Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Unnaturalists by Tiffany Trent -- Five Stars

 This young adult steampunk novel revolves around Vespa Nyx and the Museum of Unnatural History -- and the possibility that she might be the only witch left in this world of magic and technology.

The city, New London, is the fault of Saint Tesla, whose experiments tore loose whole sections of Victorian London, thrusting them into a magical land where an assortment of legendary creatures and the Tinkers live. The Tinkers are reduced to poverty by the time of the story. According to Trent, “…the Tinkers in this book are heavily based on my experiences living in the Sichuan highlands of China with the Baima people, an ethnic Tibetan tribe.” I actually thought that they were based on the Roma but later decided that they were of Asian heritage, so I was happy to read that I wasn’t too far off in my assessment.

The story moves along briskly, following Vespa through her trials with her father, work, aunt, New London society and a young Pedant, who might not be who he claims. While magic is illegal, children in the city are sometimes born with powers -- and abandoned or disowned by their families. The story is filled with mysterious events, magical creatures called Elementals, a dangerous and destructive Waste, plenty of intrigue and a romantic thread that doesn’t muck up the storyline at all. In fact, it’s essential to the story. The famous scientists of our world -- Tesla, Newton, Darwin -- are Saints in the city of New London, where magic is forbidden and the technology depends on a dust called myst.

The threads that tied the story together weren’t obvious and many were subtle hints and portents of things to come, unlike most YA literature. Even the story elements that seemed familiar often ended up in completely different places; the tale took unexpected directions. There were a few spots that I was able to predict what was coming next, but I’ve read hundreds of books; I wouldn’t expect a teen or YA reader to pick up on those nuances. In general, it was not predicable or heavy handed at all, including the ending.

The formatting of the story is interesting, with alternating chapters told in first person, present tense, by Vespa, and third person, past tense, by Syrus, a Tinker. It took me a minute to adjust to this style, but I think that it actually enhances the story line. You’re never trying to figure out which character’s point of view is being followed -- it’s obvious at a glance.

The weaving of fantasy and technology within a Victorian New London make this a unique addition to the world of steampunk. I stayed up until 2 am to finish this story and honestly, I’m looking forward to rereading the book to pick up details that I might’ve missed during the first reading.

The Tinker King by Tiffany Trent -- Four Stars

I was lucky and received an ARC copy of the book in an online drawing.

The sequel of The Unnaturalists picks up shortly after the first book. In this book, the Tinker, Syrus, is the main character. His chapters are first person present, while Vespa’s chapters are third person past tense.

With the destruction of much of New London and myth now illegal, the four young leaders of the new society are trying to rebuild their technology, using Syrus’ Tinkers knowledge of machines. But now new troubles threaten them and an ancient enemy rises to oppose their efforts to rebuild.

Again, the twists and turns of the story line are not predictable. I enjoyed this book but I’m hoping that since I read an advance copy, a few details have changed with the publication of the book.

I was a little disturbed at a few spots. For example, at one point there’s a huge disaster, but there was no indication of regret by the main characters of those who didn’t make it through. And the Elementals that were saved simply disappear, with only a few references and questions as to their fate. Also, the ending felt a little rushed.

Other than those details, I once again stayed up much too late while finishing the book. I couldn’t put it down. The details, wonderfully expressed and yet not overdone, including Syrus’ eating utensils, again led me to the Asian heritage of the Tinkers. The story moved right along, keeping me wanting to turn the pages and find out what happens next.

I highly recommend this book, not just to young adults, but to adult steampunk and fantasy fans as well.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Summer People by Neal Litherland -- Five Stars!!

Now, I’m not a fan of romance in any form, not classic, not historic and definitely not paranormal. But I was pleasantly surprised, while there are romantic elements in Summer People, it’s not what I’d call a romance. No, not at all.

To make this clearer -- I LOVED it!!

Litherland’s writing evokes the lyric prose of Ray Bradbury, Patricia McKillip and John Bellair’s classic, The Face in the Frost. As I read Litherland’s words, I could literally see the cafĂ© and smell the pastries, teas and coffee.

Yet there was always a sense of something lurking, behind the peaceful scenes of summer and oncoming fall that Neal painted of this New England town. Something ancient and whether for good or evil, the undercurrents slip between the characters -- hidden pasts and secrets that lie just out of sight, amid sunlit leaves and under the streetlights at night. Of music that speaks of beauty and darkness.

Litherland starts off with the peaceful scenes of early morning in the cafe and then slides us subtly into a world of magic and mystery, of the potential of young love, love triangles and awakenings, and then, little by little, shares with us the darkness that lies behind a smile and a promise.

Nope, you don’t get a spoiler, you have to read this lovely tale yourself. It’s just the right length to sit in front of a crackling fire, tea at your elbow, and savor the plot and prose before you go to bed and dream of magical lands just out of sight, just past the trees and meadows of the mundane world.

I have just one small criticism of the story. It wasn’t long enough!! 


Sacrifices by Alan D. Jones -- Four Stars!

This fascinating prequel to “To Wrestle With Darkness”, Sacrifices, which is book two of the trilogy, follows the four sisters -- Cil, Deborah, Ruth and Sarah -- who have a destiny to fulfill.

I’m not usually a fan of stories that leap back and forth in time, from the 1700s to the present, but in this case, Jones did a masterful job in not only keeping the story on-track through the centuries, but as the book drew to a close, it all became clear. The story really was in sequence, although at first it didn’t look that way at all

From slavery to sacrifices to victory, the story of the family and their journey from the past to the future is deeply imbedded in not just Christianity, but also ancient mythology, Sacrifices tells us of both Faith and the consequences of actions and reactions, whether well-meant or knowingly stepping off the path of righteousness.

I not only thoroughly enjoyed this book, I’d read it again, and again. There’s depths to the story that will only reveal themselves on rereading, and I’m looking forward to the journey.

The author generously provided a copy of the book for review.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Vote Them All Out!

Now I usually don't get too political on my personal/book blog, but this is an issue that I've been looking at for some time.

There's a lot of screaming and shouting and downright lying being done by Congressional representatives. To be honest, I'm sick of it. The President, like it or not, won by about five million votes. He's doing what the President does -- doing the best that he can despite the opposition from "the other side."

If you're as tired of this as I am, then start paying attention and planning your votes now. There's representatives coming up for reelection. Do you REALLY want those same clowns that aren't looking our for your interests back in office for another term? Or are you ready for a change?

I've even done a T-shirt and you can join me in expressing my dissatisfaction with our current Congress.

So, the way this works, once 25 shirts are preordered, your credit card will be charged and you'll get your shirt. You have 21 days to order your shirt or hoodie.

If this does well, my next T-shirt designs will fund my son's Junior Hockey fees because, well, it's expensive and I'm just a single mom.

Yes, there's a child support order in place. Put it this way, if that guy won the Lotto, I'd be able to pay off all my bills and pay for Junior Hockey until the boy is 21 -- and then send him to college too. But in the meantime, that $20 that the last of the big spenders puts on his child support every month doesn't even cover the interest. SMH