Review: Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George

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Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

An interesting premise to have a book featuring the Dracula family without having any vampires, but there’s nary one to be found in this book. There are a lot of shapeshifters though. Dacia and Lou are backed into a corner by their unscrupulous families who are willing to sacrifice the girls to gain power by aligning with the Draculas. The story is an interesting take on the vampire/werewolf mythos. The girls basically solve their own problems with minimal help. My main complaint is that while I understand the author was trying to give the girls weaknesses, the character personality swings were often so wide as to be unbelievable. Lou is a timorous girl who is driven to fits when a strange man merely  calls her a “temptress”, yet within a day she’s battling it out with her evil grandmother. The book is a good adventure that would have had a higher rating if it had had a little more character consistency.

3 out of 5

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Review: Charles Fort by Jim Steinmeyer

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By the early 1920s, Americans were discovering that the world was a strange place.

Charles Fort could demonstrate that it was even stranger than anyone suspected. Frogs fell from the sky. Blood rained from the heavens. Mysterious airships visited the Earth. Dogs talked. People disappeared. Fort asked why, but, even more vexing, he also asked why we weren’t paying attention.

Here is the first fully rendered literary biography of the man who, more than any other figure, would define our idea of the anomalous and paranormal. In Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural, the acclaimed historian of stage magic Jim Steinmeyer goes deeply into the life of Charles Fort as he saw himself: first and foremost, a writer.

Charles Fort is a person whose name I’ve heard about plenty peripherally but knew very little about as a person. His name is associated with bizarre phenomenon because of his truly unique books. The term “Fortean” is still used. The man himself was something of a riddle. Skeptical of science and religion, a world traveler who eventually hated leaving his home, a man who seemed to be in on the joke, yet was deadly earnest in his criticism of blind belief in science. This biography of him gives an honest picture of a man who considered himself a writer first and someone who challenged the establishment second. He was a man of obsession, particularly in his research, and he would have hated being considered the “father” of anything. But he was one of the first to loudly challenge science in the 20s from a non-religious skeptical stand point. He was fascinating.

4 out of 5

Review: Castles, Customs, and Kings by Debra Brown

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A compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book provides a wealth of historical information from Roman Britain to early twentieth century England. Over fifty different authors share hundreds of real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

Read to go along with Shriver, this is a very informative collection of essays by a variety of historical fiction authors. The interest level and writing varies from essay to essay. Some are rather awkwardly turned into plugs for the particular author’s books probably because they all seem to be collected from a website. And some of the topics are just boring and dry, not because the author is bad per se, but because the topic is just uninteresting. The beginning of the book in particular I found far more interesting than the later part.

3 out of 5

Review: Scandalous! by Hallie Frye

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Do you love a good scandal? This book includes 50 juicy pop culture, political, and entertainment-related scandals complete with photos, event synopses, and a look at why it went down in history and how it continues to influence us today. Other features include famous quotes and a section on where the players are now. Teens will get the dish on:

Milli Vanilli’s lip-syncing
the Clinton-Lewinsky affair
the Biggie and Tupac murders
the Kent State shooting
the OJ Simpson Murder trial
Patty Hearst’s kidnapping

As a teacher I often found my students were not aware of many of the pop culture scandals or references that have become important parts of American history. This book is excellent (so much so I intend to buy it for the library next year) at explaining the gist of what happened with the scandal quickly and in an easy fashion to understand and then also addressing why the scandal was important in how it changed history. This would have been a great tool for me to use in the classroom as the sections are all broken down to two pages yet still manage to express the main points of the scandal. Of course some of the scandals were pretty sexually explicit, but the book tries to explain without being too graphic and does a pretty good job of not shying away from some things, but also not being tasteless. The feature where the people involved in the scandal have bits about their lives after revealed is also very interesting.

4 out of 5

Review: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

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Eight years after the fall of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire now reigns over the known galaxy. Resistance to the Empire has been all but silenced. Only a few courageous leaders such as Bail Organa of Alderaan still dare to openly oppose Emperor Palpatine.

After years of defiance, the many worlds at the edge of the Outer Rim have surrendered. With each planet’s conquest, the Empire’s might grows stronger.

The latest to fall under the Emperor’s control is the isolated mountain planet Jelucan, whose citizens hope for a more prosperous future even as the Imperial Starfleet gathers overhead…

Boy oh boy was this a shockingly good book. I’ve read more than my fair share of Star Wars fiction (now considered to be a defunct part of the EU in light of the new movies) and even back when it was considered canon, some of it was thoroughly clunky (though the absence of Mara Jade and Kyp Durron from the canon Star Wars world saddens me). So I was a bit indifferent to there being new literary additions to the Star Wars world, not only because it was being marketed as YA, but also because it was dealing with characters that (as of yet) have nothing to do with any of the movies. Thane and Ciena weave in and out of the actions of the movies, but interact with canon characters very little to the point that none of the main characters from the movies even have a line of dialogue (and Thane is thoroughly confused as to who Han Solo even is even before the battle with the second Death Star). But all of that actually is what makes the book work so wonderfully. This is a story of two people who are just part of the background of the major events of the movie. They aren’t epic heroes, they’re just people living through a horrific situation of galactic war. Their ideals are different (Thane is cynical yet eventually joins the Rebellion, Ciena is by far the more spiritual but stays with the Empire because it’s her duty and up until the end is genuinely able to try to justify that the Empire is simply trying to keep order), but their love story is believable. The books is able to put the whole galactic war into perspective. Thane isn’t completely sold out to the Rebellion, but he’s willing to stand for something. Ciena is part of the evil Empire but thinks up until near the end that her service is to prevent more deaths courtesy of the Rebel terrorists. This is a story about how this whole war is a tragedy and in the midst of it sometimes the only thing you can fight for is the person you love.

5 out of 5

Review: The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine

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Lorelai Diederich, crown princess and fugitive at large, has one mission: kill the wicked queen who took both the Ravenspire throne and the life of her father. To do that, Lorelai needs to use the one weapon she and Queen Irina have in common—magic. She’ll have to be stronger, faster, and more powerful than Irina, the most dangerous sorceress Ravenspire has ever seen.

In the neighboring kingdom of Eldr, when Prince Kol’s father and older brother are killed by an invading army of magic-wielding ogres, the second-born prince is suddenly given the responsibility of saving his kingdom. To do that, Kol needs magic—and the only way to get it is to make a deal with the queen of Ravenspire, promise to become her personal huntsman…and bring her Lorelai’s heart.

But Lorelai is nothing like Kol expected—beautiful, fierce, and unstoppable—and despite dark magic, Lorelai is drawn in by the passionate and troubled king. Fighting to stay one step ahead of the dragon huntsman—who she likes far more than she should—Lorelai does everything in her power to ruin the wicked queen. But Irina isn’t going down without a fight, and her final move may cost the princess the one thing she still has left to lose.

This is a book that would have made a good movie. While the romance is a bit fanfiction-y in places, the actual conflict between the two queens is good. Sometimes I just wished for a little MORE from some parts, but this is a book that rarely slowed down in the action and honestly had a lot going on, from two different kingdoms and a lot of things that had to happen before the final confrontation. That all being said, Kol was one of the better done male love interests I’ve read in YA lately. For some reason all the books we’ve read in our YA book club so far has had paper thin male love interests. That wouldn’t be such an issue if you didn’t end up wondering why the female lead was ever interested in them. We’ve just gone through four books with barely passable male leads and this one is the first that the male character seems able to stand alone pretty well.

4 out of 5