Book Review: New Girl by Paige Harbison

12085568Title: New Girl
Author: Paige Harbison
Genre: Young Adult, Gothic, Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Publication Date: January 31st, 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange of honest review.

“Welcome to Manderley Academy”I hadn’t wanted to go, but my parents were so excited…. So here I am, the new girl at Manderley, a true fish out of water. But mine’s not the name on everyone’s lips. Oh, no.
It’s Becca Normandy they can’t stop talking about. Perfect, beautiful Becca. She went missing at the end of last year, leaving a spot open at Manderley–the spot that I got. And everyone acts like it’s my fault that infallible, beloved Becca is gone and has been replaced by “not” perfect, completely fallible, unknown Me.
Then, there’s the name on “my” lips–Max Holloway. Becca’s ex. The one boy I should avoid, but can’t. Thing is, it seems like he wants me, too. But the memory of Becca is always between us. And as much as I’m starting to like it at Manderley, I can’t help but think she’s out there, somewhere, watching me take her place.
Waiting to take it back.

New Girl follows the life of an unnamed girl who starts her first year at Manderley after a spot has opened up last year. However, the spot belonged to a really popular girl named Becca, and people start cursing her for taking Becca’s place. She starts to regret having ever gone to Manderley in the first place. She’s met with nothing but hatred, but New Girl stands proud and somehow gets through it all, with a sharp wit and intellect and courage. The book alternates between New Girl’s first person POV and the third person POV leading up to Becca’s disappearance.

This book is loosely based on Rebecca, a classic in the genre. However, Rebecca is a lot better. That’s not to say I didn’t like this contemporary twist, but the original still holds strong, in my opinion. It doesn’t take long into the book to discover Becca wasn’t really as well-liked as she appears to be after her early demise, and that she liked to twist everyone around her little finger, crafting herself a queenly crown based on deception and lies. As New Girl’s new roommate, and Becca’s old roommate, meets her with more and more hostility as the days pass by, tension rises. It’s clear that there will be a breaking point, and something is abotu to happen. The only question is: what?

I liked New Girl. Her personality was interesting: she was nice and friendly, but toughened up when needed. I wasn’t too fond of her relationship with Max, Becca’s old boyfriend, as she seemed to give in to him too quickly, but I warmed up to them as the story progressed. Becca, on the other hand, well, let’s say I didn’t like her one bit. She was arrogant and cocky, always used to getting her way, and using people whenever she saw fit.

The suspense was dripping off the pages from this book. The only downside that really dragged this down for me? Rebecca had a ghostly element I really enjoyed. I thought that was missing from this book. There may have been some instances, but it was never as delightfully scary as in the original.

Overall, New Girl is a thrilling retelling of a classic, making it available to the YA crowd, and putting it in a contemporary setting. There are winks to the original story, such as the opening scene (“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”), never using New Girl’s name until at the end, and of course, the name Becca. I still liked the original better, but I think Paige Harbison did a great job at retelling the book.

Book Review: There Comes a Prophet by David Litwack

15745772Title: There Comes a Prophet
Author: David Litwack
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Science-Fiction
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Publication Date: July 9th, 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon | Author Website
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

Who among us will cast aside a comfortable existence and risk death to follow a dream?
A world kept peaceful for a thousand years by the magic of the ruling vicars. But a threat lurks from a violent past. Wizards from the darkness have hidden their sorcery in a place called the keep and left a trail of clues that have never been solved.
Nathaniel has grown up longing for more but unwilling to challenge the vicars. Until his friend Thomas is taken for a teaching, the mysterious coming-of-age ritual. Thomas returns but with his dreams ripped away. When Orah is taken next, Nathaniel tries to rescue her and ends up in the prisons of Temple City. There he meets the first keeper of the ancient clues. But when he seeks the keep, what he finds is not magic at all.
If he reveals the truth, the words of the book of light might come to pass:
“If there comes among you a prophet saying ‘Let us return to the darkness,’ you shall stone him, because he has sought to thrust you away from the light.”

There Comes a Prophet is a dystopian fiction at its best – so good that I only discovered it was dystopian halfway through the book. The setting feels very fantasy-esque, so for the first half I was thinking I was reading an epic fantasy story, until I figured out it’s actually not set on another world, but on our world, except in the future. So There Comes a Prophet is a delightful mix of science-fiction, dystopian and fantasy for young adults.

