Friday, June 28, 2013

Books of Note: June Reads

My first month of Summer reads! I've read some pretty good books and some okay books, thankfully nothing really horrible. I've also gotten a few books on Review requests, so you'll be seeing those reviews posted here once I finish them. For now, these were my favorite reads of June:

Catherine Jinks spins a colorful tale loaded with action, down-and-dirty details of medieval life, and a healthy helping of sarcasm sure to appeal to teen readers - especially boys.

Down on his luck and kicked in the pants one too many times, sixteen-year-old Pagan Kidrouk arrives on the doorstep of the Templar Knights in medieval Jerusalem, looking for work as a squire. He’s expecting only some protection from the seedier aspects of life on the street and a few square meals. Instead, Pagan finds himself hard at work for Lord Roland de Bram - an exciting life of polishing Lord Roland’s armor, laundering his garments, and even training to fight by his side. 

But as the Infidel Saladin leads his army to Jerusalem, it becomes more and more difficult for Pagan and Lord Roland to discern what action to take or whom to trust. Neither Saladin’s army nor the Christian Crusaders offer easy answers. Is a bloody battle for control of the Holy City inevitable?


Thoughts on the Overall Book: This is one of those books that I can forgive the style of writing and enjoy the story because of the characters. It's not the best book I've ever read, but I did enjoy it a lot, and it was a good quick read, nice for a rainy afternoon.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I actually really like the artwork for the cover. I think it fits the voice of the book very well. It kind of makes me wish the artist had done some illustrations for the interior.

Characters: I loved Pagan. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much as I did. He's the kind of character I always enjoy reading about. Yes, he's snarky and sarcastic, but he's a street urchin, an orphan, and he has to be to survive. I can also see that he's growing in the story, and likely to do more growing in later installments. He's one of those character who, while sympathetic, might not be the most admirable character in the beginning, but you know he will grow into a really good person by the end of the story. And he does, already at the end of the first book. I also really liked Roland; you can see a great father-son type of relationship budding between him and Pagan and I always love to see that. The supporting characters are colorfully characterized and really fun to read about. I look forward to seeing more of some of the nastier characters in later books too.

The Romance: None

Writing Style: This was the only problem I had with the book. I really didn't care much for the writing style as such. It's first person, present tense (which I rarely like anyway) but it was also choppy, and almost to me read like a movie script. However, somehow, there still manages to be enough characterization and description to get through the book without too much annoyance. And I will admit I loved Pagan as a narrator, but I think he would have been just as entertaining if the author had used a different style to write this book. So did I like the style? Not really, but it wasn't enough to turn me off of the book altogether. It is funny though, and makes for a quick read. If I didn't enjoy Pagan so much though, I probably would have knocked another star off for the writing style. I do like how Catherine Jinks paints a very accurate portrayal of the time period though. Unlike some authors, she certainly isn't afraid to portray the filthy side of the medieval era. And I mean that literally. It's not pretty, but I like that she did it. Authenticity is always important to me, even if it isn't nice.

Problems/What bothered me: Apart from the writing style, I didn't have any problems with the book.

Conclusion: 4 stars. This series will probably never get more from me because of the writing style, but I loved Pagan a lot and I definitely want to continue his story and see where it leads.

Recommended Audience: People looking for a quick historical read and fans of historical/Templar fiction in general. Probably more guy read but girls who don't mind a little filth and gore would like it too. Ages 15 and up.

In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk—whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I loved this book because it was typical of a fairy story, and yet it wasn't, which made it all the more intriguing. It was over all, pure historical fiction, but I loved how it felt like it had magic in it. It was dark, frightening at times and adventurous all in one, with a really great cast of characters.

Cover--Yea or Nay: I do like the cover, it definitely shows the time period, but also looks kind of like a fairy tale.

Characters: Kate Sutton was a really wonderful heroine. She never came across as annoying, she was brave, resourceful, sensible and got what had to be done done without fussing or breaking down. Even when she was put under a lot of pressure that would have lesser female characters becoming a puddle of emotion, Kate stood firm and I loved her for that. Christopher was also an awesome hero. He had a good heart, was a little tortured, and I also rather liked his short temper, it seemed to make him human. I liked a lot of the supporting characters too. Sir Geoffrey was a likable character, and I really liked Randal. I always have a soft spot for the minstrel or fool characters in books; they always end up helping save the day in the end. The Lady wasn't quite as frightening as she could have been, but I did still find her mildly chilling at times, and the reader knew she was perfectly capable of what she said. I think what made her scarier was the fact that she really showed no emotion. I was actually really glad Alicia wasn't in the story more because I think she would have been really annoying. Master John was also creepy and slimy, he was fun to hate.

The Romance: The romance really doesn't come in until the very end, which probably made this book even better in my opinion and made me like the characters even more. In most modern YA books, Kate would have fallen in love with Christopher as soon as she saw him being all enigmatic standing at the window, but no, that was not our Kate Sutton, thank heavens!

Writing Style: The writing style was really lovely. Descriptive, and painted a beautiful picture. The whole book had the feel of a quiet, misty forest to me, with a little bit of eeriness on the side. The dialogue and everything fit well with the time period, and the whole book read like the fairy tale re-telling. I particularly liked the premise of the book. The story was like an old Celtic fairy tale and was a bit reminiscent of stories like Tam Lin, but instead of actually being Fairy Folk, the 'Fairy Folk" were not fairies at all, but a Druidic cult who spawned the ideas of fairies. So while the book felt in every way like fantasy, it was really historical fiction, and I really liked that about it. It was very well done and surprisingly believable as well.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't have any problems with it.

