Friday, August 31, 2012

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week  . . .

Secret Letters by Leah Scheier -- Young Adult Historical Mystery

Headstrong and clever, sixteen-year-old Dora is not about to act the proper Victorian lady. She would much rather solve mysteries like her idol Sherlock Holmes. When a blackmailer threatens her beloved cousin's happy marriage, Dora heads off with her cousin to London to consult the great Sherlock Holmes. Dora is excited and even nervous to meet the great detective; not just because he is her idol, but because he is also her biological father. Upon arriving on Holmes' doorstep, Dora learns that Sherlock Holmes has met his demise. Heartbroken, Dora doesn't know what to do next but the brash young Peter Cartwright, detective in training, offers to help. His new master all but dismisses the case but Peter and Dora discover a clue that could link the disappearance of an heiress to the blackmailer. Dora must use all her wits and detecting skills as she goes undercover as a maidservant. If she can swallow her pride and let Peter help, they may be able to solve both mysteries before anyone gets hurt. This is a cute Victorian mystery for young teens. The mystery was impossible to figure out. Even though I sort of wondered about something, I really had no clue at all as to what had happened. The story isn't too grisly except for the final confrontation at the end which is far too ghastly for such a tame book. I really liked Dora. She's very human. She's overconfident and stupid and makes a lot of mistakes, but she learns a lot along the way. I especially liked her relationship with Peter - they keep each other humble. This novel is best read by older kids or young teens but probably not by adults. It is a tamer version of a typical Victorian mystery. Dora is akin to other Victorian female spies like Mary Quinn (Y.S. Lee's The Agency series) and Julia  (Lady Julia Grey novels). Dora and Peter's relationship is similar to that of Mary and James and Lady Julia and Brisbane. I enjoyed this book and I hope there's a sequel!

Magic Under Stone by Jaclyn Dolamore -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

This book picks up where Magic Under Glass left off with Nim and Erris trying to find a way to free his spirit from his clockwork body. Their journey takes them to the remote home of Ordorio Valdana, one of the greatest necromancers of all time. Though Ordorio is not home, the young people are invited to spend the winter to cheer up Ordorio's sickly daughter Violet. Violet, the only child of the necromancer and his fairy wife is Erris's niece. He thinks he can make her well but the girl is stubborn and spoiled. Nim worries about her beloved Erris and is confused over her feelings for Hollin. She finds strength in learning magic. She's determined to free Erris no matter what. Ifra is a teenage Jinn, on his 5th master in only a few years. Ifra longs to be free. His heart is not in the wishes he grants and doing violence makes him ill. He falls under the control of the fairy king Luka and his son Belin. Luka wants Erris and sends Ifra to find him. Ifra hates the task set before him but finds something quite unexpected. A fairy civil war is brewing and Luka and Belin want to make sure they are on the winning side, with Ifra's help. Can Ifra help his master but be true to himself? Will Erris ever get his body back? This book takes a long time to get going. At first there's a lot of brooding, which is understandable. There's also a plot similar to The Secret Garden. The story is told alternately by Nim and Ifra which makes the story even more slow and unnecessarily complicated. I would have told Ifra's story in a novella and then linked him up with the main plot in this book. That would have given more time to tell the actual exciting part of the story which instead comes out rushed and a bit anti-climatic. There is a lot of time spent on magic and the principles of it and explaining how certain things are done which also bogs down the story. I was a little disappointed because I was dying to read about Nim and Erri's journey and instead most of the book is about Ifra and his journey while Nim and Erris mostly just do nothing. This story really could have benefited from more action from the main characters and more action earlier in the novel. The story doesn't work as a stand alone so you must read Magic Under Glass first. I recommended reading the last third of the book to find out what happens.

Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke -- Inspirational Romance/Historical Fiction

Owen Allen has big dreams for his future. He's soon to set sail on the Titanic to join his uncle in New Jersey. Owen knows his green thumb and big ideas will make Uncle Sean's nursery business thrive and grow and then he can send for his sister Annie. Owen wants to build a better life for his sister but he faces a challenge from his wealthy aunt who wants to control his and Annie's lives. Wresting Annie away from Aunt Eleanor will be difficult but Owen has faith that everything will work out. Michael is a street urchin from Belfast. Since his parents' deaths, he has known nothing but hardship and misery. When he gets the opportunity to stow away on Titanic during her sea trials, he jumps at the chance to be rid of his abusive uncle. In Southampton Michael meets Owen and the older young man gives Michael a chance to redeem himself and make something of his life. Michael is envious of Owen and Annie's relationship and longs to be part of a family again. He blames himself for the loss of his little sister and his inability to save her. Michael stows away on Titanic once again and runs into Owen whose generous nature provides Michael with safe passage and dreams for a new life. When the ship sinks, Owen gives Michael all his dreams for the future and his life belt and sends the boy off into a lifeboat. Michael survives the sinking and feels guilty about taking Owen's place. He promised Owen he would look after Annie and is determined to keep his promise though it means working hard at gardening and landscaping - something he knows nothing about. In the years following the sinking, Annie is crushed under a mound of burdens. She must learn to forgive and be strong if she can ever hope to lay down her burdens. This novel reads like a Victorian melodrama. Some of it even sounds like Uncle Tom's Cabin and other sentimental novels of that period. I had to stop reading the book before the end and then skip ahead to find out if there was a happy ending. I almost didn't even make it that far I was so tired of all the abuse the author heaped on her characters.The message is forgiveness. There's a lot of blame and finger pointing that could be done and the way the characters choose to handle it is the crux of the story. I'm not a Christian and I found there was a little too much of a Christian message to please me. One character seems to carry so much hatred, there doesn't seem to be a realistic motivation. Even though the motivation is explained, I found it difficult to believe that one person could do so much and people were willing to go along with it. The character growth is tied a lot to the message of the novel. I could not really feel for most of the characters because the story is told in a rather detached manner from the points-of-view of Annie and Michael. I felt for Annie but I found Michael whiny and boring. We never get to know why they love each other as very few of their letters are included in the plot. I would have liked more development of the relationship and less drama.  I wouldn't recommend this as a novel about Titanic because it is more about the aftermath and the effect one person's death had on the other characters. There's very little about the ship and what is there can pretty much be found in any other story or documentary about the Titanic. Downton Abbey fans might like to read this book. It includes women's suffrage and nursing during WWI. Lady Sybil would fit right in. I would not recommend this book to non-Christians and atheists. Agnostics, depending on personal preference, may or may not enjoy the story glossing over the obvious Christian references.

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