What lies between the pages of The Painter’s Daughter is even more stunning than the artist gracing its covOriginally published on my blog ReadLove.
What lies between the pages of The Painter’s Daughter is even more stunning than the artist gracing its cover. No doubt about it: Julie Klassen is a master, and The Painter’s Daughter, a masterpiece.
When it comes to inspirational historical fiction, Klassen is in a league all her own. By the end of the first chapter, she has established a mood and setting, introduced major characters, and revealed the conflict that will propel the plot. She’s done this so well that you’ll be able to smell the sea air from the Devon cliffside coast where she introduces you to Sophie Dupont, a portrait painter’s daughter and assistant.
You’ll feel like you’re eavesdropping when Captain Stephen Overtree, gone to find his brother Wesley, discovers young Sophie. Not only is he surprised by his instant recognition of Sophie’s face (she is the subject of a small portrait, painted by Wesley, which the Captain has been secretly carrying), he soon realizes that his impetuous brother has set sail for Italy and left young Sophie in a delicate situation. Accustomed to assuming Wesley’s responsibilities and spurred on by his nurse maid’s prophecy of his impending death, he offers Sophie his hand in marriage, making it clear that the marriage will be one in name only. He assures her she’ll soon be a widow, reputation intact, in the care of his family.
What follows is a tale of love, secrets, sacrifice, and redemption. Klassen’s writing is so historically accurate that you’ll feel you have discovered a contemporary of Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë. In fact, you’ll find not only references to both ladies’ works, but tangible evidence of the influential fingerprint of Brontë’s Jane Eyre: There is the dark, rough-edged man with scars, both literal and figurative; the sweet, yet fiercely headstrong young woman; and even the eccentric, maybe even mad, lady in the attic!
Klassen’s cast of characters is extensive, and you’ll eventually come to know and love — or loathe — them all. Some of my favorite secondary characters are Colonel Overtree, Stephen’s grandfather, Mr. Keith his seafaring friend, and Winnie, the lady in the attic.
Though the novel is thoroughly regency, its mood, mystery, and secret hidden passages lend hints of the gothic. Klassen doesn’t shy away from a challenge. More than just a romance, this is an intense love triangle that becomes a comparative character study. Furthermore, she goes where few have gone before — a rarity in a romance, Klassen tackles Napoleonic battle at sea with aplomb!
In summary, Julie Klassen adeptly handles sensitive situations and themes, all while keeping her reader thoroughly and happily entertained. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll worry and groan, but in the end you’ll smile, finding peace in knowing that there is no misstep, mistake, or fault that God cannot redeem.
Verdict: 5 of 5 Hearts. With Her Latest Work, Julie Klassen Paints A Masterpiece!
With her latest work of historical fiction, award-winning Julie Klassen outdoes even herself! Complete with humor, pathos, mystery, romance, and adventure, The Painter’s Daughter is a gem of gems. Long after you’ve finished turning its pages, this story of love, sacrifice, and redemption will live in your memory and your heart.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for providing me a digital copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Faster than they can say Abracadabra, Simon Nicholson has readers riveted and holding their breath during hisOriginally posted on my blog, ReadLove.
Faster than they can say Abracadabra, Simon Nicholson has readers riveted and holding their breath during his opening sequence where young Harry Houdini chains himself to the train tracks in preparation for his next grand escape. At Harry’s side are his friends Arthur, the neglected son of a banker, and Billie, an orphaned, street-wise girl. In addition to immediately grabbing your attention, Nicholson wastes no time in demonstrating the special bond shared by this rag-tag group of young friends. Just after Harry and his assistants collect the coins showered on him for his dangerous stunt, we find Harry and Billie pooling their resources for a special birthday cake surprise for Arthur. It’s a warm, touching scene that endears you to these kids as they sacrifice to lavishly celebrate their friend.
