Review: The Centaur’s Daughter by Ellen Jensen Abbott

 

Title: The Centaur’s Daughter

Author: Ellen Jensen Abbot

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761459781

 

May Contain Spoilers

Review:

The Centaur’s Daughter is the sequel to Watersmeet, a book I read about a year ago and enjoyed quite a bit.  Fantasy novels like these are few and far between in the YA realm, which is unfortunate, because fantasy is one of my favorite genres.  Despite some minor flaws, this is a nice set of books that feature a strong female lead.  It has been rewarding to see the changes in Abisina, and to see how much she has grown as a person.  The Abisina from the first book was not a character that I especially cared for, but she was a product of her repressive,  prejudiced environment.  It’s only now, after she has been introduced to a society that is welcoming of all people that she has been allowed to grow and leave her old, rigid ways of thinking behind her.

After her father’s death, Abisina is just trying to get through each day as it comes.  She misses him terribly, and she sees how much the people of Watersmeet depended on his wisdom.  Now that Glynholly has taken her father’s place as the leader of Watersmeet, life has gotten a bit complicated for her.  Having turned down a request to step into her father’s place and fill the void in leadership, Abisina is bewildered by Glynholly’s animosity towards her.  With refuges flooding the land around Watersmeet, food is harder to come by, and the uberwolves are making even short trips outside of Watersmeet hazardous.

With the added pressure to feed the citizens of Watersmeet and protect them from outside threats, Glynholly begins to view Abisina as a rival to her authority.  When Abisina is abruptly cast out of the city with only a few of her friends at her side, the young woman decides to cross back over the Obrun Mountains to her homeland.  She has heard that the village of Vranlyn is struggling to survive.  She sees the importance of helping them overcome their difficulties; if Watersmeet is going to thrive, the humans in Vrania must learn the importance of getting along with the diverse beings inhabiting both Vrania and the lands to the North. 

Once again prejudice and discrimination are explored throughout The Centaur’s Daughter.  This time, Abisina has learned to embrace the diversity around her, but she is still haunted by her treatment at the hands of the Vranians.  When she discovers that she has the ability to transform into a centaur like her father, she is terrified.  How will her friends treat her?  Will they still accept her? Will they still be her friends?  Abisina is so afraid of their reactions that she keeps her new ability a secret, even when it would have helped her in her conflict with Glynholly.  After years and years of abuse because she looked different from the Vranian ideal, she has no self-confidence.  My heart really went out to her, because even though she has come a long way, she will always be influenced by her childhood and the lack of acceptance that she suffered.  Now that she is a shape-shifter, all of her old fears and doubts come crashing, convincingly, back into her mind.  It’s fear that keeps her from revealing her new skills to her friends, and it causes so much tension between all of them.

I found Abisina’s inner struggle very compelling.  I did not like her when I first met her in Watersmeet.  In this installment of the series, she is a stronger, more accepting character.  She has learned to value others for who they are, and not what they look like.  It’s herself she can no longer accept.  She is no longer comfortable with herself, or with what she has become.  Instead of putting her faith in her friends, she closes herself off from them.  I had so much sympathy for her in this book, which was a feeling I lacked for most of the last one.  I am now very invested in seeing how Abisina continues to mature as she gains more responsibilities and takes on a greater role in overseeing her new home.  Will she be able to work out a new, beneficial peace between Vranlyn and the rest of Vrania?  Will she ever be able to return to Watersmeet?

Fantasy fans will find a lot to like in The Centaur’s Daughter – mythical beings, romance, drama, and a strong, relatable female lead.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

In stores soon!