Imagine today would strike the beginning of another Dark Age. Technology has brought us so far that our society is on the brink of collapsing. A new religion has rises, more powerful than Christianity and Islam, and has overthrown both of these. The new religion no longer believes in technology. The Dark Age is upon us, we are set back several thousands of years, we go back to living in small, one-room houses and small communities. In other words, we go back to the middle ages. That’s the setting for There Comes a Prophet, and it’s an unique, original, intriguing setting that, as soon as I found out this was the future and not another world, made me sit on the edge of my seat and read on with wonder, and increasing horror.

The new religion, referred to as the Light, is practised by Vicars who travel from town to town and then pick out one or two youths who they show the true Darkness. After the youth returns to town, he’s never the same. This makes the other people live in constant fear and dread, and not just for the ever-impending darkness, but also for the arrival of the Vicars, so-called soldiers of the light. In this society, Nathaniel and his friends grow up. When his best friend Thomas is taken for a Teaching – which means they’ll let him see the Darkness – Nathaniel grows increasingly worried. When Thomas returns, he’s completely different. Quiet, keeps to himself, depressed. When his other best friend, a girl named Orah, is taken next, Nathaniel knows he can’t just sit here and do nothing. Instead, he goes to the Temple City, offering to take her place, a sacrifice that leaves the Vicars baffled.

They put Nathaniel into a cell right next to a prisoner who reveals to him that he’s a Keeper. He’s the Keeper of a century-old secret that could change the world forever. Before the great war known as the Dark Age, the scientists of the old world stored their knowledge in a secret keep. He, and several other Keepers, know parts of the riddle that will one day lead the Seeker to the keep of knowledge. He gives Nathaniel the first clue, and an indication as to where to find the next Keeper. As soon as they’re released, Nathaniel, Orah and Thomas run away from their home of Little Ponds to try and solve the riddle and find the secrets of knowledge lost centuries ago. But in their trail are the Vicars, determined to make sure nobody ever finds that knowledge.

Nathaniel was a likeable character, although at times I wished I could’ve heard more of his thoughts. We kind of stay on the surface concerning the characters’ thoughts, so there were some things I didn’t really grasp, like why exactly he went to save Orah, or why he decided to follow the clues left by the Keepers. I also liked Orah, the intelligent one of the trio, and I felt sometimes I could look easier into her head than I could in Nathaniels. Thomas was fun as well, but again, more difficult to follow and understand. The plot itself was intriguing as well. I liked how it read like an epic fantasy novel, but wasn’t epic fantasy at all.

What is, however, the most interesting part of this book is the questions the author raises. It’s not entirely unplausible that we’ll someday go back to another Dark Age and lose our current technology. Would scientists of the last generation do as they did in this book, build a Keep to preserve their knowledge until brave revolutionists come find it? Or would they sit still and do nothing? I doubt the latter. Would people be willing to go back to old believes and ways, and follow a certain path (like here, the Path of Light) only to end war and bloodshed?

I loved the author’s descriptions of abandoned rail roads and cities. It actually made me pretty sad to think about how our society could just fall to ruin, crumble under yet another world war or something of the likes. I’m not generally a HUGE fan of Dystopian, but I was a huge fan of this book, mainly because I never felt like it was another typical YA dystopian.

There Comes a Prophet offers insight into one of the most important questions of our era: what if we suddenly lose all the knowledge and technology we gained? It once again leaves the outcome of the world’s destiny in the hands of the young and brave, idealists and dreamers. The plot was strong, the characters enjoyable, but it was primarily the setting that grasped me and didn’t let me go.

Book Review: Encounter with Hell by Alexis McQuillan

13610596Title: Encounter with Hell
Author: Alexis McQuillan
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Haunting, Demons
Publisher: Llewellyn
Publication Date: September 8th, 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for honest review.

The events in this story are true, but the names and locations have been changed to protect the reader. Alexis is a psychic who never believed in demons until she came face to face with pure evil. This is her true story of battling a terrifying entity that was so powerful it turned her life upside down and put her in mortal danger . . .
Her nightmare begins shortly after she and her husband relocate to a small lakeside community. After hearing rumors about the nearby Matthews residence, Alexis investigates the nineteenthcentury house and its spirit inhabitants. She soon finds herself caught in a demon’s snare of violent fury–subjecting her to deep growls, a malevolent force attacking her in bed, and phantom apparitions, ultimately leading to a horrific spiritual battle with a demon hell-bent on her destruction.

Encounter with Hell was an…interesting read. I’ve read enough non-fiction true haunting books by now to figure that it’s either hit or miss with this. Unfortunately, this book was a miss. I did read it to the end, because I thought the writing was well enough that it deserved that, but to be honest, I had trouble believing a single word the author said.

It’s complicated to explain why. At the start of the book, the author claims to be a gifted medium, psychic, ghost exorcist (well, she helps people get rid of unwanted ghosts) and even drabbles in witchcraft. However, she doesn’t believe in demons. Now, that’s all fine for me since I believe in ghosts as well, but have zero believes in demons. But for someone who claims to be so well-studied in the fields of ghosts, possessions, etc. you’d think she’d have a better clue of what’s going on and how to fight it. Another thing that annoyed me endlessly was how the author kept on referring to the demon by name, whereas every single exorcist will tell you that’s the worst possible move. Unfortunately, the author kept making stupid move after stupid move.

I also hate how important she thought she was, as she kept referring to the demon stalking her and stuff. I doubt the demon, if he even existed and was not something made up by an overly creative mind, would’ve focused on her alone. It seemed like she made the demon a lot more important to her than she was to the demon, if that makes sense. Her fight with the demon was not convincing to me whatsoever. I fear that the demon has more probability of being make-believe, something made up by an overimaginative mind, or maybe even a troubled mind, than it’s real. I’m generally an open-minded person, and I wouldn’t mind believing in a demon if evidence was given, but so far in this book I’ve seen none. Why was there a demon in that house? Perhaps if the author had spend more time trying to figure that out, she would’ve been quicker to defeat the demon.

All in all, I did enjoy parts of this read, namely the parts about ghosts. I don’t understand why they’d place this in the true hauntings category if most of the book focuses on demons, which isn’t the same. I hoped I’d learn a thing or two from this book, but there’s nothing mentioned here that I don’t already know. In fact, I’m afraid I may know more about demons than this ohter, without having had a personal encounter, which is a bit unsettling.

If you like books about demon possession, maybe give this one a try. The writing is excellent, too bad the story itself, in my opinion, lacked credibility.

Book Review: Lark’s End by Christina Leigh Pritchard

51hOqWMCQ5L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Title: Lark’s End
Author: Christina Leigh Pritchard
Genre: YA/MG, Fantasy, Adventure
Publisher: Lotus Books
Pubilcation Date: September 17th, 2012
Amazon | Website

From the author of the C I N Series, comes an epic fantasy world filled with nothing but constant action and adventure. A new world, new life forms, and another twisted and complex story from author Christina Leigh Pritchard!
SYNOPSIS:
Mary wants to kill them. But, someone stands in her way…
Tahmi has nightmares, of an old man in a sailor’s suit, dropping her off on her doorstep. When she tells her parents about him they look sick. Could her dream have some truth to it? Is that old man the reason they won’t allow her in the woods behind her house?
What are they hiding from her? Who is she?
TAHMI: She’s just an ordinary girl, right?
Lark’s End, the first of nine books in the epic fantasy series The Fall of Gadaie. For extras, (characters, illustrations, book trailers, maps) please visit the blog dedicated to the series: gadaie.com

Lark’s End is a delightful, pleasant read for upper middle grade readers and the ‘younger’ young adult readers. The story is highly imaginative, offers a varying and intriguing array of characters and creatures, has a creative and thoughtful setting and makes the reader tumble from one adventure into the other.

The main character, Tahmi, is an intelligent, creative girl. A strange man dropped her off with her adoptive parents, Donna and Charles one day, and ever since the two of them have been raising her as their daughter, even though she isn’t. Donna notices strange things about her adoptive daughter right from the get-go. Tahmia develops quicker than other kids her age. She could walk and talk faster than other kids.

But what Donna and Charles never expected was that Tahmi wasn’t even from their own world. Born in the kingdom of Gadaie, a kingdom where creatures like Loonies live, people have been magically changed into horses, there are talking cats, and an evil threatening the entire kingdom, Tahmi is more different than anyone ever imagined. As the princess of this strange world, she is welcomed home by a variety of people who know her, but of who she has no recollection.