The moment quietly but clearly sets a tone that will be important as the book progresses. Because, you see, once Harry’s magician friend and mentor goes missing, Harry’s wildly determined to find him. So much so that in his blind desperation, he strikes out alone, leaving his friends feeling jilted. Luckily, along the way, Billie and Arthur prove their mettle and Harry comes to the realization that nothing is more magical than good friends.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. Magical Mystery in Which Young Houdini Finds True Friendship is No Illusion. Strong characterization and plotting make this adventurous mystery not only thrilling, but funny and full of heart. Nicholson has crafted a mesmerizing speculative boyhood history for the daring escape artist, Houdini. Readers who enjoy imaginative, fantasy-twinged fiction surrounding the exploits of close-knit friends will find plenty in The Magician’s Fire that enchants.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Salt & Storm reminds me of a certain classic novel about a white whale and a man’s obsessive quest for reOriginally posted on my blog, ReadLove.
Salt & Storm reminds me of a certain classic novel about a white whale and a man’s obsessive quest for revenge. Yes, I mean Moby Dick. And no, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Let me briefly tell you how I feel about Moby Dick. While it was ultimately memorable, the novel was so thorough in its research and realism that it bogged me down and made me dizzy, sick, and bored with its endless chapters on whaling and blubber in descriptive, non-glorious detail. And let’s not even talk about Ahab. I always wanted to know more about Ishmael and less about Ahab. But that would have been another story. While some scenes in Moby Dick are harrowing and powerful, for me the emotional impact was marred by both my lack of connection to the characters and the slogging pace created by the huge asides in which Melville proved he was worth his salt.
So how is Salt & Storm like Melville’s “Great American Novel”? Well, I’m not saying it’s classic literature. It’s decidedly not. However, the author has done her research on whaling and magic in order to make the world of Prince Island seem real. In that she has succeeded. Tane, the island-boy love interest of heroine Avery Roe, initially focused on avenging the death of his family, is for a time Kulper’s own Ahab in miniature. Avery and Tane even have a discussion about the inadequacy of revenge. Interestingly enough, Avery’s words to Tane about revenge are both more convincing and more meaningful than any on-page romance between the two. And therein lies one of the main rubs. When the plot begins to focus more on romance than mystery and intrigue, there is little satisfaction for the reader. The romance is classic insta-love at its best. Though, just as I found Ishmael more interesting than Ahab, I eventually wanted to know more about secondary character Tane than protagonist Avery Roe.
While Kulper serves up plenty of salty sea air and atmosphere, she never comes through with the seemingly promised magic. If you are reading this book hoping for a little bit of Salem-ish witchery, you’ll be sorely disappointed. At novel’s beginning, you are hooked by young Avery’s telling of a story of when her grandmother allowed her to sit in and “help” as she magically tied the winds. And when Avery is forcibly removed from her home and her loving grandmother by her “evil” mother, you want nothing more than for Avery to break her mother’s curse and get back home to her grandmother and the magic that is her birthright.
Avery, who knows no magic but has the gift of interpreting dreams, is thrust together with Tane, who has come to her for answers about his dreams in order that he may avenge his family’s murder. Avery, desperate to awaken her own magic, has had dreams herself foretelling her own fated death. Once the plot moves past Avery and Tane telling dreams and trying to break the curse, it peters out into a story which bears little resemblance to the story I anticipated.
Don’t get me wrong. Salt & Storm shaped into a book with more depth and complexity than I thought it would. It turned out to be a story about choice versus determinism, a tale about love in many shapes, shades, and sizes, a tale about family and gender, a discussion of sacrifice and courage. There are elements of Salem thrown in to be certain, and there are some spine-chillingly memorable scenes. However, the novel’s greatest shortcoming is that it does not establish a meaningful emotional tie between the reader and Avery. Any feelings I began to have at the outset faded when the novel’s romantic portion didn’t take hold, and finally, I felt duped by the author. When the story began pulling the wool from the reader’s eyes by uncovering previously unseen truths, the narrative reveals undercut the reliability of the narrator, severing the already weak ties I had to Avery. To use a nautical analogy, I was left adrift in the story with no emotional mooring or compass.
