Friday, January 13, 2012

Belle by C. Dokey, adaptation of Beauty and the Beast

Cameron Dokey brings us a short, young adult book simply titled Belle.

This was a very quick read and while it wasn't exactly "my style" I thought it very well written, I enjoyed their adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast story and I thought this would make a great beach or vacation read.

Belle is the youngest of three sisters who she defines as possessing true "Beauty." Belle believes she has beauty, but not capital-B Beauty like Celeste and April. The defining moment of her childhood is when the family first meets their benefactor and father's business partner Alphonse LeGrand and Belle finds herself, for the first time ever, standing between her sisters. For some reason neither her parents nor Monsieur LeGrand can see her and Belle assumes it is because her sister's Beauty completely enveloped her and her non-Beauty.

Through a series of events, Belle's father encounters the Beast and the fabled Heartwood Tree. The Heartwood Tree story was one of true love, with the wife of a young couple dying and the husband planting a tree over her heart. The white and red petals bloomed year round and never faded. It was legend that nobody was allowed to cut from the tree, but when the right person came the tree would willingly give up a branch for that person.

Naturally, the father finds the Heartwood and the tree gives up a branch to him. The Beast then finds him and demands that the man, known for his woodcarving skills, work the wood so it tells its story. The father says that only his daughter Belle would be able to work the wood. What father does that? But that's the story, so we'll go with it.

Belle returns to find the story inside the Heartwood branch, but can not come up with anything. She lives with the Beast for weeks where he continually asks her to look into his face till the count of five, but each time she can not do it.

Finally he tells him she is homesick and wants to go home. He allows her to leave, but in a conversation with Monsieur LeGrand Belle realizes she might love the beast-like man. She rushes back to him, hoping to find him in time.

Belle is part of a series of adaptations of fairy tale stories. There are also books retelling the stories of Cinderella, Mulan, Arabian Nights, Rapunzel and Snow White.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because I thoroughly enjoyed the story and Dokey's quick pace. A perfect summer (or snowed in!) read.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Viridis by Calista Taylor

Viridis, by Calista Taylor, is a Steampunk mystery/romance novel set in 1866 London.
If you are unfamiliar with Steampunk, here's the wiki:
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s.[1] Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is still widely used—usually Victorian era Britain or "Wild West"-era United States—that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology includes such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the contemporary authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld and China Mieville.
Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical engine.

Anyway, Viridis is the story of Phoebe Hughes who had created a powerful "herbal" drink called Viridis. Because of it's ability to heighten one's senses and helps people shed their inhibitions (all while being completely safe to drink), it has become an overnight sensation in London at her club by the same name.
But when a young lord named Hawthorne is killed two blocks away, an investigator with a tender heart is led on the chase of a lifetime trying to solve a murder and figure out just how Phoebe and her concoction fit in.
The entire story is so full of twists and turns, it keeps the reader's mind engaged and wondering what will happen next to the characters, both good and bad.

Phoebe's one-time love, Seth, has returned to London after having been away for a year working for "the Cause." The Cause seems to be on the verge of a revolution in London and is fighting against the Queen and her Secret Services. Both the Cause and Secret Services are truly secretive because I never quite caught onto what exactly either side was trying to accomplish.
Back in Seth's brawny Scottish arms, Phoebe manages to anger a would-be suitor by the name of Victor who will stop at nothing to get what he wants - Phoebe for himself.

When it is discovered that the murdered man had stolen Phoebe's secret recipe for Viridis, the plot surely thickens as they all try to come up with an answer to the many questions that keep arising:
Who killed Lord Hawthorne?
Why did he have the recipe for Viridis and what side was he on (the Cause or the Secret Services)?
Who had Hawthorne been with the night he was killed?
Was Victor behind the whole thing?
Where did Hawthorne's lady friend Lilly disappear to?

The inspector has a very hard time trying to answer all the questions and track down potential murderers who would want the recipe for Viridis, but is incredibly polite and civil to the main characters throughout the story.

But when things become very dark and criminal charges begin to fly, nobody is sure what to do. Seth is arrested for seeking revenge and Phoebe tries to take matters into her own hands to get him released, even if it means giving herself over to the one person she detests most. And when her brother Gabriel is attacked, everyone is left scratching their heads as to what is really going on.

