Saturday, October 25, 2014

Week in Review: October 19-25

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens. 1854/2003. Bantam Classics. 382 pages. [Source: Bought]
Silver Like Dust. Kimi Cunningham Grant. 2012. Pegasus. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]
While Love Stirs. Lorna Seilstad. 2014. Revell. 341 pages. [Source: Bought]
Loving Jesus More. Philip Graham Ryken. Crossway. 176 pages. [Source: Crossway.]
Rich Mullins: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (A Devotional Biography). James Bryan Smith. 2000. B&H. 272 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

I love, love, LOVE Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite book published in 2014. 

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Reread #43 Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy. Robin LaFevers. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 560 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I have now read Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers three times. (The first review; the second review.) It is a book that is a pleasure to reread. (Not every book is.) I enjoy Grave Mercy because it is intriguing and compelling.

It is set in Brittany in the late 1480s. You can read more about the time period in which this historical novel is set. One of the central characters is Anne of Brittany. Some might feel it is heavy on politics, but, I enjoyed the politics and the tension.

I wish the author had included more, at the very least more real names. For example, instead of "king of England" or "England's king" I wish she'd named him: Henry VII. There were places she could have been more specific, grounded the book more into history. I'd have LOVED an author's note. I'd have also loved an indication of which characters were historical people and which weren't. 

Grave Mercy is not your traditional historical romance. (Well, now that I think about it. If Philippa Gregory can have witches and curses in her Cousins' War series, and be considered "historical" romance, then Grave Mercy might rightly be included as well.) For those that love, love, love romance, I think there is plenty of it in Grave Mercy. I think that is one of its most satisfying features. For those that love fantasy and/or mythology, I think it has some appeal as well. The heroine, Ismae, is Death's daughter and his handmaiden. She lives in a convent, of sorts, dedicated to serving Death. She is a trained assassin. She kills those that her lord (Death) has marked for death.

One of her assignments brings her close to Duval, the half-brother of Anne of Brittany. They share a common goal: to protect Anne, to protect Brittany. But she's been taught--trained--to trust no one, to love no one. So this assignment will test her certainly!

The book has plenty of action, drama, mystery, and politics.
"Are you drunk?" I try to put as much scorn into my words as he did.
"No. Yes. Perhaps a little. Definitely not enough." The bleakness is back and he turns to stare into the flames.
I am torn between wanting to leave him to wallow in his despair and wanting to rush to his side and chase that look from his eyes. That I long to do this appalls me, sets panic fluttering against my ribs.
"I suggest you return to your room," Duval says, his gaze still fixed woodenly on the fire. "Unless you have come to practice your lessons of seduction on me?" His mouth twists in bitter amusement. "That could well entertain me till sunrise."
I jerk my head back as if I have been slapped. "No, milord. I had thought only to pray for your soul if Madame Hivern had seen fit to poison you. Nothing more." And with that, I turn and flee the room, then bolt the door against the disturbing glimpse of both his soul and mine. Whatever games are being played here, he is master at them, and I will do well to remember that. (155)
"What is my fair assassin so afraid of? I wonder."
"I'm not afraid."
Duval tilts his head to the side. "No?" He studies me a long moment, then rises out of his chair. I hold my breath as he crosses to my bed. "Are you afraid I will draw closer, perhaps?" His voice is pitched low, little more than a purr. My breath catches in my throat, trapped by something I long to call fear but that doesn't feel like fear at all. (174)
His smile flashes, quick and surprising in the darkness. "When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice. I bid you good night." (218)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sky Jumpers: Forbidden Flats (2014)

The Forbidden Flats (Sky Jumpers #2) Peggy Eddleman. 2014. Random House. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

In the first book, Sky Jumpers, readers are introduced to Hope, Aaren, and Brock. Three kids who risked their lives to save their community of White Rock. Bandits had come, threatened everyone, threatened to steal the drugs that keep them safe from a deadly plague. Against all odds, these three manage it all. They take risks. They take chances. They face the elements. They cling to hope. They think of the people they love whom they are trying to save. It's an intriguing, dramatic read.

In the second, Hope, Brock, and Aaren will have to do it all over again. The world-saving. Not from bandits, mind you. An earthquake has occurred. This quake changes their community. It opens up a crevice, I believe, that releases gases into the air which interact with the Bomb's Breath. Life as they knew it is over. The Bomb's Breath is dropping lower and lower and lower day by day. Within a month, their community will lose its healthy pocket of air. But there is a tiny bit of hope. One of the adults knows of a mineral (or metal?) that can counteract and reverse everything. Their town can be saved if a) they send a team to a far-away community in the Rocky mountains b) if the team is able to travel to the town and back within the time period c) if the trade goes well in the first place. They send adults. They send kids. It's a good thing they send kids. Their guide is Luke. And for better or worse, Luke seems to dominate most of this book. Luke and Hope. The book is their journey to and from. Will they be able to save White Rock?