Review: Memento Nora by Angie Smibert

 

Title: Memento Nora

Author: Angie Smibert

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761458296

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Goodreads:

A teen struggles to hold onto her memories-and her identity-in a world that wants everyone to forget-and keep on shopping. Three dynamic teens come together to create a comic book of their memories. Ages 13+

Review:

Memento Nora clocks in at just under 200 pages, and though the book is short on length, it is long on providing food for thought.  Imagine a future United States where the government not only condones, but encourages drug use to help its citizens forget all of the unpleasant memories that might interfere with daily pursuits like shopping.  Got to keep that economy moving somehow!  Have you witnessed a terrorist attack while visiting the mall to spend your hard earned dollars?  Just stop in the local Therapeutic Forgetting Clinic and take a pill to forget the traumatic event! 

When Nora witnesses a terrorist attack while she’s shopping with her mother, her life changes in ways she never expected.  Her first trip to the local TFC doesn’t go quite as smoothly as expected, and after hearing her mother discuss the memory she wants gone, Nora rebelliously spits out her pill.  She doesn’t want her mother to suffer without someone knowing the truth behind their perfect family.  This one defiant act sets Nora on path of underground rebellion, and threatens her future and that of her family.

I loved the concept of this story!  See something upsetting or that you don’t want to remember, and that memory can be gone with a swallow.  It keeps public protests down, too, as outspoken citizens are rounded up and sent to detention centers and their memories are forcibly erased.  Nora never gave much thought to her society as a whole – she is privileged and she has everything she could ever want.  By all appearances, she has the perfect life.  When she hears her mother’s memory, the one she wants to forget, Nora can’t help but want to remember it.  Someone has to.  Someone has to help her mom, and Nora is determined that it will be her.

After Nora gets involved with Micah and Winter, she has an outlet to tell her story.  Micah suggests they create a comic chronicling Nora’s visit to the TFC.  She impulsively agrees to his suggestion, and the two of them are suddenly high on the government’s radar.  If they get caught, they are in great danger of being thrown in a detention center, or having all of their memories erased forever.  Neither can stop what they have begun, however, and they keep creating new chapters for the comic, exposing the truth behind the government and the terrorist attacks.

I found this a very suspenseful read, and I couldn’t put it down.  The story is told through the alternating view points of Nora, Micah, and Winter.  I liked each of the characters, and enjoyed all for their stories.  Nora is the most developed character, though, and her voice drives events forward.  She goes from being blissfully ignorant to quietly rebellious, and her motivations are convincing, and initially selfless.  She doesn’t want her mother’s suffering to be forgotten, and she puts herself at considerable risk to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Memento Nora is a great start to Angie Smibert’s dystopian series, and I am so curious to see where the story will go next.  Things didn’t look all that promising for our little band of rebels!  Plus, anyone who can work Ninja Warrior believably into their story gets an extra brownie point.

Check back tomorrow for an interview with Angie Smibert!

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Tutankhamun by Demi

 

Title:  Tutankhamun

Author: Demi

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761455585

 

May Contain Spoilers

Ancient Egypt is my favorite time periods, and for the longest time I wanted to become an Egyptologist.  Then I got nervous when I thought about actually making a living based on my wealth of historical knowledge, and the thought of camping for months at a time and being exposed to really, really big insects helped to change my mind.  Would I have been happier digging in the sand and scribbling papers about dead kings and queens?  Maybe, but at least now I have air conditioning.

Tutankhamen is a visual treat, with striking illustrations that capture the look of mosaics.  I liked the art much better than that in Genghis Khan, and though the annoying gold foil was present, it wasn’t as overwhelming as in the previous book.   I loved the colors and the composition of the pages, and the skillful way the visuals worked together with the text.

What I didn’t like was the simplistic overview of Tutankhamen’s life.  I know that I shouldn’t have expected a great deal of depth, but I feel that the story is far too complex to squeeze into  a picture book of this length.  There was so much upheaval during this period in Egypt, starting with Akhenaten’s rejection of Amun.  The lack of explanation regarding some of the events was also disappointing, especially the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony.  Though probably beyond the scope of the book, it’s still really interesting stuff!  Even a glossary at the end would have been appreciated.

I have mixed feelings about Tutankhamun.  It is a stunning picture book, but, for me, it didn’t deliver in terms of substance.  It has relit a fire to read more books set in Ancient Egypt, though. 