A mystery in it's truest form, I had no inclination at all as to "who done it" when the real murderer was revealed and WHY - I have to tell you, I was shocked!

This was my first Steampunk novel, and the very cool gadgets and "modern-like" contraptions they had were very neat and futuristic, but sort of hard to imagine for me. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the story.
There is a lot of sexuality in the book, and in the latter part there is a chapter that I would consider delicate if the reader has even been the victim of sexual abuse.
As someone who usually reads Christian fiction, though, I was not personally bothered by any of it and felt that author Taylor stayed true to her genre and characters exceptionally well.

I would give Viridis 3.5 out of 5 stars and a big props to Taylor for her first book! I hope one day to follow in your footsteps of publishing! Kudos!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Wicked by Gregory McGuire

I first read Wicked by Gregory McGuire in 2008 because it had fab reviews, a Broadway show and I'm a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan.

The story starts with Elphaba, daughter of the slightly alcoholic/drugged up Melena and pastor Frex. Melena is the heiress to the title Eminent Thropp,which is something of a governor/royal title mixture. Elphaba is born green with razor sharp teeth. Over the years, her mother birth another daughter, Nessarose, and a son, Shell.

After the death of her mother, Elphaba goes off to the Emerald city for school where she is roomed with the gorgeous and spoiled Galinda. They strike up something of a friendship over the years and have a small band of strange friends.

Elphaba falls in love with the prince of the Arjiki tribe, Fiyero, who is already betrothed to another, but that does not stop them from having their own intimacies. Fiyero comes and goes from the Emerald City in his travels and is with Elphaba while in town.

Through tragedy, Elphaba travels to the Vinkus, where Fiyero is from, and meets his bitter wife, children and his wife's several sisters. This is the setting where Elphaba becomes the Witch we all know.

Wicked is a very politically charged book, with several parts that remind me or George Orwell's Animal Farm in that McGuire has both animals (like our pets and wild animals) and Animals - who walk, talk, dress and teach college. The Wizard, according to Elphaba and her constituents, is trying to turn Animals back into regular old animals. This is the basis for the Cowardly Lion character.

I reread the book this past year and still found it confusing, being way too political for my personal taste. I like the personal story of Elphaba, Galinda, Fiyero, Boq and the others much better. The book is nothing at all like the Broadway adaptation, and I found that to be much more to my personal liking.
But I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed McGuire's writing and his weaving of the tale. If you have not read Wicked or the three books that follow (Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz), I would recommend reading them as pieces of great literary works!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck

I read The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck by Kathleen Y'Barbo last week. It was quite the interesting tale, but to be honest, it took me the better part of a week to read, which means it did not hold my attention as well as I would have hoped.

The book, which takes place in the late 1800s, is centered around Charlotte Beck, a young lady who is more interested in commerce than marriage. Charlotte's step-mother, however, would prefer to see her married first and spends the entire debutante season in London showcasing her to potential noblemen.

Charlotte, you see, is an American heiress. And in this day and age it was common for rich American girls to marry British nobility who had nothing more than a title with no money to go behind it.

At a party, Charlotte happens to fall into the arms of nobleman Alex Hambly - literally. The two have an instant attraction but mutual dislike for one another. Charlotte things Alex is a rogue viscount and Alex thinks Charlotte is an insufferable brat.

Over a series of events, Charlotte's father presents the pair an offer they can't refuse. He will send Charlotte to college as she wants if she will agree to marry Alex after school. Alex, in return, will get a large financial gain. But Charlotte is convinced that after 4 years she will be able to talk her father out of the arrangement.

When dear old Daddy won't give in on the arranged marriage, Charlotte and Alex plot to leave the marriage unconsummated and get the marriage annulled as soon as possible.

Will their plot work? Will they want to get an annulment once they are officially wed?

I do recommend reading the book, I enjoyed the twists and turns, but I do admit it did not hold my attention as I would have liked. I give The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck by Kathleen Y'Barbo 3 out of 5 stars.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Sound Among the Trees

I received this book quite a while ago, except that the UPS man did not deliver it to the right door and I never saw it. Fast forward to now when I read this book! I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

Susan Meissner delivers an intriguing tale of deception, rumors and unsure love in this book set in modern day Virginia. A Sound Among the Trees is something of a ghost tale where family matriarch Adelaide runs Holly Oak, a plantation house, that has been occupied by her family for generations and is thought to be haunted by her great-grandmother Susannah Page.

