Saturday, February 26, 2011

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy
This story picks up a few months after A College of Magics left off. In an alternate England of 1908 (Titanic beat her own trans-Atlantic record), Samuel Lambert, an American sharpshooter from the Wild West has been recruited by Glasscastle University, a top college of magic in England. The fellows of Glasscastle want to test Lambert's accuracy of aim in order prepare a top-secret project. Lambert feels at home there. He loves the calm and peace of Glasscastle, especially the evening chanting of the wards, but he knows Glasscastle isn't for the likes of him. For one thing, he doesn't know the first thing about magic and for another, he doesn't have the right background. Still, he is enjoying his time spent wandering the paths of Glasscastle and admiring the architecture; he even finds the Provost's wife charming for all she tries to read his fortune in tea leaves and by other methods Lambert finds silly. Six months into Lambert's visit, Provost Robert Brailsford's youngest sister Jane arrives unexpectedly. Lambert doesn't know what to make of Jane. She seems the serious, school ma'm type but then she bursts out with outrageous comments that reveal her sense of humor. She also insists on driving a motor car and treats Lambert and his friend Nicholas Fell to a wild ride. Nicholas Fell, the absent-minded professor, has a destiny to fulfill and Jane has come to ensure that he stops resisting his fate. When a stranger walks through the gates of Glasscastle and breaks into Fell's study, Lambert wonders whether someone else is after his friend and why. Lambert shares his suspicions with Robert Brailsford and the next thing he knows Robert has disappeared. Then Fell disappears and no one will believe Lambert that Fell hasn't just gone off on his own to pursue his studies in peace. Together, Lambert and Jane head off to in the motor car to find Robert and Fell and stumble upon the secret behind the mysterious disappearances. Lambert learns first hand just what the mysterious Agincourt project is. This is Lambert's story and almost a coming of-age book combined with an exciting plot. This sequel is much better than the first book. The properties of magic are still a bit muddy but Jane explains that Greenlaw magic is highly personal and individual so I guess that's why College of Magics was so confusing. Lambert is the main character of the story and I liked him a lot. He has a good sense of humor and he's an honorable man. He's an unusual type of character and it's fun to read about someone different. I absolutely love Jane. I enjoyed her  as Farris's friend in College of Magics and adore her in this book. She's smart, witty, brave and daring. I love her quirky sense of humor and the way she can look serious and sound ridiculous at the same time. I also love that she has the ability to mock the Fellows to their faces without them knowing about it. She's a really strong and fun heroine and she and Lambert have great chemistry. The story veers off in a rather wild direction with a fairy tale about a lustful shape changer that seemingly has nothing to do with the plot and is a bit mature for younger teens. There's also a lot of mathematical discussion which makes my head hurt. I know that's stereotypical of me to say but I really am terrible at math and I hate it. The end of the plot is a little rushed and confusing and I wasn't thrilled with the final action but there's a possibility for another sequel where we might learn more about what happens to the characters. Even if you didn't like College of Magics, read this sequel!

Sweet Disorder by Jacqueline Kolosov -- Young Adult Historical Fiction
Sixteen-year-old Miranda is an Elizabethan girl dreaming of marrying her sweetheart Henry Raleigh. The her father dies deeply in debt and Miranda's world is changed forever. Her father's friend Lord Grey petitions thr Queen to reduce the debt but it isn't enough. Miranda's suitor cries off and Miranda is sent to live with distant relatives she's never met in order to prepare for appearing at court. Her new guardian, the Countess of Turbrury is strict and dour and Miranda's new home is gloomy. She misses her mother and the beauty of her old life. She finds a friend in the maid's daughter but they must meet secretly. Finally, Miranda is ready to appear at court. She hopes to find a true friend among the other maidens but learns that she must be wary and not place her trust in the wrong people. To complicate matters, Henry Raleigh is also at court and Miranda isn't sure if he's still the same man she fell in love with. There's also the handsome, charming Kyd, a commoner who befriends Miranda and offers to help her find a way out of the awful marriage the Countess has planned for her. Miranda hopes her sewing and embroidery skills will win her the favor of Queen Elizabeth and gain her her freedom. Miranda has to navigate the Queen's tricky moods and overcome the Queen's jealousy of her mother. By the time the story is done, Miranda has managed to create a "sweet disorder" in court. This novel has many wonderful details about period clothing and life in Elizabeth I's time. The writing is lovely and the story flows nicely. I couldn't put it down until I found out what happened to Miranda. The story is sweet but rather unrealistic. Even so, I enjoyed it. I recommend this book for teens. Adults who are mildly interested in the period and looking for a sweet romantic story rather than an epic or saga found in adult novels will like this book too.

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