Friday, December 28, 2012

Books of Note: December Reads

Well, it did turn out that I actually got to spend the last two weeks of December reading just as planned before I go into the paper piles and start working on my sequel to Ballad of the Highwayman. And I have read some amazing books in that time, and finally got around to writing reviews. These were some of the best/most interesting books I read this month.

What's a nice girl like Alice doing with a hangman called Dan Skinslicer?
He likes a good clean killing and a hearty supper afterwards.
She likes pretty dresses and riding a well-bred horse.
But fate throws them together on a mission of mercy--to save Alice's poor uncle Frank's head and restore his dignity.
Soon they find themselves on the run from every soldier in London.
It could be their necks next!


Thoughts on the Overall Book: Where to begin? I absolutely LOVED this book. The story, the characters, the writing was just all so good that there was nothing not to like! I believe the author wrote it from an actual story, so that just makes it all the more amazing and hilarious. Truthfully, I don't really know what else to say about it.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I like this cover, actually better than the one on the copy I have which I'm not very fond of. This one is very simple though, and I like it.

Characters: Well, to start off, Alice is a lovely heroine. I loved her because she is witty, she never let anything get in her way, but she was also sympathetic, and at the times she could have been annoying, it was more that she was acting like a real person would and not like an annoying character. Dan Skinslicer was also a very lovable character. I just love the thought of a soft-hearted hangman who just viewed it as a job. I don't know if there were really men like that, but I hope there were. Hew Ffrench was an awesome character too and I liked him immediately. Major Slavering was a very good villain. Meaning, of course, that he was utterly terrible. I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, especially Alice's grandmother. Oh yes, and of course, Uncle Frank's head!

Writing Style: Wonderful. It was witty, it was fast paced, and just fit the story sooo well. This whole story appealed to my, rather dark, sense of humor (gallow's wit, pardon the pun) perfectly.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing at all it was perfect.

Conclusion: 5 stars, I would not have thought of giving it anything different. Definitely one of the best books I've read this year and a lovely read for my vacation where I promised to immerse myself in all the books I have had waiting on my shelf for a while.

Recommended Audience: Any historical fiction fans should definitely read it. I don't care what time period you like, this is a must read. Both a guy and girl read, ages 12 and up.

In this gripping journey, a fifteen-year-old pacifist must decide what he believes as he faces the reality of World War II.

The year is 1944, and fifteen-year-old Noah Garrett's parents have died from smallpox. Without any other family nearby, Noah is sent to live with his uncle, whom he has never met, in Camp Hale, Colorado. There is one small problem with this decision: Noah has been raised a pacifist, and Camp Hale is a U.S. military base for a little-known division of winter warfare soldiers called Phantoms. Can a boy who's never seen snow and doesn't believe in war survive among these soldiers?
Noah's struggle to resolve his upbringing with the horrors of World War II into a way of life he can believe in takes him on an incredible and riveting journey from the training camp to the frontlines of battle. Based on historical events, the story of Noah and the Phantoms of the Tenth Mountain Division is one of courage and conviction, brotherhood, and the joy in living


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I thought this book was a very nice, meaningful war story and perfect for the age it's geared toward. Of course the synopsis was a done deal for me when it promised a brotherhood story and I was not disappointed in that fact. It was a brotherhood story, a coming of age story, and a family story. Seriously, all my favorite things to see in a war novel. I was also intrigued because I had never heard of the "Phantoms", the skiing devision who fought in WWII. It kind of reminded me of the Rangers from the Ranger's Apprentice series a little bit, and I really enjoyed learning this bit of history I didn't know and found it very interesting.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I actually do like the cover, even though I'm not always fond of having the characters on the cover. I think the boy looks like Noah and I love the misty, snowy look to it, that and the title were actually what caught my attention, and once I realized it was a WWII novel, I was even more intrigued.

Characters: Noah is a good protagonist for this kind of book and the audience who's meant to read it. He's a very moral young man, raised by pacifists during WWII, so when he was sent to the training camp of the Phantoms after his parents died of small pox to go meet his uncle, you can see the dilemma that awaited him. His uncle James Shelley seems at first to be a wastrel, but I loved how their relationship grew and how Shelley actually turned into a likable character. There were a lot of likable characters in the supporting cast as well. I loved Noah's friends and the camaraderie that was between them with plenty of brotherly railing and banter. Daniel was your typical brooding character who usually turns up in these stories who has the hard past of losing all his family and friends. The only problem I had with him was that I wished his character and story could have went a little farther. I think Noah should have formed a better friendship with him.

Writing Style: The writing style really wasn't all that special, but it was not bad either. It was clear enough.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing really bothered me in a big way, but I think the book could have been longer, especially if it had been written for an older audience. I have no problem with the book itself, because I think that just the way it is is great for young teens, but I still think there could have been more time between the characters. And also events seem to come and go without a lot of time shown in between, but that's really the only thing I had a problem with and it probably wouldn't bother everyone. I just like a little deeper war novel myself.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The outcome was very satisfying, and I liked how Noah came to the conclusion that if he was going to have to fight in war, he would fight to save the lives of his friends and not to take the lives of the enemy.

Recommended Audience: A good guy read for probably ages 12-15. There's no content, even the parts that could have been bloody were not. It's not a hard core war novel, but reading it for the story alone is enjoyable and it's a good book if you want a quick read. As I said, I think it is a fantastic book for the age range it's written for. 

