Book review: The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Shields Down Digital Front-smallerI have finally finished The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down! This historical fiction novel by Jillian Bald can be found on Book Club Reading List. Now, I say “finally” because I have been diligently working on it for the better part of a month. It is quite long, but very entertaining!

Synopsis

Resi is a girl from Greece whose father arranges her marriage to a Croatian baron’s son to keep the peace after a trading deal goes awry. Betrothed from a young age, Resi is unsure of her future. She doesn’t want to marry a stranger and live far from her family in a foreign land. When she is finally sent for to fulfill the marriage contract, she moves to Croatia with her best friend Ruby to keep her company. Her new husband, Baron Mauro Baric, is not what she expected. The House of Baric: Shields Down explores their first two years of marriage, getting to know each other and discovering they might actually like each other. The reader gets to know a colorful cast of characters and becomes immersed in 17th-century life in Croatia.

Strengths

If you love historical fiction, this book is for you! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history. I cannot get through dry history books; I literally fall asleep every time. But historical fiction? Sign me up! I love learning about the past, what life was like, how things were different from the world I live in today, and historical fiction teaches history by immersing the reader in that period. The House of Baric did a great job at fully depicting its world, 17th-century Croatia, a time and place I have never learned much about. Bravo to Jillian Bald for the sheer amount of research I’m sure she did to accurately write in such a setting.

The writing is very strong, descriptive and sophisticated. It was long, but easy to read.

I very much enjoyed the characters and getting in each of their heads. I loved Resi and thought she was very brave in accepting the terms of her marriage and making the best of it. She is a very intelligent woman with a strong spine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others she thinks are being mistreated.

Weaknesses

The main problem I had with this book is that I didn’t feel like as much was accomplished during the story as should have been, given how long it was. It is definitely a slow-moving, descriptive book, which is fine, but there were events that I kept expecting to get to only to have the plot derailed by something else. For example, we learn early on that Resi has been communicating with her favorite brother, a mercenary who has not gotten along well with Mauro in past years. Her brother will be in the area and wants to come for a visit. Naturally, I expected this highly anticipated event would cover at least a portion of the rest of the book. Instead, unexpected visitors show up at the Baric household, then Mauro’s ship is confiscated by the government, there’s a ball and a camp out on the beach… All entertaining parts of the book, but then Part One ends just as Resi’s brother shows up. I guess that’s meant to be motivation to read the next book in the series, but I’m a little annoyed that I was waiting for the confrontation with the brother for so long and didn’t even get to read it.

Conclusion

This is definitely a book for all historical fiction lovers! I wish I could go on a Mediterranean cruise or something now. Lounge on the beach, gaze into crystal clear waters, and curl up with a good book. Doesn’t that sound amazing? This book put me in that mood! It is a little on the long side and definitely has passages that could be trimmed down, but The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down is a quality, worthwhile read. Be prepared to take your time to savor all it has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Downburst by Katie Robison

downburst-coverI just finished reading Katie Robison’s Downburst. Readers, this was an AWESOME book! I can’t wait to tell you more. I found this read on the Cheap eBooks reading list.

Synopsis

Kit is a girl who has run away from home. She is making a meager living by delivering illicit goods (drugs, fake ids, etc) to their buyers. One day, when the cops discover their location, she goes on the run, spending her first night in an empty train car. The next morning, she witnesses the murder of a girl who looks so similar to Kit she could be her twin. As she runs away, she is kidnapped by a man who mistakes her for the girl who was murdered (named Aura) and is taken to a bizarre week-long summer camp. Since staying at camp seems safer than running from the cops, Kit decides to play along and be Aura. Assuming a new identity turns out to be harder than she thought it would be, especially since her fellow campers seem to have supernatural abilities: they can fly–er, windwalk. Can Kit fit in with her surroundings and survive the week? Or will she be discovered as an impostor and tortured as a spy?

