Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Lacemaker and the Princess by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The Lacemaker and the Princess

The Lacemaker and the Princess
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Hardback: 199 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Eleven-year-old Isabelle is a lacemaker in the town of Versailles. One day as she delivers lace to the palace, she is almost trampled by a crowd of courtiers--only to be rescued by Marie Antoinette. Before Isabelle can believe it, she has a new job--companion to the queen's daughter. Isabelle is given a fashionable name, fashionable dresses--a new identity. At home she plies her needle under her grandmother's disapproving eye. At the palace she is playmate to a princess.

Thrown into a world of luxury, Isabelle is living a fairy-tale life. But this facade begins to crumble when rumors of starvation in the countryside lead to whispers of revolution. How can Isabelle reconcile the ugly things she hears in the town with the kind family she knows in the palace? And which side is she truly on?

Inspired by an actual friendship between the French princess and a commoner who became her companion, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley offers a vivid portrait of life inside the palace of Versailles--and a touching tale of two friends divided by class and the hunger for equality and freedom that fueled the French Revolution.

This novel is a historical set France starting in 1788. Details of the time period are skillfully woven into the story, and the problems Isabelle faces comes from the problems of the period. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historicals and is interested in the period.

The pacing is very good, and the characters were engaging and interesting. There was no romance (so no sex or kissing), and I don't recall any cussing. Overall, I'd recommend this as "a good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
When the Princess of Lamballe's lace was ready, Grand-mère decided that I should deliver it. Not because I was responsible--I was not, as she often reminded me. Not because she trusted me--she did not, as I well knew. It was because I was worthless, because Grand-mère had been more than usually unhappy about the lace I'd made the previous day, and because one of the very minor nobles had ordered ten yards of lace--a vast amount--that was to be picked up today, and it wasn't finished. "Stop for George. He'll point you to Her Majesty's rooms," Grand-mère said, stuffing me roughly into my one real dress. "He'll see you don't dawdle, or lose the lace."

George was my older brother. He worked in the stables at the palace of Versailles, caring for the Marquis de Lafayette's carriage horses. Our father had also been a servant of the Marquis. Papa was dead; I never knew him.

"Heaven forbid, lose the lace," murmured Maman, sitting up in her bed in the corner of the room, and crossing herself. Grand-mère was large and fat and mean; Maman was small and crippled and sad. "Take care, Isabelle, will you?" She glanced at Grand-mère. "Perhaps--"

"I don't have a moment to spare, not one moment, not with us so behind," Grand-mère said. She looked at Maman. She did not say it was Maman's fault we were behind with our lacemaking, but she thought it, and Maman and I both knew she was thinking it. Some days Maman's knees and hands hurt so bad that she had to drink laudanum before she could sleep. The medicine made her groggy all the next day, and it made her hands shake, too, which was not good in a lacemaker.

Grand-mère thought that Maman only pretended to be in pain, despite the evidence of her swollen fingers and knees. Grand-mère never believed in any pain she didn't feel herself.

Grand-mère was an evil old goat. She made our house a misery.

Now she poked me with Maman's cane. "Don't you think for a moment that you're off the hook. If it weren't for your shoddy work yesterday, we wouldn't be in such a rush."

This was a lie. The lace I'd ruined yesterday--and I had made a mess of it, the pattern was complicated and I'd gotten confused--was not the lace that was supposed to be ready today. I wasn't trusted to make important lace. But I knew better than to contradict Grand-mère.

"It won't take her long," Maman said. "You, Isabelle, remember you have work waiting when you get home."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parsons

In the Shadow of the Sun King

In the Shadow of the Sun King
by Golden Keyes Parsons

Trade Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
First Released: 2008

Source: Review copy from publisher

Back Cover Blurb:
Madeleine's shared history with the king holds the key to her family's life...or death.

Seventeenth century France is an unsafe time to be a Huguenot. By order of King Louis XIV, all French Protestants must immediately convert or face imprisonment--or death. The king's dragoons ferret out the nonconformists, pillaging villages and destroying homesteads.

When the king's soldiers descend on the Clavell estate, the family's fate hangs in the balance. Quickly, quietly, they send their two sons into hiding, trusting that the young age of their daughter will guarantee her protection. But the dragoons will not be dissuaded; they hold the manor hostage looking for clues of their guilt or innocence. However, Madeleine Clavell, the lady of the manor, holds a secret--one possible chance to save the family. She and the king share a past.

Once a beautiful young lady in the French court whom Louis loved, Madeleine travels to Versailles to plead for mercy from the fickle king, hoping to regain his favor and save her family. It's a gamble, but she is left with no other choice. Madeleine soon faces an agonizing decision--one that changes her family forever.

