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Rating: 3.5/4

Summary:  “The half-human, half-angel Nephilim have thrived for centuries by instilling fear among humans, instigating war, and infiltrating the most powerful and influential families of history. Only a secret group of scholars, the Society of Angelologists, has endeavored to combat the spread of evil generated by Nephilim. Now, a strange affliction is destroying the Nephilim, and the cure is rumored to be an ancient artifact of great power. Sister Evangeline of the St. Rose Convent discovers an archived letter regarding the artifact’s location and is thrust into the race to locate the artifact before the Nephilim do. She uncovers her family’s past … and their secrets assist in her dangerous hunt.” –STARRED Library Journal   

Reaction: I’ve been mulling this one over for quite some time now, trying to decide how I feel about the novel. (Based on that alone, you can tell it was thought provoking.) Was it interesting? Yes. Nice work of quasi-real religious fiction? Yes. Obviously very Da Vinci Code – and, as with that work, I’m sure some religious bodies are strongly objecting to this work somewhere, too. However, since I read it as fiction (just as I read The Da Vinci Code as fiction), I have no problems enjoying the imagination it took to create this work.  

My main objection to the book is that the whole middle section (an entire third of the book) didn’t compel me. I’m kind of surprised it made it past editing. The first and last sections were set in modern time, while the middle section was years past and designed to provide some background on both the quest and the characters. For me, it was just too long. It didn’t have the same flow or urgency as the rest of the work, so I ended up reading through quickly just to make it back to the story I really cared about.  While the information provided in the middle section was helpful, it could have been conveyed more effectively.

Additionally, I found the character of Evangeline somewhat shallowly portrayed. She is smart, pretty, and dutiful – I get that. But I wanted more about how and why her father got her to join a convent in modern times. I wanted to know more about how she felt about it – probably because I didn’t buy that she was okay with it.  And I thought the ending was rather sudden.

That being said, I liked it. The plot and the “religious fantasy,” if you will, are the high points of this work, and made it worth reading for me.

Rating: 5  

Reaction: A member of the minor nobility, female Renaissance painter Sofonisba Anguissola studied under Michelangelo despite the social and artistic limitations imposed upon her because of her gender.  After gaining some minor acclaim, Sofi is invited to join the court of the King to become the art teacher and friend to young Queen Elisabeth of Spain. An unfinished love affair gives Sofi a different perspective on the court of Spanish King Felipe II, a place where cruelty and joy, power and hope comingle; a place where women are little more than bargaining chips.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know historical fiction isn’t my norm. Because of that, I went in with mixed expectations despite several glowing reviews.  But wow – it was fabulous!  There was a definite feeling that the book was painted instead of written, which was perfect for a book about a painter.  The combination of historical fact and reasonable fiction was well imagined and carefully integrated (though there were occasional stretches).  The time period was also well drawn and complete – an excellent period piece. The detail in which the paintings were described was also lovely. While I prefer architecture (I could cheerfully get a PhD in Gothic Architecture) and black-and-white photographs, the discussion of the paintings was very interesting and was effectively used to further both the plot and our understanding of the characters. All in all, a beautiful work! Highly recommended.

In defense of fantasy –

Let me ask you a few simple questions: Do you think fantasy is a fluff genre, not worthy of inclusion with “real” literature? Do you believe that people who read it are either unintelligent or refuse to challenge themselves? Don’t people only read it because they love dragons, or possibly elves? Are you condescending to people who have read fantasy other than The Lord of the Rings (or if they read it BEFORE it was a movie) and Harry Potter?

I was recently directed to a post that made me laugh out loud while nodding (thanks, Michelle!). And if you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should read it.  If you like fantasy, you should also read it. Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “So no, I don’t particularly want to read a book you think of as mediocre merely because it has a dragon on the cover.”
  • “And as fantasy readers aren’t all, to steal a phrase from Terry Pratchett, a fourteen-year-old boy named Kevin, we all value different aspects of our reading and read for very different reasons.”

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten the once-over look from the librarian when I walk up with my mixed pile of  fiction, YA and fantasy novels when I look like a “normal,” 20-something woman.  The fact I’m often on my way home dressed in a suit seems to add to their confusion. So I think it’s time for a public declaration.