Conclusion: 5 stars. I enjoyed this book a lot, between the characters, story line, and writing itself, it's become a new favorite and one I will have to add to my shelves.

Recommended Audience: Girl read, fans of fairy tale re-tellings would probably enjoy this one even though it isn't technically a re-telling. Ages 12 and up.

Finnegan MacCullen: a thirteen-year-old apprentice with the famous Irish temperament.
Gideon Lir: a legendary Celtic warrior with a bit of a temper of his own.

Secretly, these blue-collar warriors battle the hobgoblins infesting their suburban neighborhood...when they are not battling each other.

Finn (not bleedin' Finnegan) MacCullen is eager to begin his apprenticeship. He soon discovers the ups and downs of hunting monsters in a suburban neighborhood under the demanding tutelage of the Knight, Gideon Lir. Both master and apprentice are descendents of the Tuatha De Danaan, a magical race of warriors from Ireland. Scattered long ago to the four corners of the world, the De Danaan wage a two thousand year old clandestine battle with their ancient enemy, the Amandán, a breed of goblin-like creatures.

Now with the beasts concentrating their attacks on Finn, he and his master must race to locate the lost Spear of the Tuatha De Danaan, the only weapon that can destroy the Amandán, all the while hiding his true identity from his new friends, Rafe and Savannah, twins whose South African roots may hold a key to Finn's survival.

Armed with a bronze dagger, some ancient Celtic magic, and a hair-trigger temper, Finn is about to show his enemies the true meaning of "fighting Irish."


Thoughts on the Overall Book: I was a little wary starting this because I thought it was going to be pretty much like an Irish version of Ranger's Apprentice, and wouldn't be all that original. However, this book really surprised me in a good way. It was not only an original storyline (sure there are similarities between it and Ranger's Apprentice, but not so much it seemed like just a spin-off) but it also had some really awesome characters. But then, you can pretty much give me anything having to do with Celtic legend and I'm happy.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Not the worst character impression cover ever, but I think something more abstract would have worked better. Like maybe one of their knives over top of Celtic knot-work or something.

Characters: Finn was a good protagonist. Yes, he was snarky on occasion (he's a 13 year old boy!) but he was never so annoying that I couldn't become attached to him, which I did. He genuinely wants to become a Knight of the Tuatha De Dannan and he also wants to earn Gideon's respect. Whenever he does something really stupid, it's for the right reasons at least. I also loved Gideon. Yeah, he's pretty much our typical sarcastic, gruff mentor, but there was also something about him that was original as well. I don't know if I can pin point it, but it's there. I love sarcastic characters like Gideon, and I loved the master-apprentice/father-son relationship between him and Finn. I also liked all the supporting characters. Rafe was awesome and I hope to see more of him and Savannah in later books. I also loved Mac Roth. He's your typical big Celtic warrior. While I had a lot of the same opinions about Asher as Finn did as first (snotty) I also saw through him. And it's undeniable that his role in the story is an important one as well.

The Romance: None!

Writing Style: It's not particularly special or beautiful, but it's definitely not bad. The dialogue flows well, and is usually pretty funny and wonderfully sarcastic, and the description is easy to picture. The action scenes were easy to follow as well, which is always good. I loved the idea of modern Irish warriors. I've become more and more in love with Urban Fantasy that deals with folklore and legend, so I'm excited to see more Irish thrown into the mix as that's pretty much my ultimate favorite of all time. I'll admit I don't know as much about the Tuatha De Dannan as Na Fiana but I do know the legends of Fionn mac Cumhail and I like how there's a little of that thrown in. And while the Amandan weren't the scariest bad beasties ever, they were certainly frightening enough to make the fight between them and the De Dannan convincing.

Problems/What bothered me: I didn't have any specific problems with the story. I kind of felt it could have been longer and I was kind of hoping we would get to find out what happened to Gideon's last apprentice in this one. On a technical side, there were some typos but it wasn't anything terrible.

Conclusion: 4 stars. I look forward to continuing this series. In fact, I am much awaiting the second book. This one definitely left me wanting more of Finn and Gideon and I'm kind of sad this book was so short.

Recommended Audience: Ranger's Apprentice fans would definitely enjoy this series, as would Percy Jackson fans as well. A great guy read, 13 and up. (Just a content note: there was some language that I personally don't feel in appropriate for kids under 13, but that's the parent's call)


  1. I've only read Pagan's Crusade, which is an Australian-written classic, the first of five. The final book, Pagan's Daughter, begins with the line,"Oh, no! I've killed the chicken!" Actually, I rather like the style. As for the "father-son" thing, Pagan is more like a father to the innocent naive Roland than the other way around, as you'll see if you read the rest of the series. In it, Pagan grows up, goes into the Church, has an unintended one night stand with a Cathar girl and hence the title of the last book, by which time he's dead. It has a lot of stuff about the Cathar heresy and a powerful relationship between Pagan and Roland, whom he protects till the end. I loved it, though to be honest, it's hard to get teens these days to read straight historical fiction.

    1. I'll admit the writing style is kind of growing on me now that I'm used to it. I just finished the second one too, and I do see what you mean about Pagan taking care of Roland which is definitely what squires should do =) In any case, I love their relationship. I think it's sad how teens don't read all that much straight HF, but I think books like this can actually help with that. They're certainly easy reading.

  2. Oh, hang on, I have also read Perilous Gard, which I thought was well and truly out of print. BTW, the cover of this one and Pagan are both unfamiliar to me.

    1. Perilous Gard seems to be pretty easy to find here, which actually kind of surprised me. Maybe it's just gone out in Australia. That happens a lot here with older British books. Good ones too, unfortunately.