Strengths

Wow, this book was awesome! And I don’t say that very often. This book was described as something that “fans of the Hunger Games will love” and I agree. It is fast-paced with a fascinating undercurrent of supernatural, Native American mythology and a plot that keeps the reader guessing. Each time I had a theory on what was going to happen, further reading repeatedly proved me wrong. There wasn’t a single moment in the book where I was bored, which has not happened to me in a very long time.

Kit is a great character who experiences a lot of personal growth throughout her story. It was fun to witness. There were several other supporting characters that I became attached to and emotionally invested in their well-being. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I very nearly cried couple times and my heart definitely broke once.

Weaknesses

The only weakness is that I didn’t have the sequel in my hands when I finished!! I’ve gotta get on that…

Conclusion

I would probably categorize Downburst as a YA action/fantasy. If you like mythology-inspired books like Percy Jackson, you’ll love Downburst. If you like action-packed survivalist books like Hunger Games, you’ll like Downburst. If you like YA, you’ll like Downburst. Why am I still writing?? Do yourself a favor and go read Downburst!! You’ll love it.

An easy 5 stars

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Book Review: The Lost Heir

The Lost HeirI have finally finished reading The Lost Heir by Andi O’Connor! I had planned on finishing and posting this review on Wednesday, but life got in the way. Apologies for the delay! In any case, it was a fun fantasy read that can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

“Their situation was hopeless. Darrak closed his eyes. A single tear glided down his muddy cheek as he grieved for the only friends he’d ever known.” (Chapter 32)

Darrak Hunter, a dedicated college student, starts having dreams of a different world: a beautiful place with purple clouds. One day he wakes up to find Earth’s own sun has turned violet and purple clouds fill the sky. A sorcerer appears in his dorm room and tells him he is the lost heir to the kingdom of Mystandia. After traveling to this new world, Darrak must learn how to use his new-found magic and embrace his destiny. He embarks on a quest to try and save the world from a cunning Organization that seeks to take over both Mystandia and Earth. With the help of some new and powerful friends, can Darrak overcome plots of betrayal and save two worlds?

Strengths

This is an action-packed story! Not much opportunity to get bored because there is always something happening. O’Connor paints a vivid and complex tapestry of story lines and characters that gives the reader a realistic sense of what living in Mystandia might feel like. One of the biggest strengths to the story is the depth of the characters. Not only do we get to know Darrak and his struggles, but a myriad of allies and enemies are showcased, adding tremendous depth to the story. I loved getting to know Mionee, arguably the main antagonist. She has a rich and compelling backstory, making me very sympathetic to her situation. I also love that there are a ton of strong female characters to look up to.

I loved all the magic, aspects of which were explained in fascinating detail. The themes of betrayal and family were helpful in moving the story along and keeping everything connected, and there were even bits of a love story strung throughout to keep me happy. 🙂

Weaknesses

There were two primary weaknesses that I found in The Lost Heir: too many loose ends and unrealistic character behavior. First of all, I know that this is only the first installment of the Dragonath Chronicles series, so some loose ends are expected. However, there were so many points that I wish were addressed before the end. Even a Part 1 book should have a sense of conclusion, even if it’s on a small scale. Rather than going into too much detail (or giving away spoilers!), here’s a quick list of questions I had at the end:

  • What happened to Cyrus? (He’s a bad guy.)
  • Who is behind The Organization?
  • Who, specifically, is hunting Darrak and his friends?
  • What happened regarding the binding ceremony between Mionee and Garenth?
  • How did the people on Earth respond to the purple clouds and how did they affect the ecosystem? There were allusions to what Darrak thought might be happening, but no direct information.

Disclaimer: I recognize many of these questions will probably be answered in the next book, and I’m probably just being super impatient, but there ya go.