Yes, I LOVE (good) fantasy. Yes, I LOVE (good) YA. Yes, many of the books labeled as classics trigger a gag reflex in me (yes, I’ve read a fair number of classics and no, this is not a universal reaction among fantasy readers). And I’m okay with that. Is there an element of escapism in my reading? Sure – I read medical records, police reports and case law all day, every day. Please forgive me for wanting something with a plot (and good grammar… that doesn’t involve constipation). Is it a literarily worthless genre? The English professors who wrote much of it probably don’t think so. Is it the choice of an uninformed and/or uneducated and/or uncultured reader? Well, I’d like to think I’m informed, at least relatively cultured, and about as educated as anyone – and I love it.

I could keep going, but I won’t. So, if you’ve been holding out, here’s my challenge – give fantasy a chance. I’m happy to give you a recommendation!

TBR:

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Jen’s review makes me willing to give it a try! I’m generally very suspicious of authors borrowing other author’s persons or characters (anyone else fee like that’s cheating??), so I don’t promise to like it.

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher    

Appears to be about a huge prison that was created to keep all the undesirables in, and everyone else out – but one guy wants to get out and one girl wants to get in. It came up on my Amazon “you viewed X, so you must like Y” – for once Amazon seems to be right!

 

Rating: 2.5/3   

Reaction: As a child, Grace is attacked by wolves and dragged into the forest, but somehow saved by one member of the pack with glowing golden eyes.  For the next six years, her life revolves around this wolf to the extent that she misses him during the summer when he’s not around. When Grace finds a wounded boy with luminous golden eyes on the back porch, she realizes that he is her wolf in human form. Drama and teenage love ensue as Grace tries to find a way to stay with her true love.

As I said in my TBR, werewolf literature was bound to spring up. In fact, I thought Shiver had many of the same themes as Twilight – struggling to retain humanity against biological mandate and love blossoming against all odds, etc.  Positive: This story is a different twist on werewolves in that the men become wolves due to the season and the temperature, with no ability to choose this fate or form. That’s interesting. Negative: The plot progression and characters just weren’t believable. If I were dragged off by wolves as an 11-year-old child, I think I would be traumatized and never, ever wanted to see another wolf again… I would not have spent SIX YEARS fantasizing about a wolf’s great eyes. That makes the beginning is weak to me and so I started the book reacting negatively to a main character – never a good sign.  Once Sam is human, I liked the story more, but I still didn’t find it compelling. Perhaps the characters didn’t have enough depth for me to really empathize with them and get into the story.  (And Sam just isn’t the same quality of stud that Twilight’s Jacob is…) Not a bad read, but not my favorite.

And the mini reviews continue to roll:

Rating: 4.5/5

Reaction: In this world, there are two types of people – those who are graced and those who are not. Those who are graced are marked by eyes of different colors, and have the ability to do one thing very, very well. For Lady Katsa, her gift is killing.  She killed her first man – a cousin who was threatening her – at the age of 8, and since that point has been used by her uncle to keep his enemies in check through fear. She hates her role, and hates her gift that almost completely isolates her, despite her near invincibility.  No one can best her (or even challenge her) in a fight, until she meets Prince Po. Po is a *cough – hot – cough* man from a different kingdom who also has a grace for fighting. Through their friendship, Katsa learns more about herself, her power and her ability to choose her path.

I loved it. The characters are likeable, and I love strong female characters. There’s an interesting mix of eras in this book, because Katsa has a very modern feel despite the fact she’s set in a fantasy (old) setting.  I can’t say I was surprised at the ending – the plot progresses in a predictable manner, but it’s a fun, pretty clean read. I also enjoyed Cashore’s idea of a “grace.” While many fantasy novels gift heros with special talents, I like that these folks have a visible sign of their blessing/curse.

It’s well done, and made me want to take up archery or fencing.  I will certainly read the next book!

Rating: 4.5                                                     

Discussion: Percy Jackson, meanders through life as a budding juvenile delinquent to whom very odd things happen. He continually gets kicked out of schools for unbelievable occurences that may or may not be his fault.  Percy explains all this oddness away until his life is in such danger that his mother sends him to Half-blood Camp.  There, he realizes that he’s special – half mortal, half god.  In the company of a daughter of Athena and a satyr, Percy sets out on a quest (I do love quests) to save the Olympians from war by finding Zeus’ stolen master bolt – which many others think he himself stole!

Very enjoyable, light and kid-friendly read. I loved how Riordan refreshed my mythology while entertaining me with the tale of a 12-year-old son of a Greek god realizing that he is both cursed and blessed beyond mortals. I can see the St. Louis Arch out of my office window, so I also particularly enjoyed the part where Percy visited the Arch and got into a fight while at the claustrophobic top. I’ll have to read the rest of the series – it’s definitely worthy of inclusion in my top YA books!

Who’s seen the movie? Good?