Grade: B-

Review copy obtained from the library

Review: Mindblind by Jennifer Roy

 

Title: Mindblind

Author: Jennifer Roy

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761457169

 

May Contain Spoilers

I will admit that when I first looked at this book, I wasn’t exactly drawn to it.  The cover doesn’t do much for me, though I found the premise intriguing.  The protagonist, Nathanial, has Asperger’s Syndrome, and I was very curious to see how author Jennifer Roy portrayed him.  Once I started reading Mindblind, I could not put it down.

Nathanial’s voice is very distinctive.  He is a teen with a lot of challenges to overcome, despite his sky high IQ.  His dad isn’t accepting of him, because he doesn’t believe that Nathanial has a medical condition; he just thinks that his son is being lazy and isn’t pushing himself to be like all of the other kids.  It’s a good thing that his step-mom is more understanding and supportive than his dad! Nathanial’s dad really pushed the wrong buttons for me, and I quickly felt as uncomfortable around him as his son did.

Nathanial’s social skills are clumsy and awkward, true to his Aspie diagnosis.  It is difficult for him to interact with large groups of his peers, and all he wants to do is retreat into a shell when he is confronted with too much noise, light, or people.  Being over stimulated has him struggling to stay in control of himself, and he is much happier working on his mathematical equations or researching problems online.  His mother won’t let him withdraw from other people, though, and she proves again and again during the course of the novel just how much she loves and supports him.  She pushes him to test his boundaries, but also knows when he needs some space.

I loved Nathanial.  He may be a genius to others, but to himself, he doesn’t have much worth.  He wants to make a mark on the world, and he is driven to do so.  The book is relayed through slice of life episodes, each building on the other and giving Nathanial depth.  He may not be “normal” in the traditional sense of the word, but he is strong and he is kind, and he tries so hard to do the right thing, even though most of the time, he doesn’t fully understand why it’s the right thing.

Mindblind by Jennifer Roy is a very satisfying read, with a likable protagonist who will quickly cast a spell over you.  The book is engaging and impossible to put down, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read it. 

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Genghis Khan by Demi

 

Title: Genghis Khan

Author: Demi

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish

ISBN: 978-0761455479

 

May Contain Spoilers

I was not sure what to expect when I checked this out from the library.  I love biographies, especially ones about warriors.  Alexander the Great, Crazy Horse, Hannibal – I’m interested in learning more about of them, and have read many, many pages about their exploits.  I have always been intrigued by Genghis Khan and his horde of Mongols, mainly for one reason; they were consummate equestrians.

I tripped across this book on Amazon, and put in a request at the library.  The combination of full-color artwork and spare, yet compelling text made this an interesting read.  Demi’s illustrations are more whimsical in nature, even during battle scenes.  The visual component of the story was very effective, with one minor quibble.  Gold foil is used without restraint throughout the book, and I thought it obscured the art.  All of that shiny metallic paper got obnoxious after about 3 pages.

Genghis Khan is a very short read, but the stunning visuals give the story an added kick.  Based on both historical fact and folklore, the life of Temujin, the boy who would grow up to become one of the most skilled leaders in history, is rich with action and political intrigue. 

Grade:  B-

Review copy obtained from the library

Aliens and Vampires, Oh, My! A Peek Inside A Practical Guide to Vampires and A Field Guide to Aliens

 

Title: A Practical Guide to Vampires

Author:  Lisa Trutkoff Trumbauer

Publisher: Mirrorstone

ISBN:  9780786952434

Title:  A Field Guide to Aliens: Intergalactic Worrywarts, Bubblonauts, Sliver-Slurpers, and Other Extraterrestrials

Author:  Johan Olander (Author, Illustrator)

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books

ISBN: 9780761455943

I love these guide books, and derive enjoyment just flipping aimlessly through the pages.  I keep them on the coffee table, so that when I’m cooking dinner or waiting for something, I can just sit down for a few minutes and read a section or two while I wait.  What I find amusing is that Dean has found himself glancing through them, too, and he will even point out some interesting vampire or alien factoids.  Usually with a laugh, but I find it interesting that he will take the time to leaf through the books at all!