When a pink cloud turns up and tries to take Tahmi and her best friend and neighbor Andy to the strange land, they try to run from it at first. As soon as they fall into the magical world, they’re met with obstacles and people who each have their own agendas. However, there are more connections between this foreign world and the “real” world, or Earth, than meets the eye. For instance, Donna’s long lost sister, Maya, is imprisoned in the Queen’s dungeons.

I loved the characters. Tahmi and Andy each have very distinct personalities. I liked their interactions, how they can tease each other one moment and be best friends the next. I also liked Donna and Charles. They may not be Tahmi’s real parents, but their love for her is boundless. Also, when Tahmi is first brought to Gadaie, she’s forced to face a series of people depending on her, and confused as she is, it’s near impossible for her to help them all. I liked how this affected her usually cool demeanor, it made her seem more normal, more human, more relatable.

What I thought was most impressive was the world building. The creatures mentioned in this book are so imaginative, so creative, and they’re well described, so I could picture them easily. Also, the supposed ‘big bad’, Mary of the Monsters, was not a one-sided villain, something I really liked. She is well-developed, and only evil when seen from a certain perspective. Whenever an author manages to creature a multi-dimensional villain, I call that great writing, and it’s definitely the case here.

The writing itself very much fits the age group the story is meant for. It’s not too descriptive, but whenever descriptions come up, they’re short and to the point. The dialogue is great, and at times even hilarious. I can’t give away much more about the story or characters, but I can say that I enjoyed it very much from start to end.

I recommend Lark’s End to all fantasy fans, upper middle graders and young adults alike. I can’t wait the rest of the books in this series!

Book Review: Restless in Peace by Mariah de la Croix

13744928Title: Restless in Peace
Author: Mariah de la Croix
Genre: Non-Fiction, True Haunting
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide
Publication Date: September 8th 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for honest review.

A deceased undertaker still carries out his life’s work. Ghost children chase people who walk down a corridor…
Alternately hair-raising, creepy, and touching, Mariah de la Croix’s encounters with the supernatural during her tenure as a mortician are chilling and unforgettable. Restless in Peace recounts her true experiences working in funeral homes–and the resident spirits’ frightening, bizarre, and sometimes amusing and helpful behaviors.
From a long-deceased nun who comforts those mourning a child’s death to the author’s communications with a spirit who leaves red carnations as a ghostly calling card, this book offers a rare glimpse of living and working among the spirited undead.

Restless in Peace tells the life story of Mariah de la Croix, a mortician. Working at a funeral home, she’s seen more than her fair share of spirits during the past few years. In this book, she talks about her encounters with the deceased. Her ghosts pretty much remain the same person they were when they were still alive. A friendly old, grandmotherly person will still care for her family and sometimes be present at funerals of family members. A nasty, wicked person will transform into a more terrifying spirit. Our anger and love, the emotions we feel while being alvie, are transported on to the other side.

What I liked most about this book, is how humble Mariah de la Croix is about her experiences. She simply tells them, without engrossing them or making them more exciting than they really were. That makes the book more believable for me, even though some of the encounters may still be farfetched – I wanted to believe them. I want to believe in this kind of the spirit, the kind that remains the same person they were when still alive, caring and loving. It would be such a comfort to know people move on remaining just the same they were when alive.

The story range from encounters with deceased people awaiting their funeral, to little ghost children roaming down the hallway, and an old mortician still working his job even after he’s passed away. Some of these are delightfully scary – not in the overly bombastic way fictional horror stories sometimes are – but subtely, more naturaly. Others are touching and moving, heartwrenching even, and brought me to the verge of tears.

As far as true haunting books go, this is a gem. Restless In Peace is a well written, well constructed book about a humble medium and her encounters with the spirits of the deceased.

Book Review: Freaks Like Us by Jackie Trippier Holt

16071648Title: Freaks Like Us
Author: Jackie Trippier Holt
Genre: New Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Book Snuffler Company
Publication Date: October 11th 2012
Goodreads | B&N | Amazon | Author Website
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls and children of all ages! Welcome to Burfoot’s Circus, the travelling home of freaks, misfits, drop-outs and the socially inept – sometimes all of the above – come together for your entertainment pleasure tonight, out of a love of performing in some cases, and simply fear of discovery in others.
“We have little people, fae, werewolves and mutations, hybrids and humans in The Ring together! We have demons and dogs and those who prefer to keep silent about the stories of how and why they came to join the circus.
“Yet, most important of all, we have acts! We have The Saw Man, The Cat Boy, The Violet Illusion, Fearless Henry, Lady Fortunata, Benedict The Storyteller, The Bearded Lady, Snake and too, too many more to mention.
“Catch the show now, while you can. We can’t stay long in any town and who knows where we’ll be next? And honestly, folks, our circus isn’t what it was and certainly isn’t what it should be. See it now and you’ll be able to say, ‘Burfoot’s? I knew it before it was famous’.
“Because nothing can remain a secret forever.”

Throw everything you excepted about new adult literature out of the window and say hello to Freaks Like Us. This book is unique, original, entertaining and enjoyable. At times, I laughed out loud. At others, I felt ready to cry. It’s a short read and a quick one, but it’s definitely interesting enough to give it a try.

Burfoot’s Circus has been around since the dawn of time – or at least, for a very long time. The circus artists are nature’s freaks, an eclectic mix of shapeshifters, half-animals, dwarves, fae and even vampires. All of them joined the circus because they saw no way out. All of them have something in common: they’re different. They’re unique, but their uniqueness is not accepted but frowned upon. A circus is the only place they can be themselves. The current ringmaster, a dwarf named Zack, brings a new participant into the circus. He’s simply called “The Boy”, because his old name no longer matters and he gets to choose his new one only after he’s been at the circus for a year.

“The Boy” is an interesting character. He seems remarkably intelligent, but we know next to nothing about him. What’s his real name? Where does he come from? Why does he hide in the circus? His actions are at times extremely unpredictable, which kind of made me like him, although I don’t think I know him well enough to like him yet. The ringmaster was a fun character as well. His concern for the circus and the well being of his artists was obvious. He’s a sincere person, and always willing to make the best out of every situation, and I envied him for that.

The main love triangle focus here is on Violet, Hector and Henry. Violet is a strange mix of a cat and a girl, as in Catwoman but not just a suit. Or something like that. She has cat ears and a tail. Hector is the same, and although they had a brief relationship at some point – they were best friends, but never even kissed – that tension is still there. For Hector, Violet is the only woman he came close to loving. For Violet, it seems as if Hector treats every woman, including her, with the same carelessness. When Hector starts hooking up with Violet’s best friend Ruby, and Violet – although unknowing – begins a relationship with vampire Henry, the key elements are in place for all hell to break loose.

I liked Violet, although her indecisiveness bothered me, as well as her reaction to something awful Henry does at some point in the novel. She doesn’t value herself enough, or doesn’t think herself worthy enough, and most of her actions or based on this lack of self-esteem. It’s an interesting starting point, and I hope that in the following novels she moves beyond this point to evolve into a stronger, more confident person.

The setting was unique, abnormal and totally awesome. The circus looks like a great place, but after every corner hide dark shadows and lingering secrets. The circus’ rules are old, some even magical, and breaking the code may have dire consequences. Nevertheless it’s a fun, friendly world, and the entire circus grew seems to get along well. I liked how I got to see in the mind of many characters and got to know him better. The author has a way of briefly painting a character, and even though it’s brief you get the feeling you’ve known them for years.

The ending left me guessing. It’s very open, leaving room for other novels. In particular, I wondered who “The Boy” actually was, and I can’t wait to find out. The world of Freaks Like Us was intriguing enough to pull me in, the setting wonderful and imaginative and the characters divers and likeable.

Freaks Like Us is not suitable for a younger audience because of some explicit scenes. I wouldn’t recommend it to YA audience, only to a new adult audience and older. It reminded me of the first Darren Shan novels about a circus filled with freaks, but then for an older audience, and less grim and menacing. An excellent read, and very enjoyable.

Book Review: Masks of the Lost Kings by Tom Bane

14624308Title: Masks of the Lost Kings
Author: Tom Bane
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction, Adventure, Thriller
Publisher: Telemachus
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2012
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Author Website
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

Following the sudden disappearance of treasure hunter Ben Sanders in Mexico, beautiful archaeologist Suzy da Silva is snatched from the cloistered environs of Oxford University and thrust into a deadly maelstrom of intrigue and discovery. Joining forces with astrophysicist Tom Brooking she crosses four continents, to unlock the dark secrets of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Holy Sepulchre and the mysterious Mayan Temple of Inscriptions to reveal a mysterious truth. Together they risk their lives, pursued by martial assassins and renegade special forces, fighting the forces of evil to discover hidden knowledge so precious that it has lain dormant for over a thousand years..