Did I love The Forbbiden Flats as much as I loved the first novel in the series? No. Not really. I wanted to. I did. But I was a bit disappointed in the sequel.

As the title suggests, this one takes place almost exclusively out of the community of White Rock. As this group travels together new communities and settings are introduced. We get a glimpse here. We get a glimpse there. Nothing deep or substantive. Mainly what the book is about is Hope's newfound interest in rocks. Do you enjoy reading about a person who becomes passionately interested in rocks? I wasn't. The main relationship focus of this book is between Hope, the heroine, and Luke, the guide they hire. Hope's relationships with Brock and Aaren are less important, I'd say. Hope has struggled with belonging in her own community, and, I suppose this book is suggesting that maybe Hope will one day choose differently, that she may find where she belongs someplace out there.

So I said I was disappointed. That doesn't mean I hated it. That doesn't mean I disliked it. It means I didn't love, love, love it the same way as the first book.
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Magic in the Mix (2014)

Magic in the Mix. Annie Barrows. 2014. Bloomsbury. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Magic in the Mix is the sequel to Magic Half. I enjoyed both Magic Half and Magic in the Mix. Both books star Miri, a middle child. In the first book, Magic Half, Miri travels back in time and "rescues" Molly, a girl living in 1935. Molly fits right in with Miri's family when the two return. In fact, Miri and Molly are the only two that remember Molly's true origin. To everyone else, Miri and Molly are twins. Molly has always been a part of their family. In the second book, Molly and Miri do more time traveling. First, they travel back in time to 1918. Molly recognizes her mother, Maudie, and her aunt, Flo. The two are teens. Flo sees Molly and Miri as unwelcome intruders--gypsies, she calls them. Maudie, on the other hand, while still thinking of them as gypsies, sees them as potential friends. Second, they travel back in time to the Civil War era. I'm not exactly sure the book names a year. If it does, I can't recall it. Here's where everything turns tricksy. Molly and Miri aren't the only ones doing time travel. (view spoiler)

I liked the book fine. However, there were several things that didn't charm me. I don't necessarily enjoy the family scenes. I don't know about the two youngest, but the oldest four children are irresponsible, disobedient, and disrespectful. All of the children are rude and insult one another. I didn't like some of the phrases they use. The children think absolutely nothing of lying and sneaking around. The dad. Has he had even a sentence or two in either book that could count as characterization? The mom. On the one hand, her children are always, always doing something they shouldn't be, and are very proud of the fact. But she seems to have only one tone: angry. The time travel also seemed even less realistic to me. I'm not sure how either girl managed to fool anyone in the Civil War era. (Rolling up your pants so they just see your T-shirt doesn't seem very a very authentic way of passing, even if you go the extra step and take off your glasses.)

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Night Gardener (2014)

The Night Gardener. Jonathan Auxier. 2014. Abrams. 350 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener. It may just be my favorite new book published in 2014. I loved so many things about it: the atmospheric setting, the creepy world-building, the storytelling, the writing, and the characterization. (Yes, those overlap, I imagine.) I could just say that I loved all the elements of this one; that I loved it absolutely from cover to cover. (Which does more justice for the book?)

Here's how the story opens. I'm curious if it will grab you like it did me!
The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October. A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees. Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground. Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south. People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road. It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish. Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair. The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip. And they were riding to their deaths. This, at least, was what Molly had been told by no fewer than a dozen people as they traveled from farm to farm in search of the Windsor estate.
I loved Molly and Kip. It wasn't that either protagonist was perfect. It was that I felt both were oh-so-human. These two do find the Windsor estate. And they do manage to stay on as help. Even though they don't necessarily receive wages--just room and board. This country estate is...well, I don't want to spoil it. But the people who warned them to stay away from the estate, from the sour woods, well they had good intentions. The book is creepy in all the right ways. It is a WONDERFUL read if you love rich, detailed storytelling.

I also loved Hester Kettle. She is the old woman--Kip thought she was a witch at first glance--who tells them the directions to the estate. She also proves to be a friend and kindred spirit. She is, like Molly, a story-teller.
Hester touched the button, "Funny things, wishes. You can't hold'em in your hand, and yet just one could unmake the world." She looked up at Molly. (214)
"You asked me for a story; now you call it a lie." She folded her arms. "So tell me, then: What marks the difference between the two?"
Agitated as she was, Molly couldn't help but consider the question. It was something she had asked herself in one form or another many times in her life. Still, Molly could tell the difference between the two as easily as she could tell hot from cold--a lie put a sting in her throat that made the words catch. It had been some time, however, since she had felt that sting. "A lie hurts people," she finally answered. "A story helps 'em."
"True enough! But helps them do what?" She wagged a finger. "That's the real question..." (214)
I loved the story. I loved the pacing. It was a great read!!! Definitely recommended!

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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