This novel is a historical fiction, but I'm also listing it under romance since that plays a major role in the story. The world-building was very good and vividly paints a picture of what life was like at the time. The pacing is excellent, and the story is suspenseful--or, at least, should be considering what's happening.

The book, especially after page 92, was well-written. Before that point, the adults were very flat and predictable even if the events happening to them were exciting. It was the Feisty Heroine battling against the Villainous Military Commander and the other adults stayed vaguely in background. However, the parts about the children in Jean's point of view were vivid and highly suspenseful. After page 92, the adults stopped playing such cliche roles and filled out into interesting characters.

My main problem with the story is that I didn't like our main character and so didn't care if disaster befell her. Madeleine's main talents are to run headlong into trouble and then feel sorry for herself over the bad results of those actions. Worse, she never learns from her mistakes to the point of changing her ways. Her loyalty to her family and faithfulness to her husband are admirable, but she even flirts with forsaking those qualities. Though she seems to be held in high regard for her faith, her actions show little real trust in her God. Frankly, I can't understand why three men declare their undying love for the spoiled brat.

I also initially didn't like the husband. He's a wimp in the beginning (though he sure pays for it later and comes out a better man for it). He knew that letting Madeleine go to court would put his family in danger if she refused to be the king's mistress (and she swore she wouldn't do that), yet he gives in to her demands to go because he 'can never stop her once she sets her mind to do something.' Yet the servants would have willingly stopped her from going at his slightest command. Obviously, he didn't care about his family enough to stand up to her foolish behavior.

On the other hand, I liked almost all the other adults (including all but the cliche bad guy) and all of the children. I kept reading because I did care what became of them.

Overall, it was worth reading even though the main character irritated me. If you're a fan of feisty heroines, you'll probably even enjoy her. There were no explicit sex scenes or cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
Madeleine paused at the well, her bucket of freshly picked spring flowers teetering on the edge of the stone rim. Barking dogs intruded upon the late afternoon stillness, and birds rose from the trees into the sky. Then she heard the pounding hooves.

The bucket dropped from her grasp and clattered to the cobblestone walkway, scattering the colorful blossoms. She lifted her skirt and ran from the side of the manor toward the entrance of the estate, dispersing quacking ducks and geese as she went. She looked down the road, through the canopy of arching trees, then heard Francois before she saw him.

Her husband had ridden into Grenoble earlier that morning to oversee the sale of two of their pedigree horses. Now he galloped into view. What could be wrong? His dark hair flew around his shoulders from beneath his hat. His eyes were wild with terror.

"Dragoons! S-saw them from the ridge." He reined in his horse, and chips of dirt and rocks showered in every direction, pelting Madeleine in the face. He jumped to the ground, and his breath came in gulps. "Hurry, they're just a few minutes behind me. Where's Jean? We must get the boys to the cave at once."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Senrid by Sherwood Smith


by Sherwood Smith

Trade Paperback: 446 pages
Publisher: YA Angst
First Released: 2007

Author Website

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Teen-aged king Leander Tlennen-Hess has barely ruled a year when he and his step-sister Kitty (or Princess Kyale, as she wishes to be known) are surprised by two visitors. The first is an adventure-loving girl, Faline, who helps Leander defend his tiny kingdom from invasion by the menacing warrior kingdom Marloven Hess, using only imagination and a bit of magic. The second visitor is a nice, friendly boy... who asks too many questions about the recent defeat of those evil Marlovens.

The nice, friendly visitor turns out to be Senrid, king of Marloven Hess.

But Senrid is king in name only. His uncle, the regent, holds power and Senrid must prove himself to be sufficiently strong by abducting for execution the two kids who thwarted the invasion.

The only way to save them is to enter the stronghold of the enemy, in flimsy disguise...

This book really is a fantasy book written for younger teenagers. The kid heroes don't seem to think to highly of adults. ;) If you haven't read Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel book, read that before reading this one.

This book is a lot less polished than Crown Duel (for good reason). While the characters and adventures are interesting, I really only found them so interesting because I wanted to read more adventures set in the same world as Crown Duel.

World-building is one of Sherwood Smith's strong points, but the world building in this book is only "good." The pacing is also good. The characters are engaging and the adventures interesting, but somehow the threat never really felt real--I never worried the 'good' characters would die or felt they really were hurt, even though they got into some pretty dangerous positions.