Two final words on the novel’s flawed execution. One: Third person narration might have been more effective than the first person which was used. First person narration can be powerful, but it’s actually much more difficult to pull off than people think. Debut authors often fall short. Two: Never underestimate your reader. Kulper’s narration suffers from repetitiveness. She writes something, makes a point, then later reminds you of what she’s written by telling you again, until it begins to feel that you are being told both what to think and what to feel. I believe this is what people speak of when they say that a book tells rather than shows. Perhaps we could have been shown more had the novel been related by an omniscient third person narrator. Alas, we shall never know. That ship has sailed. And sunk.
Verdict: 3 of 5 Hearts. A Promising Debut, but Lacking in Magic.Salt & Storm gets the reader’s hopes up for a magical tale of witchcraft and romance. Unfortunately, it falls somewhat short in both areas leaving the reader adrift.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Move over Harry Potter. Stand back Percy Jackson. There’s a new kid hero in town. Only he’s not the “boy who lived” or a half-god/half-boy — he’s immoMove over Harry Potter. Stand back Percy Jackson. There’s a new kid hero in town. Only he’s not the “boy who lived” or a half-god/half-boy — he’s immortal! Tut’s the name, as in Tutankhamon. You think you know the story of King Tut, but you have no idea. You see, the storied Egyptian Boy King wasn’t actually killed and buried in the tomb. Who was? Well, as P.J. Hoover says in her afterword, that’s another story! Tut will hate me for that “boy king” remark, so I’ll make it up to him by letting you in on an important fact: Tut is NOT short. The history books got that wrong, too!
You’ll have to read Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life to find out exactly how Tut avoids death and gains immortality. But he escapes an attempt on his life and discovers that his father, mother, and brother were all killed by his traitorous uncle Horemheb. And, over 3,000 years later, we meet up with Tut in Washington, D.C., to find he’s still bent on revenge.
I like Tut. He’ll tell you he’s not an egomaniac, and he’s really not. But he has a definite swagger that naturally comes with being a pharaoh. And let’s face it, when you have shabtis — little funerary minions who’ve been spelled to serve you with unswerving loyalty and devotion — it’s hard not to enjoy it. Especially when you’re an eighth-grader and these little guys do your homework! The shabtis, who affectionately call to mind the film Night at the Museum, supply added smiles and laughter to the novel’s already healthy dose of humor. Tut has names for all of them, of course. And in his own way, Colonel Cody, the shabti leader, will become as near and dear to readers as Harry Potter’s loveable buddy Dobby. Only Colonel Cody is much cooler. And I haven’t even told you about Tut’s other friends Horus and Gil! But don’t let me spoil all your fun. Read the book and meet them yourselves!
Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life includes a rousing mix of Egyptian gods, curses, scarab plagues, and other assorted dangers, as well as interesting and mysterious characters — friends and foes — both human and immortal. But the story remains tightly focused on Tut and his unshakeable need for revenge. Your book won’t gather dust since the plot is well-paced. Indeed, you’ll take great pleasure in following Tut’s footsteps to find out whether or not he exacts his coveted retribution on his duplicitous uncle.
Verdict: 4.5 of 5 Hearts. A Living, Breathing Egyptian Treasure. Riordan readers hungry for a switch from Greek myth, or those who’ve finished The Kane Chronicles, will unearth a trove of excitement in P.J. Hoover’s absorbing adventure inspired by ancient history and mythology.
**Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Clay is a typical almost-teenaged boy who has led an anything but typical life. His psychologist parents were completely overbearing with his older brClay is a typical almost-teenaged boy who has led an anything but typical life. His psychologist parents were completely overbearing with his older brother Max-Ernest (they couldn’t agree on a name, so they gave him both). Twelve years down the road when Clay is born, regretful of their mistakes with Max-Ernest, Clay’s parents resort to hands-off parenting. This essentially means that Clay is raised first by Max-Ernest who teaches him magic, and later, after Max-Ernest disappears, by himself.
