Friday, November 25, 2011

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech

This is a children's book--well it says it's written for ages 8-12. And it is charming.

We meet an unnamed angel whose "territory" is a little town in Switzerland where the primary language spoken is Italian (I didn't know such a place existed in Switzerland!). When young Zola and her family move into our angel's house, Zola (a future social activist, to be sure) and the angel change the village and make it a happier place.

At first, the Italianate English of the angel was distracting, I thought, but I got used to it and even enjoyed some of the creative word combinations our main character, the angel, came up with. I felt bad for our little angel who seems to know nothing about itself, where it came from or who it answers to (kind of a common approach to all things spiritual these days), but I still found it a lovable character and not at all a tragic one.

This book has a gentle social message and a very uplifting conclusion. It is a sweet story that children and adults can both appreciate. I think it would be especially fun to read aloud. It's the first Sharon Creech I've read and it won't be the last.

The Serpent's Shadow by Mercedes Lackey

This is a very cool book. It's book one in Mercedes Lackey's loosely connected Elemental Masters series. I've only read a few, but some of them (apparently) are sort of revised fairy tales. This is one of those. It's the story of Snow White--completely different from the traditional tale.

We meet Maya Witherspoon, daughter of an English father and an Indian mother. She has escaped danger in her native India and has set up house in London with her Indian "family" and her "pets". She is a doctor. And she is an untrained Earth mage. Does this sound like Snow White to you? Well, you will find a wicked relative, a magic mirror, an apple, poison and a kiss from prince charming. It's truly a wonderful and highly creative re-imagining of a classic fairy tale.

This was a complex book with a social message, a totally engaging story, adventure, danger and even a touch of romance. I really liked it. I will read all of this series for sure.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross

This is a "prequel" to the first book in the Steampunk Chronicles, "The Girl in the Steel Corset". It's only available electronically and we downloaded it for free from Amazon.

Here we meet Findley Jayne for the first time. She is having trouble keeping a job because of her unpredictable and violent temper. In this little e-book she first learns to apply her "talents" in a useful manner. She is hired as a companion to the debutante Phoebe, newly engaged to a much older Lord Vincent. At first Findley cannot understand why Phoebe's noble mother has engaged Findley--socially fit to be merely a maid--as a companion to her daughter, but she soon discovers that both she and Phoebe's mother suspect all is not right with Lord Vincent and his wish to marry the much younger Phoebe. And it's up to Findley to figure out why--before Phoebe marries him.

Here we have fancy Victorian ball dresses and parties and social customs AND mechanical horses, electrical gadgets, sophisticated automatons, etc. It's a fun little prequel. And, did I mention? It's free. My favorite price. :)

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

This is subtitled "The Steampunk Chronicles" and has introduced me to a genre that I have experienced before, but hadn't identified as such.

If you've ever watched a movie like "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or Will Smith's "Wild, Wild West", you've seen Steampunk. What is Steampunk? It's history and future combined. This book, for example, was set in Queen Victoria's England, but the characters have electricity, automatons (robots) that almost think for themselves, horseless carriages... and a multitude of other such things. It's an interesting and very attractive combination of elements that make up the unique Steampunk genre.

This particular book is written for teens and is the first in a promised series. We meet Findley Jayne, who is very troubled by the dark side of her personality which seems to be taking over more and more. When she is taken over by the dark, she is unusually strong, her vision and hearing are enhanced, she becomes violent and powerful. After losing yet another job because of this dark side, she runs into a group of people who, like her, have enhanced abilities. They are led by a young nobleman who promises to help her integrate the two sides of her personality. Meanwhile, there is a different kind of darkness growing in London that endangers the entire empire. Findley and a host of other very interesting characters will have to address this danger or be subject to it.

I really liked this book. The writing is not complex, but the story is very engaging and the characters are eminently likeable. I liked the parallel stories that were going on. I also liked that, unlike many troubled teen books, there were several strong, intact and loving families in the background. There was very little overt sexuality, for which I was grateful, but there were several budding romances and some good chemistry between the characters. It was an altogether fun book to read and, if I can beg them away from my daughter (who introduced me to this book), I look forward to reading the future Steampunk Chronicles.

Axel of Evil by Alina Adams

This is the second Alina Adams figure skating mystery that I read. It features our amateur detective: Rebecca "Bex" Levy, a researcher for 24/7 TV network. She works behind the scenes, snooping around to find the solutions that her boss demands.

This story takes place in Russia. Igor Marchenko, a Russian skater who defected from that country in his teens, is now a distinguished figure skating coach, and he has returned to Russia for the first time since his defection. While in this country, however, he collapses and dies at a practice session. Bex (and her attentive Russian translator) investigates.

This book was pretty interesting. I especially liked the brief look at what happens to the families left behind when a Russian skater defects. This book is focused more on coaches than skaters and I found it more interesting than the other that I read (Death Drop).

Again, this book was pretty clean--very little swearing and no sex scenes--and generally enjoyable if you like mysteries. I'd never seen a mystery set among figure skaters before I found this series, so I think the stories are rather unique too.

Death Drop by Alina Adams

This is a mystery (one of a series) set in the competitive ice skating scene. The victims and suspects alike are skaters, coaches, parents, rink managers, past champions, etc.

Our main character and sleuth is Rebecca "Bex" Levy, a researcher for a sports network. She is my least favorite kind of detective--the amateur--and her reasons for sleuthing seem kind of silly--her unreasonable and dictatorial boss demands that she solve the murders on camera to improve the ratings of the show. Hm. But! I enjoyed reading a few of these books by Alina Adams despite these complaints. :)

In this book, an abandoned baby is found at the ice rink during a practice session for Nationals. The baby's mother has apparently hanged herself backstage. There are immediately several paternal claimants and when it is found that the young mother was murdered, the they say... thickens.

I did find the inside look into the skating world interesting. Alina Adams, the author has apparently worked as a figure-skating researcher in the past so she writes these stories with her own personal experience behind her.

The books were pretty clean, entertaining and rather interesting. I liked the two that I read. (The other is "Axel of Evil" and I'll blog that next)

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

This is #2 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series. The others are "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" (#1) and "The Red Herring Without Mustard" (#3). I've enjoyed them all.

Flavia de Luce is 11 years old. Her greatest love is chemistry, particularly poison--any poison. When I first was introduced to her, she didn't seem 11. In this book, however, she feels a bit more like an 11-year-old.

I really dislike summarizing books. Here goes: a famous puppeteer and his assistant come to the village and entrance children and adults alike with their puppet show. But there are dark events in his history and he ends up murdered. Flavia can go places adults can't or don't go and she hears all sorts of gossip and sees things she shouldn't...which makes her a unique detective.

I totally enjoyed this book, a more unqualified enjoyment than I felt at the first book, I think. I'm really liking the Flavia de Luce mysteries! (although I still feel bad about her sisters being so mean! Why are they??)