The was no romance and, while there was a lot of inventive name-calling, there was no cussing. I'll also mention that a lot of the names were very long and sometimes I couldn't even figure out how to pronounce them. If you like Sherwood Smith's other books, certainly give this one a try. Overall, it was a "good, clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
In a tiny, rural kingdom called Vasande Leror, the new ruler and his stepsister were busy with books. The castle where they lived was small, built stolidly of gray, unadorned rock, and mostly empty. The ruler, Leander Tlennen-Hess, sat in his library working hard at magic studies; down the hall in her suite of rooms, Princess Kyale Marlonen lay curled up on a couch reading, two cats nestled against her and one stretched along the headrest. Kyale's mind galloped through the pages of historical record written by a long-ago princess not much older than she, whose life had been fraught with danger.

She'd sunk so deeply into the past that she failed to see the face peering in at her through the window.

Tap! Tap! Tap! came the sound of knuckles on glass.

Kyale jerked her attention from the book to the window, where a round, freckled face peered in.

"Yagh!" Kyale shrieked, flinging up her hands , and the book sprang into the air.

So did the cats. Before the ancient book (and the three cats) hit the rug Kyale had already dashed out the door. She ran straight to Leander's study.

He looked up, hating to be distracted; when he saw his stepsister's frightened face, he vaguely remembered hearing a scream.

Wondering if the horrible ex-queen Mara Jinea had come back from Norsunder to threaten them again, he set down his book. "Kitty? What is it?"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Skies Over Sweetwater by Julia Moberg

Skies Over Sweetwater

Skies Over Sweetwater
by Julia Moberg

Trade Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Keene Publishing
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from Amazon

Back Cover Blurb:
Bernadette Thompson (Byrd to her friends) is 18, the year is 1944, and she is about to fulfill her life-long dream: to become an Air Force pilot. Leaving her poverty-stricken Iowa home, Byrd boards a train in route to Sweetwater, Texas—home of Avenger Field—where the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) training camp teaches women how to fly bombers, pursuits, trainers, and utility planes. At camp, Byrd meets Cornelia the rich girl, Sadie the college girl, and Opal the city girl. Together they struggle to master not only handling a plane, but some of life’s most important challenges.

The WASP were the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft. Still in their teens, these courageous pioneers, heroes in their own right, left their homes to serve their country doing what they loved to do—fly! Their story inspires us all to follow our dreams and find our own place in the world through courage, integrity, and passion. Readers of all ages will love the WASP’s story of achievement, friendship, and patriotism.

This book is a historical fiction book aimed at teenagers. I read this book more to learn about the WASP program than for the story. Sometimes, I felt like the author had made a list of information she wanted to include and forced the story to fit around that list, but I expect it wasn't 'forced' enough to bother most readers.

The information about the planes was detailed and appeared to be well-researched, and the WASP program information was accurate. However, some of the things in the story seemed questionable. For example, Byrdie remembers how a rattlesnake once crawled through the water pipes and out the water faucet in the wash room of her house. But water pipes are full of water, not air, and the snake wouldn't have been able to get past the valves. Then there's the farmer who apparently has chickens (since he mentions having chicken feed) but who used his ration stamps to buy eggs. But why buy eggs when presumably he can get them from his own hens?

Also, none of the girls (except Byrdie) has any mechanical malfunctions on their planes, but Byrdie has several mechanical failures. I kept wondering why the instructors never once suspected sabotage. Finally, Byrdie feels the wind caress her face when she's in a closed cockpit, which was confusing since I thought you wouldn't be able to.

I also want to warn readers that the book was written in present tense, which I found very distracting. (People don't tell each other stories or even talk in present tense, so it sounds unnatural to me.)

Despite all this, the story was engaging and the characters were likable. I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters. There was no sex, no profanity, and the lessons learned were good ones. I'd rate this book as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
The train pulls up to the station, right on time. The conductor helps lug my trunk up the stairs and into my compartment. I sit down on the gorgeous plush red velvet bench where I will be spending the next 12 hours. I run my fingers over it, realizing how long it has been since I felt anything so wonderful.

Outside the window the Iowa sun is starting to come up all purple and orange over the horizon. I think about Mom and my sister, Charlotte, and I wonder if they are awake yet and if they've noticed I'm gone. And then I think about Pa, and it hurts, so I open my trunk and find my favorite and only book I own, West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. I get lost reading about her adventures flying her plane across the Atlantic. Then, without realizing it, I am asleep.

