Thomas Fawkes isn't ready to turn to stone.
Don't look at me. It's his own words. The Stone Plague has infected his eye and it's slowly working its way out.
Not to worry. He has only to pass his Color Test this evening--with the help of the mask his father promised to make him, just as every father in England does for his son. Once it's discovered he can command Grey (and please, please, please let it be Grey), he'll just command that plague to leave, and all will be right again.
Maybe then his father will care about him.
Except Father--Guy Fawkes himself--doesn't show up. Not a problem. Thomas will just track him down himself, get his mask, and get back on track. And maybe he'll set a few other things straight, too--like why his father hasn't even given him a letter all these years.
But when Thomas arrives in London, he finds he's a piece in something far bigger than he could have imagined--a plot to end the war between the Igniters and the Keepers. A plot to land a Keeper back on the throne where they belong.
But they wouldn't want to just do it in some easy way--a sniper from a distance, maybe poison, no.
They're going to blow up Parliament.
At last, at last! The day has arrived that I tell you about one of my new favorite books, Fawkes by Nadine Brandes!
First off. Thomas. A young man who just wants his father's approval, who so desperately wants to pass his Color Test and heal his eye, now trying to find confidence on his own on the London streets. Even in the worst of situations, his inner spunk never misses a beat. Easily the best character arc I've read this year. I liked him right away.
Next off, Thomas and Guy. The conflict was raw. I felt what Thomas felt. I understood Thomas' reasoning (whether or not I agreed with it). He's willing to do anything to get his father to look his way . . . even help plan the assassination of the king of England.
But as Thomas finds his way around London, he finds his way around what he's always believed and the views that clash with his. Not all the Igniters were good. Not all the Keepers were bad. Thomas had to dig to the roots of what he'd always been told . . . and readers will, too. In a world where young adults are pressured to take whatever the culture hands them, this book arrived just in time.
The allegory is powerful. God is not put in a box. However, in a most curious manner, God and Christianity are never mentioned in this book . . . but they are. God is referred to as the White Light--who helps save those who cannot save themselves, gives them power they cannot use or sustain on their own, and who guides them through the world they live in. Igniters believe they can have a relationship with White Light and He can help them navigate the other colors. Keepers believe White Light is only for the elite few, better left alone or in a box. And then there's a few who believe they don't need White Light at all--they can harness all the color powers themselves. It's a little mind-boggling, but creative--a fresh spin on it that I wouldn't have considered before.
Fawkes is not a book to rush head-long into. It's an explosive adventure that somehow still makes you stop and think--a rarity in young adult books. It has quickly made its way up my list of favorites, and is one of the first I will recommend to anyone.
Aye, and amazed I am that it's taken me this long to post this review, aargh.
Ahem. Please forgive the poor pirate imitation.
I AM, however, VERY excited to review Wayne Thomas Batson's Isle Chronicles: Isle of Swords and Isle of Fire today. These are some of my very favorite books of all time.
What's not to love? On one side, you've got Captain Declan Ross and his crew of misfits, who just want to haul catch enough to get them out of the not-so-sweet trade forever. Well, most of them anyways--except his daughter, Anne, who desperately wants to become a pirate herself.
On the other hand, you've got Bartholomew Thorne, the darkest pirate to sail the seven seas. He's looking to avenge his wife's death, and he's got Declan Ross in his sights. Maybe it has to do with how they put one of his greatest allies in Davy Jones' locker, I don't know.
And they've both got their sights on the same treasure.
In the crossfire is sixteen-year-old Cat, who was left nearly dead on a nameless island. Leave it to Declan and Crew to come save the day. That doesn't change the fact that he has no idea who he is. What he's done. Or what the clues he carries in a pouch around his neck could mean.
Explosive action scenes. Vibrant characters. Snapping humor. A chilling villain, one of the best I've ever read . . . or would that be the worst? The Isle Chronicles has it all. But amidst all the cannon fire, sword slashing, and treasure seeking, it's really a story about one young man's quest for identity.
Whether or not they ever find the treasure, Declan, Anne, Cat, and the crew discover something far deeper, something that will stick with a reader long after the fires burn out. Perhaps the God they've dismissed as uncaring all these years has a very specific interest in them. Perhaps Cat has a far deeper identity than he knows.
