Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Brotherhood by A. B. Westrick

Five Stars

“The Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.”

Outstanding treatment of a sensitive and controversial topic: the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Reconstruction South, specifically Richmond, VA. Appropriately, the protagonist is a white teen boy caught in conflicting currents of loyalties, commitments and aspirations. The reader is swept along with his ambivalence (and occasional stupidity) as he treads this murky maze.

“Those who survive in Richmond reinvent themselves as circumstances dictate.”

Best map (U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Map of Richmond, 1867) in any book ever, including famous fantasy trilogies.  Magnifying-glass-worthy detail. (Yes, maps are a big deal to me.)

“Of course, he’d have asked, but while the girls were standing in front of him, he’d been too flustered to think.”

Excellent use of inner voice and vocabulary to establish both the age and view point of the protagonist, Shad. That he has dyslexia is revealed without using the modern term.

“If the world had ended at that very moment with Shad singing “Glory, hallelujah” in a shed full of coloreds, he’d have gone to his maker with a smile on his face.”

There were southern whites–rich and poor– who opposed slavery. Likewise Reconstruction hardened many whites’ prejudice against blacks. Westrick explores both. Even better, she plumbs Continue reading

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Three Stars

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Book Review: Hunter (Hunter #1) by Mercedes Lackey

Three Stars

“This wasn’t a job you picked, it’s a job that picks you.”

Lost a star in the last fifty pages. Great setup. Great storytelling. Good world building, wonderful voice and emerging character for the narrator, then shifted focus to an artificial “test” and a fake ending, obviously expecting readers to rush to buy the next volume. Note to writers: you have to deliver the goods–at least some goods–in the first book or no one will buy the rest.

“Guilt and self-loathing tend to make you cranky.”

The premise: what if all the evil spirits of all world traditions were real. And what if Continue reading

Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)

 

Book Review: Chains (Seeds of America #1) by Laurie Halse Anderson

3002300Four Stars

“She cannot chain my soul.”

Award-winning young reader account of the plight of slaves in colonial North America. Being in Rhode Island or New York was no protection in 1776. Isabel was probably more articulate in her feelings, but those emotions ring true. Honest look at the errors and hypocrisy of both sides.

“It mattered not. My bones were hollow and my brainpan empty.”

Anderson skillfully wove historic facts–battles, destruction of the king’s statue, the fire, Hessians–into plausible descriptions of the life and observations of a young enslaved girl. The whole has a readable, authentic feel.

“Both sides say one thing and do the other.”

Minor chronological errors, but closer to fact than many popular Revolutionary War dramas.

“I was chained between nations.”

The Seeds of America series continues with Forged, previously reviewed.

Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Four Stars

“All because he stole something that should have been his to start with.”

This is historical fiction as it ought to be written: a vivid portrait of the times woven from many factual threads as well as period appropriate people and ideas. But this is no history, rather an engaging, enjoyable fiction. Each chapter opens with an epigram from some primary source draw from letters or journals of that time. The story also explores the lot of the common soldier encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that brutal winter of 1777-8.

“My humors fell out of balance, and I became tetchy and sour-minded.”

The voice of the protagonist, a young black male fleeing from slavery and joining the fight for American independence, sound authentic. Written to simultaneously capture the attention and persuade young readers.

“Even from his grave, Father could be an annoying fellow.”

A fictional treatment of American slavery risks either sugar coating what was an awful reality or demonizing everyone and everything involved. Anderson draws a clear line against slavery while exploring the varying attitudes and justifications of that day.

“The land which we have watered with our tears and blood is now our mother country.”

A good, standalone read, even though it is the sequel to Chains.

“If our luck does not turn for the good on its own,” she said, “we’ll make it turn.”

Book Review: 15 Minutes by Jill Cooper (Four Stars)

Book Review: 15 Minutes (Rewind Agency #1) by Jill Cooper

Four Stars out of Five

Think: The Matrix meets The Time Machine with a more likable protagonist than either.

Ahha! Cooper demonstrates that young adult novels can be engaging without substituting childish or adult behavior. The first person, present tense point of view not only works, but keeps the reader tightly engaged with this time travel “thriller.”

Lara is a believable person thrown into unbelievable circumstances, and we’re dragged along. She responds with intelligence, even as she suffers confusion and doubt. The romantic interactions and depicted violence are age appropriate. Her determination and self-sacrifice more than offset her missteps. The plot is necessarily convoluted, though (spoiler: the purple-haired woman’s identity was readily apparent. Telling you that much is a spoiler).

A quick, enjoyable read. Perhaps not four stars on any absolute scale of literature, but compared to similar young adult offerings.

Book Review: The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs

Four Stars out of Five

An entertaining mash up of Middle Earth and Narnia set against a culture drawn from Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Norse and Christian elements with a dash of the Arthur tale. The very cultures which competed in Dark Ages Britain while the Arthurian legend birthed.

It works better than it sounds. Because the story focuses on the young protagonists, the reader is not burdened with more than hanging on for the ride. Briggs is neither a Tolkien nor a Lewis, but he tells a good story.

One of the better transitions from this world to that of fairy. Once there, of course, the boys just want to get home. Not so fast.

Extra credit for managing both a satisfying climax to this story and sufficient hooks to the rest of the saga. Many contemporary authors propel you toward book two (or twelve) without bothering to entertain you in book one. Briggs manages both.

Fairy Tales as Life

It’s amazing how story types and forms pop up in the strangest places. It helps us look at our world differently, as I’ve always felt that each of us is the hero/heroine (and sometimes villain) of our particular tale. In determining our role we must not only decide our alignment (good versus evil) but our role: are we pawns, knights, or maybe even kings and queens in disguise?crossing sm2

Two years ago, I wrote a young “fairy tale” aimed at young adult readers titled The Dragon and the Dove. It was well received by my local reading friends and won First Place among YA novels at the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, but . . .

But I couldn’t find a publisher interested, partly because I called it a fairy tale. It certainly wasn’t a myth or legend. It was about Continue reading