Next, some of the dialogue and actions between certain characters were…somewhat inappropriate. For example, a servant talking back to a king would probably result in their death, or at least immediate termination of employment, right? There is a scene where a handmaid is arguing extremely disrespectfully with the king, a not-very-nice guy. In another scene, Mionee’s plan requires that a certain servant be moved to work for her, but doesn’t know if the king will approve her transfer. Shouldn’t the king himself have better things to do than approve transfers between the servants?? These things don’t seem believable.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable fantasy read. Lots of action, cool magic, and an interesting story line featuring some exceptional characters with rich histories. I can sometimes be an impatient reader, and I have a feeling that once I read the next installment all of my questions will be answered. However, I still feel that there could have been a more developed ending so the reader isn’t left in a lurch. If you’re looking for a fantasy read, go find a copy of The Lost Heir and immerse yourself in a world of magic and cool characters, then let me know what you think!!

4 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: Prophase, A Present Tale

prophase-cover-low-resJust finished Prophase, A Present Tale, by Mitchel Street, last night and holy cow! Talk about a killer ending! Those last few chapters were simply amazing. I’m wishing the sequel was written so I could continue the journey. You can find this young adult, science fiction/fantasy novel on Book Club Reading List under the “Action and Adventure” genre.

Synopsis

Piper Walker is a high school senior who plays the bass in a band with her best friends, is on the swim team, and has been responsible for raising her little brother Charlie since their mom died from breast cancer shortly after he was born. One night, not long after being dumped by her boyfriend of two years, Piper is in a car accident with two of her best friends. The near-death experience ignites something inside her, unleashing powers she never knew existed. She now has the ability to move things with her mind, see others’ auras, and manipulate the laws of gravity. She soon learns that she is not alone in her new abilities but that there is a whole world and history of people like her. These people are currently being ruled by an unjust dictator and Piper is the only one with the strength and potential to restore balance to their world.

Strengths

I love the premise of this book: an average girl discovers special powers and realizes her destiny to save the world. It is a theme that has been repeated many times but one that never fails to excite me. Probably because it’s fun to imagine myself as the hero and become immersed in a world of fantasy to distract from the tedium of daily life.

I think M Street’s characters are strong and convincing. I love Piper; she is relatable and able to adapt as her world quickly changes. This quote describes her attitude toward her new life: overwhelmed but still wants more.

“I was adrift without oar or anchor. Even though I was overwhelmed and underwater, I thirsted for more answers.” (Chapter 15)

 

Her best friend, Lisa, is the best friend every high school girl needs. While I didn’t like her ex-boyfriend Chris (though we’re probably not meant to like him much anyway…he IS the ex-boyfriend after all!), he played a strong role in making me care about Piper. If she had a perfect life and everything was great, it would be harder as a reader to care about her. I also loved her pet cat Jazz. It probably seems weird to love the cat, but he’s one special guy!

I don’t want to give away spoilers, but Piper gains a new connection after her breakup with Chris that is fabulous and made my inner teenage girl so, so happy.

Weaknesses

For a story with the potential for a lot of exciting action, the pace felt….strange. Inconsistent. There were parts where I couldn’t read the words fast enough because it was just so good, and there were other parts where I felt my eyes droop and had flash backs to boring high school history lectures. I’ve been thinking, trying to put my finger on what went wrong, and I think I figured it out. When Piper gained her powers, her eyes were opened to a whole new sphere of seeing. She sees colors in absolutely everything. In what I’m sure was an effort to help the reader see what Piper sees, Street was very descriptive and almost poetic in his writing. Parts of the story that should have been leaping from the pages, like Piper learning how to manipulate gravity and jump up toward the stars, were slowed down by over-description. It was just too much.

Conclusion

Overall, Prophase is a highly compelling read. I love the story, characters, and most especially the twist ending. The last 2 or 3 chapters seriously knocked my socks off. I think I’m gonna go back and read them again. I think with a little editing of a few sections in the middle–basically any scene where Esther is telling Piper history or describing how to use her new powers–it would be perfect. Since I can’t give partial stars, I’m going to go ahead and give Prophase 5 stars. If I could it would be more like 4.5, but regardless, I can safely say Prophase is a good tale! Go check it out!

