Book review: The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey

The Gates of Sleep (Elemental Masters, #3)The Gates of Sleep by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. I’ve been a fan of the author’s earlier works (her Valdemar series–especially the early books–was excellent). I’m a bit ambivalent about this one. The author does a vivid and convincing job of setting up the magical world, which is one of her strengths. And the first half of the book, describing how Marina (the heroine) is cursed and her life with her guardians and how she discovers and controls her magic is well done. It’s only after Marina goes to live with the Maleficent equivalent that the book deteriorates. You never get a good explanation as to why Maleficent is so bitter and hateful, and the love story with Marina is completely unconvincing. (In essence, there are several interactions where the hero behaves like a boor, and then Marina suddenly realizes she’s in love with him. Whatevs.) It’s almost as if the author realized she hit her page limit but couldn’t bear to cut any of the earlier story (understandably) and just rushed headlong into the climax and ending.
I do like the Elemental world that the author has created with this retelling of fairy tales and am likely to give the series one more try, but this book, while I liked it well enough, was far from the authors’ best work.

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Book review: The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters

The Sanctuary Sparrow (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #7)The Sanctuary Sparrow by Ellis Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Below is why I love this series so much:

The last lines of the book (no spoilers):

“And now, I suppose,” he said, seeing his friend’s face still thoughtful and undismayed, “you will tell me roundly that God’s reach is longer than man’s.”
“It had better be,” said Brother Cadfael very solemnly, “otherwise we are all lost.”

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Book review: How to be a High School Superstar by Cal Newport

How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out by Cal Newport
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the parent of two teenagers, this was a really interesting book. The premise is that to get in the college of your choice, a student should focus on one or two things they are truly interested in, rather than participate in a bunch of activities, most of which are designed to make you look good on a college application. (This is, of course, assuming the student’s grades and test scores are good enough for them to be “in play.”)
In talking unofficially to some admissions officers of these schools, this author’s premise seems to be in agreement with many admissions officers’ outlook on applications. The key is to look genuinely interesting, rather than trying to be all things to all people. By focusing on one or two activities, the student is also less stressed, and high school is a more enjoyable experience.
The author provides not only his premise–he also provides specific instructions on how to accomplish this.
The book is a fast read and contains concrete advice on how to follow through on this premise.
My only issue with the book is whether the backwards looking examples are picked because they worked out. (In other words, the examples cited are kids who get into their stretch schools using this technique. It is impossible to determine if this is a skewed data set or representative of such kids.)
Regardless, it is an interesting and thought provoking read for parents of teenage kids (and for the teenagers themselves).

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Book review: The Adventures of the Bloody Tower by Donald MacLachlan

The Adventure of the Bloody Tower: Dr. John H. Watson's First CaseThe Adventure of the Bloody Tower: Dr. John H. Watson’s First Case by Donald MacLachlan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The question of who murdered the Princes in the Tower (Edward V and his younger brother, Richard) has puzzled historians for centuries. Richard III, their uncle, has long been the leading suspect for those murders. In an interesting twist on the puzzle, the author has decided that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson should try and solve it. It then becomes Dr. Watson’s first case to solve on his own.
The author is a gifted writer and endeavors to emulate the tone of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books while creating an individual voice of his own. Dr. Watson comes across convincingly as an earnest and intelligent man, a bit unsure of himself in this academic environment, but wanting to solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes does not play a significant role in the book and comes across as a kinder, better friend than he does in Conan Doyle’s books.
The historical mystery itself is well researched, and the author does an impressive job being as even-handed regarding the evidence as possible.
The book flows well, and Richard III buffs will enjoy the historical analysis. I am looking forward to Dr. Watson’s second case!

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Book review: The Scribe’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

The Scribe's DaughterThe Scribe’s Daughter by Stephanie Churchill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a fan of the fantasy genre and picky about my books. This is a very well written book with several interesting plot twists and surprises. The characters are well drawn, and the heroine is especially entertaining with her sarcastic sense of humor and plucky spirit. The secondary characters are also interesting. The pacing is, perhaps, a bit uneven (not surprising for a debut novel), but while the book may start a bit slowly, it certainly makes up for it the rest of the way!
For fans of YA or fantasy, I definitely recommend this book for you!

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