That being said, you know, they're pirates. And by the point that Catholic monks are hiring them to hunt other pirates, some of the morals in these books have to be called into question. Add to that a few torture scenes that could make you squirm just a bit.
Just a few waves before this duology catches the wind and sails out to sea. But even once it sails away, I doubt what the crew finds will leave their minds . . . nor the reader's. It certainly didn't mine.
*Note: Several years after the duology was released, a follow-up book was released, Isle of Stars. I've chosen not to include it here. While an okay read, the plot and characters were weaker than the original books. It was also an attempted crossover with some of Wayne Thomas Batson's fantasy characters, characters I was not familiar with, which made it feel oddly tacked on in waters it didn't belong in. Add to that the fact that several crew members that died in the first book were suddenly alive and well again? Therefore, I refer to it as a follow-up book and not part of the original duology.
Katerina Ludken is a woman on a mission--to kill the Beast of Hamlin and to find the children who have vanished from her village.
Steffan of Hagenheim is a man on a mission--to prove to anyone who cares that he is not just the bad son of his noble family. Killing the Beast seems a good way to do so.
Hennek, Mayor of Hamlin, has his own mission--to keep his sins hidden from his adoring villagers. And he's willing to remove anyone who dares stand in his way.
Each Melanie Dickerson book gets better, and The Piper's Pursuit is no exception. I read this entire novel in one afternoon.
Katerina trusts no one, for her own reasons. This part of the plot was played out very well. Better yet, it's not left as a petty quirk. It is overcome. While some readers may find it annoying, I found her character refreshing. She thinks about things. She sets goals and works to achieve them. She'll stand up to a greedy mayor who would very much like to kill her if that's what it takes. She is a well-written, strong yet feminine character--characters in short supply, especially in young adult literature.
Then there's Steffan. He so desperately wants to be good, yet there's so much bad, inside and out, for him to overcome. That doesn't slow him down. He'll never give up or give in, he'll face down the Beast and the mayor both . . . but will he face his past?
Let's turn our attention from our heroes to our villain--Hennek. Greedy, ruthless, deranged, more than a little creepy, and oh so conceited. I could go on, but you get the idea. His villain was well-written--and I'm not sure whether to call that a good or a bad thing!
For fans of Melanie Dickerson's distinct plot style, this installment doesn't disappoint. Far from it. In fact, it might even have earned Kat's trust.
So maybe Imogene Grayson is obsessed.
So maybe she has a dollhouse in which she's recreated the scene of her sister's murder in minute detail. So maybe she took a job at an ammunition plant just to try and snatch a clue as to what happened. And so maybe she completely lied about that broken hip thing to get her granddaughter Aggie to come with her.
So maybe she's obsessed. So what?
The things to praise about this book as as multiple as the echoes among the stones themselves. Imogene's devotion to her sister is touching--albeit in a creepy sort of way. The images in the book are crackling--the dollhouse, for instance. I am usually largely unaffected by creep, but that image spiked a shiver down my spine and back up again. And made me turn the page. The small Wisconsin town of Mill Creek comes to life in all its small-towniness--which is largely made up of the quirky characters within.
The ending may seem broken, imperfect, cracked like the stones Aggie and Collin try to restore at the graveyard. But there is a bittersweet echo that ripples back--an echo that speaks of a well-thought out ending. So maybe it's perfect after all? Right up to the last page, Jaime Jo Wright keeps you guessing. And right up to the last page, the message echoes strong, like a voice just over your shoulder--a strong message of letting go . . . and hanging on. Jaime Jo Wright certainly doesn't shy away from talking about God in unique, creative ways.
The one piece of advice I do have is to PAY. ATTENTION. Due to this novel switching from the 1940's and the present-day, it's easy to lose track of your players and the clues you've gathered.
Listen? Do you hear the echoes among the stones? No? Just open the book and pay attention. I think you'll like what you hear.
What would you do if you had to put up with a scheming cousin with a name like Percy? What would you do if that scheming cousin and his wife had high hopes that your eccentric uncle would name them his heir? What if you desperately needed that inheritance? What if you found out that said scheming cousin has plans to send your eccentric uncle to an insane asylum to get said inheritance? And all around Christmas!