Clay is changed by Max-Ernest’s sudden vanishing act — he stops reading for pleasure and stops practicing magic. Two years later, his life revolves around skateboarding and graffiti art (though he’s never defaced any walls besides those in his bedroom). When Clay’s teacher asks the class to write an in-class essay on the role of magic in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Clay freezes up. Magic is altogether too real to him, and tortured by conflicted emotions surrounding his brother’s disappearance, he just can’t put pen to paper. His teacher gives him a journal used in their stage production of the play and promises Clay credit if he’ll just write in it — anything! Angry and hurt, Clay takes the journal home, scrawls “Magic Sucks!”. The next day at school, Clay’s graffiti-style drawing appears on the exterior wall of the classroom, tagged with his signature, just as it appeared in the journal. Never mind that he didn’t actually do it — Clay is busted!
The school and Clay’s parents insist on consequences. If Clay wants to return for seventh grade in the fall, he has no choice but to toe the line, which means attending a summer camp for juvenile delinquents. So Clay boards a beat-up old seaplane that takes him to Earth Ranch on Price Island. And that’s where the adventure begins!
Our narrator is one of those third person omniscient types. And just in case you forget, he’ll remind you how much he knows through funny editorializing and footnotes. These can be a touch intrusive at times, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded with some trivia about bananas and such (Trust me on this one!). Since our story takes place on an island, the narrator makes reference to other island tales of television and literature like Gilligan’s Island, Fantasy Island, Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, and most notably, The Tempest. Kids need not have read Shakespeare or watched 70s TV to understand the references since the narrator will tell them all they need to know. But maybe they might want to read (or see) The Tempest.
Bad Magic isn’t a character study; it’s a bizarre, off-the-wall adventure story with bits of mystery and magic thrown in. From square one on the island, things are not what they appear, and what they appear to be is sometimes very surreal — Spanish-speaking llamas named Como Se Llama inhabit the island, along with some very intelligent guard bees. Kids will definitely remain engaged as there are many twists and turns that keep you guessing about what’s really at work behind Earth Ranch. And in case the mystery alone isn’t enough, there’s a pretty killer action sequence involving an active volcano! Stealthy author Pseudonymous Bosch himself proves to be a master magician, using enough sleight of hand and misdirection along the way that when he finally shows his cards for the big finish, it comes as a surprise. One welcome enough to motivate you to read the next in the series!
Verdict: 4 of 5 hearts. Bizarre Summer Camp Island Adventure. In Bad Magic, Pseudonymous Bosch has pulled an inventive tale of mystery and magic out of his hat. Kids should have no trouble following it through to its unexpected conclusion and getting on board with this new series.
*This review was originally published on my blog, ReadLove.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for allowing me access to the title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more
Ravens today have a bad rap. They’re associated with death and dying and portrayed as ruthless carrion-eaters. In Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, George Hagen’s first foray into Kids Lit, we learn that long ago, ravens and humans spoke to and aided one another. Though that dynamic has since changed, the men in Gabriel Finley’s family have a peculiar connection to ravens. Gabriel’s uncle Corax and his father Adam have mysterious pasts. And unbeknownst to him, Gabriel’s destiny ties in to their disappearances and their bonding with birds. As he approaches his twelfth birthday, things start to get really interesting.
Hagen has borrowed inspiration from the Norse myth Huginn and Muninn to create a unique urban fantasy world where good and bad birds (ravens and valravens) play major roles in a struggle between good and evil. The early part of the book is fascinatingly dark and foreboding. I thought more than once that the novel would make for perfect October/Halloween material. The reading experience is a slow burn. As Gabriel learns more about the stories of his father and his uncle, the world expands gradually but enticingly so, like a bird unfurling its wings. Inserted among the darkness are lighthearted moments of humor and whimsy — the most notable involving a magical desk that rearranges itself.