Masks of the Lost Kings is an eclectic mix of genres. It’s a suspense novel, a thriller, but also ventures down the historical fiction route (although it’s not about characters living a long time ago, half the book talks about civilizations long lost) and ultimately reminded me of The Mummy and Indiana Jones. The main character is an intellectual and academic, Suzy da Silva, which makes for a nice change. Suzy is an archeologist who decides to research the link between pharaoh Tutankhamun and Christianity for her thesis. Since I’m in the middle of writing a thesis myself, I could instantly connect with the main character. She actually reminded me a lot of myself, and her struggles were strikingly familiar. Unfortunately though, my thesis isn’t nearly as interesting enough that I need to go dig up ancient graves in the Egyptian desert or run away from secret organisations. Alas.

Suzy is a likeable protagonist, intellectual, clever and independent. Her research is funded by the Horus Corporation who send along a bodyguard named Getsu to protect her. While Suzy doesn’t see Egypt as a dangerous place at first, she’s soon convinced otherwise when she finds some guides murdered in the necropolis. In Egypt, Suzy runs into Tom, who’s there for research as well. At first, Tom seems arrogant, distant. But the more Suzy gets to know how, the more she begins to like him. As a reader, I have trouble grasping why. Tom isn’t a very intriguing character, in fact he never really moves beyond that ‘arrogant’ phase, and since he makes no character progress whatsoever, I don’t understand how Suzy could do a one-eighty and like him all of the sudden. Another pet peeve of mine is that Suzy, although having had no material arts training whatsoever, manages to best every assailant that comes her way. Mary Sue syndrome, perhaps? In any case, it wasn’t convincing and left me shaking my head occassionally.

The writing was great. Mr. Bane writes with an easy flow as if he’s been doing this for three decades. He never gets too descriptive, or causes the pace to slow down because of the writing.

However, what intrigued me most about this story, was neither the writing nor the characters, but the plot itself and more importantly, the rich history Mr. Bane waved into this novel. Not only does he tell us a lot about Ancient Egyptian Culture, he also tells us about the Mayans, Israel, and lots more. His characters are intelligent, well-read people specialised in these fields, and it’s obvious he did a great deal of research to make his characters sound plausible. I also liked the addition of images to sometimes show us what he meant, like with the mask of Tutankhamun. There were tons of astrophysological interpretations mixed into this story, and I enjoyed these as well. I had the feeling I was learning a great deal, while I was actually enjoying myself as well. The author has obviously done his research. I can’t help but wonder how many years of researching went into writing this book. It’s a feat all on its own.

Don’t just read this for the history though. The plot turns the book into a true page-turner, as Suzy is being chased from Egypt to Israel to across the Atlantic, and her research brings her closer and closer to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of human kind. The stakes are impossibly high, the people involved will do whatever it takes to keep their secret safe, and our heroine is in the middle of all that.

A book this strong, this intellectual, has set a high standard. I can only hope that in the next books in the series (if this will indeed be a series, like I’m hoping) Mr. Bane will meet the same standard, and who knows, maybe even succeed it. I’m certainly thoroughly impressed, and applaud the author’s research, his knowledge and his way to convey that knowledge to his readers without making them feel bored, or feel like they’re reading a non-fiction book.

The only reason why I gave this book four and a half, as opposed to five stars, was because I felt like the characters could’ve been better developed. The author spend so much time developing the plot and background that the characters, especially Tom, are kind of left in the cold.

If you like Indiana Jones, conspiracy theories, or just adventure novels in general, Masks of the Lost Kings will definitely be your cup of tea. If you’re a big fan of ancient mysteries, try this one out as well. Mr. Bane is one of my new favorite authors of this year, and maybe even of all time. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Book Review: The Escape of Princess Madeline by Kirstin Pulioff

16093271Title: The Escape of Princess Madeline
Author: Kirstin Pulioff
Genre: Fantasy, MG/YA, Romance
Publisher: Malachite Quills Publishing
Publication Date: November 5th, 2012
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange of honest review.