Why, it's only logical, of course. You'd ask that girl whom you know is infatuated with you to stand in as your wife just for one dinner--did I mention your uncle would give preference to you if you were married?
And that's exactly the conclusion that William Barlow arrived at. Perfectly logical, isn't it?
Honestly, when I first read the sample chapter for this novel in the back of the first book in the Once Upon A Dickens Christmas series, I wasn't thrilled. Mina seemed naive. William seemed arrogant. It seemed a letdown after book one.
All things aside, I decided to give A Tale of Two Hearts a shot. And I wasn't disappointed. By chapter two, I was in it for the long haul.
Just like the first book, A Tale of Two Hearts is quirky, comedic, and light-hearted. The characters are vibrant; their voices spring to life from the page. Just when you think things can't get worse, well, they do. The stakes are continually being upped. William's lie, which seemed like a fun trick at the beginning of the book, becomes a web. And getting to the truth might be more surprising than anyone suspects.
As for what that truth is . . . well, I'll leave it to you to sort out.
Julianne Chevalier can't catch a break.
First she loses her brother, away with the army in the new territory of Louisiana. Then she loses one of her patients. Then she loses her midwife practice. And at last, she loses her freedom and is sentenced to life in prison.
The only thing she's managed to keep a hold of is her chance for a new start in Louisiana. Of course, the leaders of the trip forgot to mention she'd have to marry a fellow prisoner to be welcomed aboard. Funny how details like that slip one's mind.
Like those details about what Louisiana is really like. And those details of what would be expected of her.
And maybe, like those details about her brother. But as to what those details are? No one knows.
The Mark of the King is a raw, real story about a desperate marriage and a desperate family. At times I wanted to grab them both, shake them by the shoulders, and beg them to just talk to each other, to just straighten their secrets out. The story takes us from dark to light in a shattering journey. The good guys aren't all good and the bad guys aren't all bad. While the light plays across the swamps in a strong wrap-up at the end, the journey to get there may just be stronger.
Sadly, The Mark of the King is based on true events. Thousands of prisoners were married against their will and shipped off to populate a failing colony. Due to that, The Mark of the King has some more mature relational and violent content that, while not graphic by any stretch, was unexpected, especially compared to the other novels of Jocelyn Green. She doesn't shy away from dealing with tough dilemmas, which is necessary in this story. Still, it makes The Mark of the King a clearly adult book.
Don't choose The Mark of the King if you're not ready to wade through the swamp. But for those who do choose to make the journey, I doubt the light will disappoint.
Penwythe Hall, deep in the heart of Cornwall, England. Sweet. Simple.
Haunted by fear.
Penwythe owner Jack Twethewey has enough on his spade, so to speak. Truth be told, Penwythe is failing. He's gambled Penwythe's future--and all those who depend on it--on some sickly apple orchards out back. The villagers think he's crazy. His staff thinks he's crazy.
Jack thinks he's crazy.
And then his nephew and two nieces show up. Their father--Jack's brother--has died and strictly instructed that the children be raised by Jack. A strange request--the brothers wanted nothing to do with each other in life.
But now, here the trio stands.
Quartet, really. With the children comes Delia Greythorne, their governess, fleeing a past and secrets all her own. Secrets that are so bold to find her even at Penwythe--a place she'd sworn never to return.
The Governess of Penwythe Hall, the first book in Sarah E. Ladd's new Cornwall series, is much like Penwythe itself. Sweet. Simple. Gentle. The story rolls like the hills of Cornwall, or the sea beyond those hills. It's not as fast-paced or suspenseful as some of her other works . . . but maybe it doesn't have to be. Governess is a gentle story of overcoming fear.
That being said, the climax was what really sealed the deal for me. When the past finally came to call, the fears finally made themselves known, and Jack and Delia had to stare their ghosts in the face. I won't give it away, but it's well worth the read.
Not to say the climax was the only good thing in this book! Sarah Ladd did a good job building the tension as the book went on--a slow, pulsing tension that you could feel in the air as you read and that rolled into the climax wonderfully. Plus, she took a reader (that's me) who never knew Cornwall existed, or some bits of its fascinating history and made me see, hear, smell, and feel it.