Unfortunately, before this promising premise has a chance to take flight, the novel’s wings are clipped. Once Gabriel discovers and undertakes his quest, things get bumpy. It’s difficult to effectively communicate just where and how things go awry. But somewhere along the way, the mood shifts markedly from ominous to almost hokey. Additionally, once the assembled heroes embark on their journey, it becomes difficult to ignore just how thinly drawn these characters are. When some of the avian members are more fully realized than the humans, you know you’ve got a problem. Mostly, it just felt as if the inspiration fizzled out, leaving behind a book that followed an expected script in plot, message, and theme. There may be brighter skies in subsequent offerings, but I fear I could trace the breadcrumbs dropped for a future installment to their likely endings.
Verdict: 3.5 of 5 Hearts. Intriguing, Macabre Mystery-Ride Morphs into Mediocre Sentimental Journey. George Hagan’s first flight into middle grade fiction begins with beautifully melancholic notes teeming with promise. Sadly, Gabriel Finley and The Raven’s Riddle trades in its singular garb mid-flight for ill-fitting Harry Potter hand-me-down clothes.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House Books For Young Readers for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” ...more
Timing is everything. In life, love, and even reading. I picked this up late, but I suspect, just as Hadley SulFirst published on my blog, ReadLove.
Timing is everything. In life, love, and even reading. I picked this up late, but I suspect, just as Hadley Sullivan was fated to miss her flight, I was meant to read this book now. Around the time The Statistical Probabilty of Love at First Sight hit shelves, I was sick, in a slump, and considering aborting my first blog. But last night, the stars aligned. I was reading another YA Contemporary Romance and not liking it. I abandoned that title and reviewed my other options. It felt like the right time to finally read this book, do right by the publisher (better late than never!), and leave feedback. Suffice it to say that I made the right choice!
We meet seventeen-year-old Hadley at the airport where, for the first time in her life, she’s just missed a flight. After a crazy string of mishaps and bad timing, she was four minutes late for a plane that was supposed to carry her to England for her father’s second wedding. Not that she wanted to go, mind you! And though she’d even imagined scenarios that would have resulted in her not being able to attend the ceremony, Hadley absolutely did not miss the plane on purpose. Because she’s angry with her father, who has been relegated to “The Professor” on her cell contacts, her plan had been to fly in for the wedding and fly back home the next day. But here she stands with a suitcase that contains little more than her bridesmaid’s dress, watching the plane taxi away realizing that she’s going to miss the wedding she didn’t want to attend in the first place.
Her bad luck soon turns good. There’s another plane leaving that night. It’ll be a close call, but she just might make it in time for the wedding. Then she meets Oliver, a cute eighteen-year-old English boy studying at Yale. Smith conveys their instant connection in a way that feels natural. It’s a pleasure to have an unobstructed view as the two bond over the course of the seven hour flight. Their conversation alternates between witty, flirting repartee and serious, nuanced exchanges about marriage and family. You’ll be smiling and rooting for the pair as they relate stories and share thoughts and feelings. And by the time the plane touches down, you’ll be feeling pangs of separation just anticipating Hadley and Oliver’s goodbye.
Though much of the book centers around Hadley’s chance encounter with Oliver, the emotional focus is much broader. Hadley has unresolved grief over her parents’ divorce and unsettled anger at her father for his role in making it all fall apart. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight explores love, family, and forgiveness, and all the incongruencies therein, packing in a surprising amount of character depth while maintaining reader interest and investment throughout. Jennifer E. Smith covers a lot of ground — emotional and geographical — in just over 24 hours of narrative time. And as Hadley learns, although 24 hours is a short span, it’s long enough to change your life.
Verdict: 4 of 5 Hearts. A Sweetly Satisfying Look At Love At First Sight. With The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith gives her readers a glimpse into Hadley Sullivan’s life to remind them that though life and love can be scary and unpredictable, the rewards are always worth the risk.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank NetGalley and Little, Brown for providing me access to this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”...more