The Kingdom of Soron is known for many things, its rolling landscape, haunting history, fiery sunsets, and its beautiful princess. Princess Madeline woke on her sixteenth birthday to realize that her future had been planned out, a life full of privilege, royalty, and boredom… a life with a husband and knight champion that she did not choose. Using her charm, strength and stubbornness, she defies the King at every turn, determined to keep her freedom on her terms.
Freedom quickly turns to disaster as she finds herself seized by a group of wandering bandits. With the kingdom in turmoil over her capture- her Knight Champion eager to prove himself, a group of dedicated suitors determined to win her hand, and a group of exiled wizards join forces in the hunt to rescue her. Follow Princess Madeline in this adventure to find freedom and love.

The Escape of Princess Madeline is a bit of an odd bird. It’s a short story – barely 68 pages – and it’s hard to classify it in an age group. The vocabulary seems too advanced for middle grade, but the length and the plot itself very much suggest middle grade novel. The romance isn’t explicitly detailed, so that could mean either middle grade or young adult, but it seems to linger in the middle. I enjoyed reading the book, but I wished it was a bit more defined for who this story would be suitable – both MG and YA audiences, or YA only? I would personally settle on upper MG or young YA.

Madeline needs to get married to one of her several suitors, much to her chagrin. She wants nothing more than to decide her own fate, but alas, being a princess she’s forced to obey her father’s rules and choose a future husband. Madeline, being a spoiled brat, decides she rather runs away than marry a husband she hasn’t chosen herself. So off she goes, and trouble is ensured. A handsome young knight, who’s always had a crush on her, needs to come to her rescue or she may find herself in greater peril than she thought possible.

If that sounds very fairytale-ish, it’s because the book itself reads like a fairytale. Set in a magical kingdom with a spunky princess, a handsome knight, a handful of suitors this book reminds me of fairytales such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. The romance was sweet, suitable for a younger audience, although maybe not the youngest children of the MG scales. The violence is mild, and mostly told in a fun way – think like the violence in Aladin and other such stories. The knights are all very charming and brave, the princess is of course beautiful, and the King is all about justice and equality.

This book is a nice, quick read and younger children will definitely enjoy it. As usually in these kind of fairytales, there’s no grey line – only right and wrong. At the end, there are some loose threads, which enjoy future books, which I definitely would like to read. Made me nostalgic back to the days when I loved those fairytale books and princesses.

The Escape of Princess Madeline is a great read, fluently written, with a nice set of characters and a plot children will love.

Book Review: Rescued by Arlene Lam and Giveaway

15741281Title: Rescued
Author: Arlene Lam
Genre: Historical Romance, Interracial Romance
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: July 27th 2012
Goodreads | Author Website | Amazon | B&N
Review copy provided by Enchanted Book Promotions in exchange for honest review.

Amelia has a problem: she is set to marry a man twice her age and though she does not love him, she aims to please her domineering aunt and do what is expected of her. This changes when she meets Jordan Bradford, her handsome white employer.
A man with everything—Jordan Bradford is interested in Amelia instantly and cannot for the life of him figure out why she lets those around her treat her as they do. He is determined to make her see her self worth but never dreamed that the pretty little maid could cause him such grief. Yet as time passes and they encounter each other more it is near impossible for him to keep his hands off the brown-skinned maid.

Rescued is a historical romance novel, and one of the first in the genre I’ve read in quite a while. It was actually a refreshing read, considering it’s one of the first interracial romance novels I’ve read as well. It’s not that I would shy away from the topic or something like that, it’s just that I never really get the chance to read or review books in this genre, so of course I jumped for the opportunity.

The story is about Amelia, a young woman who works as a maid in the household of Mr. Bradford, a bachelor whose recently returned from overseas. Amelia is convinced she’s not worth much, since her half-sister keeps on insisting she’s ugly and the only man ever interested in her is a sixty-something year old who’s been lusting after her since she was a child. Amelia has zero confidence, so naturally she can’t believe it when Jordan, Mr. Bradford, is interested in her. At first, Jordan tries to keep his distance, not because of Amelia’s skin color or that she’s his maid, but because he wants to protect her. He’s never been in love – except with his first wife, and that ended disasterously – and he doesn’t want something like this to happen to Amelia. She misunderstands everything he says, falsely believing he thinks she’s ugly as well. While Jordan grows more and more in love with Amelia, she tries to come to terms with her own feelings, which may result in her having to leave everything behind to be with this man.