I can never sleep long because the fire comes. When I doze off, my eyes fill up with orange and red. They burn, and someone is always screaming my name, and my head feels like it's going to explode. Right before it does, I wake up.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Eye of Jade by Daine Wei Liang

The Eye of Jade

The Eye of Jade
by Daine Wei Liang

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
First Released: 2008

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Blurb:
"Having her own detective agency would give her the independence she had always longed for. It would also give her the chance to show those people who shunned her that she could be successful. People were getting rich. They owned property, money, business, and cars. With new freedom and opportunities came new crimes. There would be much that she could do."

Present day, Beijing. Mei Wang is a modern, independent woman. She has her own apartment. She owns a car. She has her own business with that most modern of commodities--a male secretary. Her short career with China's prestigious Ministry for Public Security has given her intimate insight into the complicated and arbitrary world of Beijing's law enforcement. But it is her intuition, curiosity, and her uncanny knack for listening to things said--and unsaid--that make Mei Beijing's first successful female private investigator.

Mei is no stranger to the dark side of China. She was six years old when she last saw her father behind the wire fence of one of Mao's remote labor camps. Perhaps as a result, Mei eschews the power plays and cultural mores--guanxi--her sister and mother live by...for better and for worse.

Mei's family friend "Uncle" Chen hires her to find a Han dynasty jade of great value: he believes the piece was looted from the Luoyang Museum during the Cultural Revolution--when the Red Guards swarmed the streets, destroying so many traces of the past--and that it's currently for sale on the black market. The hunt for the eye of jade leads Mei through banquet halls and back alleys, seedy gambling dens and cheap noodle bars near the Forbidden City. Given the jade's provenance and its journey, Mei knows to treat the investigation as a most delicate matter; she cannot know, however, that this case will force her to delve not only into China's brutal history, but also into her family's dark secrets and into her own tragic separation from the man she loved in equal parts.

The first novel in an exhilarating new detective series, The Eye of Jade is both a thrilling mystery and a sensual and fascinating journey through modern China.

This book is more of an entertaining way to learn about a culture than a mystery book. If you liked "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," then you'll probably enjoy this story. The first chapters of the book were full of flashbacks, and the whole story was full of strange metaphors, but the information about modern China was fascinating. The mystery itself was decent but was never fully the focus of the book. As in, don't buy this book solely because you want to read a mystery because you'll be frustrated.

The characters were interesting, and the world-building was thorough. There were no explicit sex scenes or noticeable cussing. I'd rate this as "good, clean fun."

Excerpt: Chapter One
In the corner of an office in an old-fashioned building in Beijing's Chongyang District, the fan was humming loudly, like an elderly man angry at his own impotence. Mei and Mr. Shao sat across a desk from each other. Both were perspiring heavily. Outside, the sun shone, baking the air into a solid block of heat.

Mr. Shao wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. He had refused to remove his suit jacket. "Money's not a problem." He cleared his throat. "But you must get on it right away."

"I'm working on other cases at the moment."

"Do you want me to pay extra, is that it? You want a deposit? I can give you one thousand yuan right now." Mr. Shao reached for his wallet. "They come up with the fakes faster than I can produce the real thing, and they sell them at under half my price. I've spent ten years building up my name, ten years of blood and sweat. But I don't want you talking to your old friends at the Ministry, you understand? I want no police in this."

"You are not doing anything illegal, are you?" Mei wondered why he was so keen to pay her a deposit. That was most unusual, especially for a businessman as shrewd as Mr. Shao.

"Please, Miss Wang. What's legal and what's not these days? You know what people say: 'The Party has strategies, and the people have counterstrategies.'" Mr. Shao stared at Mei with his narrow eyes. "Chinese medicine is like magic. Regulations are for products that don't work. Mine cure. That's why people buy them."

He gave a small laugh. It didn't ease the tension. Mei couldn't decide whether he was a clever businessman or a crook.

"I don't like the police--no offense, Miss Wang, I know you used to be one of them. When I started out, I sold herbs on the street. The police were always on my tail, confiscating my goods, taking me into the station as if I were a criminal. Comrade Deng Xiaoping said Ge Ti Hu--that individual traders were contributors to building socialism. But did the police care for what he said? They're muddy eggs. Now things are better. I've done well, and people look up to me. But if you ask me, the police haven't changed. When you need protection, they can't help you. I asked them to investigate the counterfeits. Do you know what they told me? They said they don't do that kind of work. But whenever there is a policy change, an inspection, or a crackdown, you can bet they'll jump on me like hungry dogs."

"Whether you like the police or not, we must play by the book," Mei said, though she knew her voice was less convincing than her words. Private detectives were banned in China. Mei, like others in the business, had resorted to the counter-strategy of registering her agency as an information consultancy.

"Of course," agreed Mr. Shao. A smile as wide as the ocean filled his face.