Brilliantly explosive? Maybe not. But Penwythe Hall wouldn't be a bad place to spend a couple days. Who knows? You might even overcome your own fears during your stay.
I'm sorry. The number you have reached is not avail--
Sorry. That's the sound it makes when my mind has been blown.
And that's exactly what this series Dreamhouse Kings by Robert Liparulo did to me.
Before you start thinking Ken and Barbie, don't. Don't even go there. Because this Dreamhouse has doors to other periods in history all along its third floor. And the (mostly) unsuspecting King family has just moved in. One night, something comes out of one of the portals and steals Mom. That leaves it up to Dad, Xander, David, and Toria to navigate the portals and bring her home. And maybe to do something more than that--maybe, just maybe, to save the whole world.
No, literally. Save the whole world.
Of course, there is the matter of that freaky Assyrian guy hanging around town who enjoys killing and would very much like the Kings' house.
Dreamhouse . . . or nightmare?
My daddy was the one who stumbled across Dreamhouse Kings, mistakenly filed in the adult section of our church library--more specifically, book three. He recommended it to me. I ignored the skull and crossbones on the first page warning me to read books one and two first--after all, the library only had book three!--and blazed ahead anyway.
The result? Confusion.
Eventually, we begged our church librarian into purchasing the first two (thanks, church librarian!). My sister then amassed the entire series on her own. She graciously allowed me to borrow them. It may or may not have been because I annoyed her to death.
Family. At its core, Dreamhouse Kings is about family. In chapter one, we're introduced to a preoccupied dad, a moody teenager, a little brother who desperately wants his big brother back, the cute little sister that no one can resist, and the mom trying to hold them all together.
When Mom is kidnapped, the Kings have to work together to bring her back. Specifically Xander and David.
The brothers' relationship is one of the most real things in this book. They tackle, argue, hug, cry, laugh, and punch. As an older sibling, that was grabbed me the most. They clash. Xander wants to take action, and David just wants everyone to be happy. But as the series goes on, they change from two boys with the same last name to two brothers who would take anything for the other. Even re-work time.
This book is fast-paced. I could not put them down. Literally. I was so immersed, when I set the book down, my heart was pounding and I had to take a few deep breaths--before I scrambled through the house for the next book. This book yanks you into a portal alongside the characters.
Do make sure you read all the books in order, though. This series is chock-full of great Christian and family themes, but they don't come out right away. At first, the themes may seem like a weak crossover. The family recites a Bible verse, and Mom insists they find a church after the move. But it goes deeper as the series races on, as a character suggests God put the Kings in this house at this time for a reason. Not only are the Kings awakening to family, they're awakening to God and His purpose for them.
Consider yourself warned, though: there's a creep factor to this series. Rarely does a portal come that doesn't want to kill the Kings. The house seems haunted at first. That Assyrian guy doesn't mind talking about killing people . . . in creative ways, shall we say. There's one or two gross moments, usually involving dead bodies. But rarely does anything go beyond a shiver down your spine.
These books are often mistaken for Christian horror books. They're not. A creep factor? Yep. Some death, destruction, and mayhem? Yep. But horror? Nope.
These books aren't designed to create fear. They're designed to suck you through a portal of your own into the epic of a family trying to overcome fear (as well as assassins, time travel, and leftover spaghetti, for starters). It's a fast-paced thriller. And every thriller comes with some creeps.
Would I hand this to any random twelve-year-old? No. I know some kids who would fearfully check every door in their house should they be allowed to read it. But it shouldn't be anything that will keep teens and adults up at night--unless they're trying to finish the book, that is.
There's a few other bumps in the portal, too. Xander's nods to horror movies can get a little old. While meant to paint vivid and sometimes humorous word pictures, they fall rather flat coming from a fifteen-year-old. Especially when the reader hasn't watched said horror movies--and doesn't plan to, I might add.
A few time-travel descriptions left my head spinning. Not everything the Kings do is exactly, um, shall we say, legal or recommended to try at home. Xander also throws out a word or two from time to time, that, while not curse words by any stretch, aren't words you'll want a kid (or anyone else for that matter) repeating.
But those bumps are few and far-between and do little to slow down this brilliant story about a family trying to save their mom, each other, and the world.
Hi there! Rachel again. Check out this section for book reviews and cover reveals of some of my favorites!