What I thought was interesting about this book is the historical setting. It’s actually pretty vague when exactly the book is set – slavery is abolished, but still black and white people aren’t treated equally, and it would be frowned upon, even dangerous, if they had a relationship. The small share of interracial romance novels I’ve read were mostly in the period when slavery was still accepted by society, so it was great to see another perspective, an evolving one, on a more evolved society.

I liked Jordan. He was a nice, male read. Very alpha, and at times contradictory, but in a way that seemed to suit him. He was literally hot and cold, pullling Amelia close one minute and pushing her away the next. I liked his little mind games at the start, but by the end of the book (roughly at around page 200) I wish he’d grow up and start to value Amelia more. A little later, he did, and not a moment to see, or he may have lost her forever. I liked this character’s growth, his change in personality, from being a man who feared love and kept everyone at arm’s length to becoming someone who was not afraid to let others in.

Amelia was a different story though. I didn’t like her that much. Everyone kept saying about how nice she was, and it was, but I was a bit wary why even Margaret, Jordan’s cousin, would consider her a friend, since there would be a class difference the size of Mount Everest betwen them – Maragret being a proper lady, and Amelia a maid. Also, Amelia’s half-sister was really annoying, always trying to make Amelia do what she wanted to, and not once did Amelia stand up to her. There’s a difference between being nice and being a push over. In this case, the line was blurry. I also didn’t see Amelia evolve, instead it just happened. From one page to the other, not gradually at all. I liked the evolution in her personality though, she became wittier, more confident, and that was a good thing.

I did like the relationship between Jordan and Amelia. I had my doubts about them halfway through though, when Jordan showed a nasty streak to his personality, and wondered how I couldn’t have seen that one coming.

The story itself may not be the most original one (maid falls for handsome, charming lord of the house, and he, even though he used to date around and didn’t like commitment, falls for her because she’s special) I liked the execution of the story here. I liked the historical setting, which was sometimes described in so much detail I could imagine myself walking through the mansion.

If you’re in need of some historical romance for those cold winter nights, give Rescued a try.

Giveaway

I’m hosting a giveaway for an eBook copy of Rescued. Fill in the Rafflecopter form to participate!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: Celtic Magic by Amber LaShell

13032273Title: Celtic Magic
Author: Amber LaShell
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: October 29th 2011
Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Review copy provided by the author in exchange for honest review.

Abby Kane is a seemingly normal girl until she starts to fall in love, and as she does she finds out that her mother, who she thought was dead, is actually a Celtic Goddess who lives in a magical world where an evil faerie queen will stop at nothing to kill Abby and take over.

Celtic Magic seems very rushed. It actually reads a bit like a first draft, which is a shame, because the story could’ve been so much more. Abby Kane, the main character, is a regular girl until she starts to fall in love with Tom. Her mother, presumed dead, turn up again, and turns out she’s a Celtic Goddess, and a magical fairy queen is after Abby, because if she kills her, she becomes the next queen of all of the faerie land.

So far, so good. The premise was intriguing enough, and author Amber LaShell paints the fantastical world Abby and the other characters live in, very well. The plot itself was fine, but then the trouble starts. The characters weren’t fleshed out, in particular the main character. Abby could jump from one range of thoughts and emotions to another, jumping from happy to sad in a matter of seconds, or the other way around. She lacked consistency, and after a while, I didn’t quite care for her anymore. I thought she’d grow as a character, but by the end she was still the same inconclusive girl she was at the beginning. Her relationship with Tom borders on childish, and I actuallly thought it was a bit ridiculous. I wasn’t a big fan of Tom either – again, he felt like the idea of a character, but not an actual character. He lacked emotions, drives, conflict.

Then there’s the issue of dear Abby being a bit of a Mary Sue. Magic comes easy to her – too easy to be convincing. I rolled my eyes several times throughout the book when Abby does things nobody should be able to do after just beginning to learn magic. It was unbelievable, and made me feel very frustrated. On top of that, the entire story felt rushed from start to end. “They did this”, “they did that”, it’s more like a rundown of random events than an actual story, which takes out almost all of the suspense.

This book could’ve done with a good editor, a few critique partners, and a beta reader or two. If this was a first draft, it would be great, but it lacks the polishing, both structural and grammatical, that a published books needs to go through before it’s ready to be published.

Celtic Magic definitely has potential, but it fell short. It feels unfinished. I’m confident of the author’s writing skills however, and she has great imagination as well to come up with the world featured in this book. However, this book could’ve done with more polishing and editing.