Adelaide's grandson-in-law Carson, who was widowed by her granddaughter Sara 4 years before, is remarrying. He moves his new bride Marielle into Adelaide's plantation home. Yes, you read that right, her granddaughter's widower, his two children, and the new wife. I thought it was an odd arrangement to be sure. The modern story focuses on how Marielle adjusts to living in the literal shadow of the late Sara. She is compared to Sara by all of Adelaide's old lady friends, by her new husband Carson, by his children Hudson and Brette and by Adelaide herself. She wonders if she will ever stack up.

But when Adelaide's friends tell Marielle about the ghost that haunts the house, her curiosity is piqued. Susannah was thought to be a spy for the North during the Civil War after marrying a Southern officer. Marielle begins to search for answers including calling a local psychic. Adelaide tries to tell her there is no ghost, it's the house that is cursed.

Things take an interesting twist when the deceased Sara's dead-beat mother, Caroline (daughter to Adelaide) shows up. Only now Caroline has sobered up and wants to help her mother and the grandchildren she has never known. Caroline winds up helping Marielle feel more adequate as a new wife and mother to Carson, Hudson and Brette.

Through all this Marielle and Caroline discover and reveal letters written by supposed ghost Susannah to her cousin in Maine that reveals everything that happened during the war.

Confusing though it sounds, this was a good book and I enjoyed reading it. It did seem a little far-fetched and I would have much preferred to read two separate books - one centered on Marielle coming into the family as a new wife and step-mother and then one that told the story of Susannah. It was a little much all together as one book.

I would give A Sound Among the Trees 3.5 stars out of 5. Very well written!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Chosen by Ginger Garrett

Chosen, the Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett was a phenomenal read. As I read it I truly did wonder if these were the lost diaries of Esther - the Jewish girl who was made Queen of Persia and is one of two women who have "their own" books in the Bible.

The book is written in true diary format with dates (completely done in in the ancient Persian calendar) with the recent happenings and bubbling hopes of a young girl living below the castle in Susa. In it Esther talks about her and her cousin Mordecai, the neighborhood street market, and the boy Cyrus who catches her eye.

Garrett writes so eloquently and you really feel like you are with Esther as Cyrus tells her he loves her - even though our Esther is all of twelve years old. And you also feel like you are with her as King Xerses' men are pounding on her door, demanding she be presented for inspection.

In the Virgin's Harem, Esther quickly becomes the favorite of the head eunuch Hegai. He allows her little extras, including paper to presumably write the journal in which we are reading. Esther had been told by her cousin Mordecai not to reveal her Hebrew heritage to anyone within the castle.

After a year of preparations, at the age of sixteen, Esther is set to meet the king. The man who would decide her fate. Esther had watched countless girls douse themselves in perfumes and jewels to see the king, only to find they had been used and cast aside, never to be heard from again with the rest of the king's concubines.

The apex of the book comes as Esther engages King Xerses in conversation, telling him, "Women give you their bodies every night in this bed. But who has ever given you their heart? Your crown may give you the right to my body, but you will have to fight for my heart."

If you know the Biblical story of Esther, you know the main events that occur. But the way in which Garrett has written them makes them so real and so astonishing for me. The detail in Chosen is engaging, but also leaves enough to the imagination that the reader can fill in additional details if she chooses.

Chosen has been one of my favorite books for about six years now and I reread it often. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Biblical fiction!

Welcome to My Escape!

My Escape from Reality will be a blog dedicated to book reviews and also sharing my progress on the books I am writing myself.

I generally read fiction, most often romantic, inspirational and historical in nature. Sometimes I read non-fiction, parenting and life books, and a variety of other things.

I live with my Kindle no more than 5 feet from me at any time so I can pick it up and read at a moments notice. But I also enjoy to occasional paperback!

Two books are already penned and a third is almost finished. And I have ideas for several more. I just need a publisher! And as much as I love my Kindle, I really want to see my printed book(s) on a shelf one day!

So check back often and see my reviews!