little to excuse nearly fifteen years of tyranny.

When all is said and done, Don’t Fall is an almost sugary romance with a dark element and that’s what most fairy tales are. This should appeal to many YA readers as well as quite a few who admit to being a tad older than YA  🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2014.

About the Author

 

Rachel SchieffelbeinRachel grew up in a tiny town in Minnesota. She still lives there, with her husband and their four kids. She coaches high school speech and theater, rides Arabian horses, reads as much as she can, and writes stories.

 

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Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

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The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

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Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.