Monday, April 18, 2011

The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

He holds the secret that can end the world.

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330. Nearly seven hundred years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life. The records show that he died in 1418. But his tomb is empty.

The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protect--the Book of Abraham the Mage. It's the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world.

That's exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won't know what's happening until it's too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it.

Sometimes legends are true. And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

A friend recommended this book to me, and at times I almost wish he hadn't. From the minute I started reading it, I didn't want to put it down.  I wanted to skip all of my classes so I could just stay home and read.  I love the mixture of ancient and modern; magic and technology; history and legend.

Another draw to this book is just how real and varied the characters are. I talk about "real" characters a lot, but it's important. Flaws and little personality quirks are what make characters three-dimensional rather than flat and boring.  Michael Scott's characters are anything but flat.  Each of them have different personalities, different things that make them tick.  It's fun reading about characters from mythology acting like normal people, and normal people not acting normal.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

In the kingdom of Ayortha, who is the fairest of them all? Certainly not Aza. She is thoroughly convinced that she is ugly. What she may lack in looks, though, she makes up for with a kind heart, and with something no one else has–a magical voice. Her vocal talents captivate all who hear them, and in Ontio Castle they attract the attention of a handsome prince – and a dangerous new queen. In this masterful novel filled with humour, adventure, romance, and song, Newbery Honor author Gail Carson Levine invites you to join Aza as she discovers how exquisite she truly is.

Although, for me, Fairest wasn't quite as amazing as Ella Enchanted, it was another great example of Gail Carson Levine's uncanny perception.  I loved Aza, both for her virtues and her faults.  Ivi is both hateable and pitiable.  Ijori is another great prince, like Char in Ella Enchanted, and Skulni... Well, he's just a manipulating, evil little pest.  It's a great companion to Ella Enchanted, making many references to that book.  Lucinda, the silly fairy, shares her part in the story, which always brings trouble.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fairest. It was a fun, cute, new take on the classic tale of Snow White.  It definitely falls in my top ten retold fairy tales. 

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Finding your one true love can be a Grimm experience!

After her boyfriend dumps her for her older sister, sophomore Savannah Delano wishes she could find a true prince to take her to the prom. Enter Chrissy (Chrysanthemum) Everstar: Savannah’s gum-chewing, cell phone–carrying, high heel-wearing Fair Godmother. Showing why she’s only Fair—because she’s not a very good fairy student—Chrissy mistakenly sends Savannah back in time to the Middle Ages, first as Cinderella, then as Snow White. Finally she sends Tristan, a boy in Savannah’s class, back instead to turn him into her prom-worthy prince. When Savannah returns to the Middle Ages to save Tristan, they must team up to defeat a troll, a dragon, and the mysterious and undeniably sexy Black Knight. Laughs abound in this clever fairy tale twist from a master of romantic comedy.

Take a traditional idea, turn it on its head, and you've got My Fair Godmother. Chrissy is a bit self absorbed, and just wants to hurry through "helping" Savannah so she can go on to Godmother University.  Somehow Savannah, Tristan, and Savannah's sister Jane and her boyfriend Hunter (also Savannah's ex) manage to turn the mess Chrissy made into a happy ending.

The story was fun, original, and at times made me laugh out loud.  My one problem with it is that Chrissy fit so entirely the stereotypical almost cheerleader. Kind of air-headed, only thinking about fashion, and what she needs to get what she wants.  Setting that aside, the rest of the characters are real. They could be the people living down the street. And the mixture of normal with fantastic is just right.  I don't know if I'd read this one over and over, but once or twice a year I could.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

After the Russian revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties—not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome earl of Westerholme. to make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there’s the small matter of rupert’s beautiful and nasty fiancĂ©e. . . .

In this wonderful tale of love, honor, friendship, and trust, Eva Ibbotson has surpassed herself. Anna is a bubbly, kind, sweet example of traditional values like hard work, propriety, and generosity.  As her father so aptly says, "I may spoil her, but is she spoilt?"  Rupert is quiet, handsome, and cares deeply for his mother and the staff at Mersham.  He's loyal, honest, and would never go back on something he'd agreed to do.  Muriel, the fiancee who is more interested in eugenics than possibly anything else, may be perfect on the outside, but she's far from it in all other respects.

Although the story starts a bit slow, once I got into it a little bit I couldn't stop reading.  I fell in love with Rupert almost as quickly as Anna did.  And, like all girls, there's a soft spot in my heart for Sergi as well.  I would highly recommend Countess Below Stairs to just about anyone.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

The exciting sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball

Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other's countries in the name of better political alliances—and potential marriages. It's got the makings of a fairy tale—until a hapless servant named Ellen is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

Of all fairy tales, the one I hesitate to read retellings of the most is Cinderella.  The story is so classic and simple that it's been done a million times.  Each version has its own take, but there are still way too many of them.  However, I'd read Princess of Glass a million times over.  For one thing, it really is a whole new take on the old story.

Princess Poppy has already had more dealings with magic than anyone would ever want in one lifetime, but once again she gets thrown into a web of it when the mysterious girl shows up at the ball.  In Poppy's gown, nonetheless!  Ellen has never dealt with magic, and so doesn't realize that there's always a price to pay.

Even though I've read the book a dozen times or more, Princess of Glass keeps me turning pages every time I open it.  This is my personal favorite of Jessica Day George's books.  I would reccomend it to any girl, especially those who love spunky heroines, dashing foreign princes, and a good old fashioned romance. (Not that Poppy would appreciate me calling it that!)

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Princess Rose is the eldest of twelve sisters condemned to dance each night for the wicked King Under Stone in his palace deep within the earth. It is a curse that has haunted the girls since their birth--and only death will set them free.

Then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure and a resolve that matches her own, and freedom suddenly begins to seem a little less impossible. To defeat the king and his dark court, they will need one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all--true love.

In a twist on the classic Brothers' Grimm fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Jessica Day George has created a story with a dark and mysterious evil alongside a beautiful blooming romance. 

Unlike in the original tale, Rose and her sisters--the "younger set": Orchid, Pansy, and Petunia, the "in-betweeners": Violet, Iris, Hyacinth, Daisy, Poppy, and Lilac, and the "older set" (in which Rose is included): Lily, and Jonquil--aren't just truant princesses who disappear every night because they want to.  Their mother, Queen Maude, made a bargain with the King Under Stone that he would help her to bear children, and in return she would dance for him.

Put shortly, I love this book.  Galen is fun, kind, courageous, curious, and all he wants is for the princesses, Rose in particular, to be freed from whatever evil ails them.  Rose and her sisters aren't just passive victims of their fate, and each one tackles it in a different way.  Though sometimes they feel they'll never get out of it, at the same time they never quite lose hope.  The characters are believable and lovable, or intensely hateable in the case of Under Stone and his half-blood sons.  It's well written, and impossible to put down.  I'd give it five stars every time!