The first volume of Lloyd Alexander's classic "Westmark" trilogy finds a printer's apprentice on the road with a traveling show. Performing feats that astound and amaze, he and his friends fall into a trap set by Chief Minister Cabbarus, who is determined to wrest power from the grief-stricken king.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I'm a huge fan of classic adventure stories and also fantasy that is more alternate universe, especially ones set during the 1700s or thereabouts like this one was. I actually have never read any of Lloyd Alexander's books before which I find rather odd now since I totally would have loved these when I was younger, but now I am definitely a fan.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I don't hate it, but I don't like the character representations either. You can tell it's a fantasy/adventure novel, but I don't like how Theo or Mickle are drawn.

Characters: This book had the great kind of cast that one should expect in an adventure novel. Theo is a great hero; I liked the fact that he had morals and he was easily likable from the moment you meet him. Likewise so were Musket, Las Bombas and Mickle who was an awesome female character and actually reminded me of the kind of heroines I like to write about. There were also really good supporting characters. I liked Florian and Dr. Torrens a lot. Cabbarus could have been worse but he wasn't bad for the kind of book this is either. I do prefer a more nasty villain though.

Writing Style: Fast paced, yet not so much that there is no story line, just enough to move the story along properly as it should be. Lloyd Alexander has a wonderful writing style. It's very classic, witty, and this book actually reminded me quite a bit of "Prisoner of Zenda", it definitely had the same feel to it.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing bothered me in this book, at least nothing so major I would complain about it.

Conclusion: 4 stars, I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy and other books by the author.

Recommended Audience: Fans of classic adventure stories will love this. People who liked "Prisoner of Zenda" and books like that should definitely try this one out. It's suitable for any age.

The world knows Jack London as a writer who lived his own thrilling, real-life adventures. But there are parts of his life that have remained hidden for many years, things so horrifying even he couldn’t set them down in writing. These are the Secret Journeys of Jack London.

We meet Jack at age seventeen, following thousands of men and women into the Yukon Territory in search of gold. For Jack, the journey holds the promise of another kind of fortune: challenge and adventure. But what he finds in the wild north is something far more sinister than he could ever have imagined: kidnapping and slavery, the murderous nature of desperate men, and, amidst it all, supernatural beasts of the wilderness that prey upon the weakness in men’s hearts.

Acclaimed writers Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, along with illustrator Greg Ruth, have crafted a masterful tale both classic and contemporary, a gripping original story of the paranormal in the tradition of the great Jack London


Thoughts on the Overall Book: This was one of those books for me that has such a unique premise that I had to read it. I have actually not read any of Jack London's stuff (unless I did in school and don't remember) but I obviously know the gist of it and so this book sparked my interest. This series is about a young Jack London, before he really became famous, and his supposed 'secret journeys' that are written down, as we see in the preface, by a companion of his who he meets in the book. It was truly nothing like I thought it was going to be when I picked it up, in fact, about a third of the way through, I really had no idea which direction it was going and I liked that. There are so many predictable books out there, but this one really caught me by surprise in every chapter and I could never guess what I would find on the next page. It was very strange, but in a good way, and the kind of way I like. But I'll talk more about that later.

Cover--Yae or Nay: I do like the cover and the illustrations inside. I love the weathered look of the picture and how Jack and the wolf are both on it and you can only see a back profile of Jack. I think I have said before that I really like a back profile of a character.

Characters: I liked how Jack was portrayed. Like I said, I don't know much about the real Jack London, but I really liked how this teenage version of him was portrayed. And from what the authors said in their authors' note, his character is pretty accurate. I liked his two friends, Jim and Merrit and the boy Hal who he rescues from getting taken by slavers up in the Yukon. The slavers were appropriately nasty, and they really were vile. Lesya was appropriately mysterious and exotic, but I won't say more about that for fear of spoilers.

Writing Style: The writing style is partly why I gave the book four stars. The story itself was intriguing, but if it had not been written properly, it would have been a complete flop in my opinion, and the authors did very good with it. This was a very well written book, and the style fit the story perfectly. It was vivid, and visual and I could totally see all the scenes playing out in front of me which was great because some of the strange scenes could have been very vague. I am a fan of books that portray fantasy and supernatural happenings realistically, if that makes any sense, and this book really did. I liked the setting of the Yukon because it's such a deserted place, that you could actually believe the happenings of this book could happen. I liked how they brought in the story of the Wendigo which came from that area, and the Wendigo was portrayed to be very frightening. There's also some Russain lore in the book too, dealing with the forest spirit, Leshii. That part of the book for me was almost creepier than the Wendigo. This is more of a narrative book, and there's long chunks without dialogue, but it's hardly noticeable if you're not a fan of narrative writing. I go either way depending on who writes it, but this one you will not notice the difference at all.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't have anything to complain about, truthfully, this book was just so odd that I just kind of went along for the ride and didn't really think about it too much. It kept my attention though, and I cared for the characters, so I must have enjoyed it! I know that sounds kind of funny, but this book was just so different, I'm still not quite sure what to think of it.

Conclusion: 4 stars. Very unique read, and I'm interested to see if they top it in the next book.

Recommended Audience: Older teens, a guy book. There's a bit of language and lots of gore. This is definitely a realistic book so if you're squeamish of blood, don't read it. Also, it really is kind of creepy, so I wouldn't suggest reading it at night!


  1. I'm so glad you put in a review for Westmark. I read Westmark years ago (many years ago, I should add) and when you ask if people have read it, they tend to give you a blank look because evidently, a lot of folks have never heard of it.

    So, cool!

  2. I enjoyed it, and will hopefully be reading the rest of the trilogy when I find it. I quite enjoy Lloyd Alexander's writing style.

  3. "Westmark" does seem to be one of those little gems that very few people know about. And I personally think it's Lloyd Alexander's best series.