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Book review: Dobyns Chronicles

Dobyns ChroniclesJust finished up the historical fiction novel Dobyns Chronicles, by Shirley McLain, and I feel like I need to speak with a southern cowboy drawl! The writing style just put that accent in my head through the entire story. I found Dobyns Chronicles on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Dobyns Chronicles is the story of Charley Dobyns and his family in the Texas and Oklahoma Territories around 1880-1950. Charley grew up on a ranch and learned early in life the value of hard work. He learned how to take care of the animals and how to store food for the winter. So when the yellow fever took both his parents, 16-year-old Charley was well enough equipped with the skills to take care of his younger brother and sister, aged 10 and 4. We follow Charley as he leads his family through numerous trials. It is a heartwarming story of strength, love, and the lengths to which one will go to take care of family.

Strengths

Charley is certainly the hero of this book. The author, Shirley McLain, has based this book on her great-grandfather’s life and has even included family photos at the end documenting Charley, his siblings, and all of their children. This real-life connection is what drives this story home to me. Charley is the bedrock of the family; he is strong and reliable. I’m sure that if my parents had died when I was a teenager and I was left responsible for my younger siblings, we would have all died. Or, more likely, been split up to live with relatives or left at the mercy of social services. Charley was so determined to keep what was left of his family together.

“Viola, you carry Ma and Pa inside of you. They will always be there with you. If you listen real close, you can even hear them talking to you. One day, you will even see them again.” (Charley, page 51)

I think this quote sums up the essence of this story. Families are forever; not even death can erase those we love from our lives.

In addition to the copious amount of heart and love, this story also has a fair amount of humor, particularly when we’re not expecting it. Charley, his brother David and sister Viola all refer to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. They don’t often use contractions in their dialogue, which makes the language feel formal.

“‘Gosh Charley, you sure are smart. I hope when I get as old as you are, I am half as smart as you,’ David said.

Viola just agreed with him. Of course, I was eating it up like honey on bread. I just gave them the sage advice it takes time to learn about things. By the time I got through letting them think how all-knowing I was, we were at the main house.” (page 77)

I love the sibling banter that is written throughout the book. Even

Charley Dobyns

when life deals them trials time and again, they keep each other’s spirits up. Also, there are many, many scenes in which the characters are eating good, hearty farm meals. The descriptions of the food made me hungry!!

Weaknesses

I think the biggest weakness was the pace of the story. For all of the exciting things those kids have to deal with, it sure seemed to drag! I think the language style was part of the pacing problem. Stylistically, I see what McLain was trying to do in the dialogue; I definitely had a cowboy drawl in my head as I read the characters; but I think it was overdone to the point where it didn’t feel realistic. For example, there is a scene where they go ice skating with two other children, Thomas and Mila, who fall in the ice. Mila is in the water up to her neck and Thomas is treading water and holding on to her, their teeth are chattering, it’s a dramatic moment. Here’s what Charley says:

“David, run to the house and tell Zack to come and help. Then help Mrs. Selby get warm blankets for the kids. Ask Zack to bring a couple of blankets with him. Run as fast as you can.”

I feel like this isn’t genuine. Anyone in this kind of high-stress situation would be hollering out commands, not slow, polite requests. The kids are freezing! He should be calling out those instructions as he gets to the kids as quick as he can! There should be some exclamation marks!! Right?!? Anyway, maybe that’s just a personal preference.

Conclusion

Overall, I love the heart of this book and the themes of family, hard work, and love. Charley leaves us with these final words, which I think sum up the purpose of life quite nicely:

“This life, with its difficulties, is preparation for the goodness that is to come. I don’t think we would be able to appreciate what the Lord will give us on the other side unless we’ve lived this life with all its trials and tribulations. I know, since I’ve survived, I’m a stronger man. My body may be weaker, but my spirit isn’t.” (pages 247-248)

If you’re in the mood for a good family story and learn a little history, go get yourself a copy of Dobyns Chronicles.

4 stars

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