Both A Practical Guide to Vampires and A Field Guide to Aliens are attractive hard covers, with a wealth of information about their respective subjects. Though both are slender volumes, they cover the topics at hand with a surprising amount of depth.  Want to know where a vampire lives, how it travels, or how it fights? Look no further.  A Practical Guide to Vampires is full of vampire insight, with the material presented in an engaging manner that will compel readers keep turning the lavishly illustrated pages.  These Mirrorstone guides are packaged so attractively that it is hard to resist them.

A Field Guide to Aliens drills down and presents its subject just as thoroughly.  The material is presented more whimsically, with language and illustrations to match. Full of warnings and tips just in case you happen to have a run in with an alien, this is another entertaining and visually appealing introduction to the mysterious beings lurking among us.  I enjoyed the textures of the book, too; the author has combed the world for first hand accounts and sketches from eye-witnesses, and it gives the reading experience an added dimension.

With their popular subject matter and brightly illustrated pages, both of these books provide a fun outlet for a little downtime.

Review copies provided by publishers

Watersmeet by Ellen Jensen Abbott YA Novel Review


Title: Watersmeet

Author:  Ellen Jensen Abbott

Publisher:  Marshall Cavendish

ISBN:  978-0761455363

Abisina’s world is dark and compelling, and the way you look determines whether or not you’re accepted by the people of your village.  Abisina is dark, with green eyes, the total opposite of the what is considered socially acceptable.  Judged almost solely on looks, Abisina doesn’t resemble Vran, the blond haired, blue eyed hero who led her people from the mountains to their new land, a larger than life character who is now worshipped like a god.  As a result, she has been shunned her entire life, spit on, kicked, verbally abused.  Abisina’s existence is bleak and brutal, as she struggles to survive on the fringes of a society racked by intolerance, famine,and deadly encounters with centaurs.  Only her mother’s status as the village healer kept her from being abandoned to the elements when she was an infant.

After the citizens riot in her village, their hatred for the outcasts flamed into a night of rage and senseless murder, Abisina is forced to flee, with  her mother’s necklace her only possession.  The necklace was a gift from her father, and Abisina has been told to seek him out in Watersmeet.  The only problem – she has no idea how to get there.  With the help of a reluctant dwarf, Abisina sets out on a journey of danger and self-discovery.  She must learn to overcome the prejudices she has fostered all her life, and also learn that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean that they are evil.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up Watersmeet, but it wasn’t this richly imagined fantasy.  In a world peopled with dwarves, fairies, and centaurs, humans struggle to find a place for themselves.  The Vranians battle other species to dominate and drive them out of the land, while the people of Watersmeet believe that everyone has value and everyone can live together peacefully, for the good of all species.  Abisina is a victim of both her upbringing and her own fears, but at her core, she’s just a lonely girl who wants to be accepted for who she is.  During the course of her journey, she finds the courage to grow and accept others for who and what they are.  This allows them to give her the friendship she is so desperately craving.

If I have one complaint about the book, it would be that I got a little frustrated with Abisina when she stubbornly clung to her judgmental upbringing.  Her run in with a herd of savage centaurs reinforces her fears of them, but once she reaches Watersmeet, she is treated with nothing but kindness and acceptance.  Her inability to do the same, though understandable, soon became grating.  She is often difficult to like, because she is so intolerant, but it is rewarding to follow along as she learns to break free from her narrow worldview.

Watersmeet is a satisfying fantasy about a girl who must look beyond the wall of intolerance she’s trapped in and embrace the differences in those around her.  She must find the courage to stand up for what’s right, and she must battle an ancient evil that has returned to menace the land.  Non-stop excitement keeps the pages turning  in this unique and engrossing fantasy.

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher