A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

Publication year: 2012
Genre: Young Adult
Time and place: 2012 US/the pages of Jane Eyre
Narrated in: first-person
First sentence:There was no possibility of taking a swim that day.
Verdict: Hated it with a passion.

Summary
Emma’s life is going less than well. She and her step mother have nothing in common, the rich girls at the boarding school where she has a scholarship treat her bad, she has a crush on not one, but two unavailable guys…

A lighting strike relieves her of all her cares though, as she finds herself transported right between the pages of the book she was currently reading, Jane Eyre. Mrs. Fairfax and Adele think Emma is Jane, and after a while she herself starts believing it and even falls in love with Mr. Rochester. Her real life is calling, however, and…

General impression
Jane Eyre is my favorite book. I love the language, I love the story, and most of all I love the characters. Which is why this book annoyed me so: it managed to get both Jane and Edward wrong, painting the latter in such a bad light it left me shaking my head in disbelief. The least thing I expect from a ‘reteller’ is to be acquainted with the original story; this one certainly wasn’t.

Dear author, in case you ever read this,
Rochester had married Bertha because he was young, and she was beautiful, and he thought himself in love. Yes, his father had arranged this marriage because the bride was rich, but Edward was not told about the money part. After the wedding she has shown her true colors (“a nature the most gross, impure, depraved“) and life with her was hell; Edward even thought of a divorce, but he couldn’t since by this time the doctors (yes, author, he did consult doctors) have discovered that she was turning mad. Mad as her mother and her younger brother — because you see, author, madness ran in her family. Little by little the fact that he was now hopelessly tied to a lunatic drove Rochester to despair; he even wanted to kill himself. Only the idea of shutting her up in the attic (well cared for, as he couldn’t bring himself to harm her in the littlest way), while he could pose as an unattached man saved his life. And it is only at this stage (with her already mad for quite a while) that she brought her to Thornfield — there is no plausible way to think that the imprisonment was the cause of her insanity. Edward is not a perfect man, far from it, but he is not the monster that you make him seem.

As for Jane, you seem to think that she left Edward because she could not forgive him for what he’s done. But she loves him and she understands him, and I see her above such petty things as being unable to forgive. She loves him dearly and she fears that he will harm himself after she’s gone — and yet she does go, because she cannot abide to live with him and not be his bride. Such were the morals of the age, such were her principles, and she preferred tearing her heart out to breaking them (“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?“). This choice that Jane has made is one of the reasons I respect her the most, and you, author, have torn it away from her without a thought.

You know, I think this book would have been many times better if there had been no connection with Jane Eyre. Standing on its own it might have been a cute story (perhaps with a few hidden parallels, like Gray trying to make Emma jealous, or her being able to feel when he was in danger, or whatever). As it is, there are quite a few problems with it that did not let me properly enjoy it even in the few moments when I could get over the part where Rochester was turned into a monster. Not to mention that I didn’t very well get what was the purpose of Emma’s foray into the pages of Jane Eyre: show spoiler

Random considerations:

  • Emma must be both quite unlucky and indestructible, as she is very near to dying no less than four times in the course of a few months. And after each of these adventures she ends up good as new in the space of a few weeks;
  • She was also sort of too silly for my taste (I lost all the respect I had for her when she at one time says about her teacher, “How dare he condescend to me just because he was older and had seen more of the world?“, when the guy was giving her some advice — I get that she is supposed to be a teenager, and that is the way most teens think, but I really cannot admire a silly child);
  • I think it’s very, very hard to do Jane Eyre justice in a YA book. The original is a piece of beautiful literature, and simplifying it means letting go of the very things that made it special. This book is no exception, it felt at times like a child’s attempt to make a copy of Gioconda.
  • The most important challenge for the author I thought was the fact that Emma had to both know about the book and still be in the dark about what is to happen. At first this was quite well approached, as when Emma enters the book she has only read a part of it, not all (she has read long enough to know how things end up between her and Rochester, but no more). As Emma loses touch with her own reality and her non-Jane life, this could still have worked. She falls in love with R., she is heart broken when she sees Blanche, that sort of thing. Up to now, it all was believable enough. But then Emma goes back to her life and manages to finish the book. Not only that but when she returns between the pages she now has her full memories — when R. asks her where she has been she remembers that in the book Jane has been away to visit her sick aunt. A mere moment after that she gets upset that R. still plans to marry Blanche — so she remembered a tiny detail of the book but didn’t remember that a central theme is R.’s love for Jane and no other?
  • Another challenge I think was the part where Gray — Emma’s love interest — had to have a terrifying secret of his own, to mirror Rochester’s. As in the previous case, I thought the author was very close to finding just the thing, but unfortunately she didn’t; I thought her choice was veering a bit towards the ridiculous as I couldn’t help thinking that no one in their right mind could actually blame Gray for what happened, and as such the secret lacked the strength it needed to make it count.
    show spoiler
  • in the sequel Emma will get into the pages of The Scarlett Letter, and I am almost considering picking it up because, while I absolutely love Jane Eyre and was personally offended by the changes made to it, about Scarlet Letter I could not  care less. Sadly, the third book will have Emma into The Phantom of the Opera, which is also one of the books I love.

Thoughts on the title
Loved it + it’s the reason I picked up the book.

Thoughts on the ending
Happy ending, yay. Although considering I didn’t care too much about Emma it was no big deal.

Also,  in my opinion the whole bit about the feminist essay about Bertha would not have been missed at all if it weren’t there.
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
YA lovers who wouldn’t mind having Jane Eyre butchered in front of their eyes.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Eve Marie Mont’s website | Eve Marie Mont on Twitter

The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Publication year: 2007
Genre: time travel / dystopia
Time and place: mostly 2012, an alternate version of US (actually, the US does not exist as it has seceded into North and South a few decades before); also, some 1912, on board the Titanic
Narrated in: third-person omniscient
First sentence:Jonathan Wells stood by the starboard railing, a gaunt figure in a dinner jacket.
Verdict: It has its good parts but on the whole it’s not for me.

Continue reading

Out of Time by Deborah Truscott

Genre: Time Travel / Romance
Main characters: Kathleen “Kathy Lee” Finlay, Colonel Robert Christian Upton
Time and place: contemporary US
First sentence:I buried Earl shortly after Valentine day.

Verdict: Enjoyed it :)

Summary
At thirty-two, Kathy Lee’s marriage is in shambles. It’s time for her to take a deep breath and address the problem head-on. However, before moving away and asserting her independence, there is one more thing she has to do: sell the house she has inherited from her uncle, the house she is quite fond of but knows she will never use.

As she was planning to get ready the grounds for the potential buyers’ visits, she went to the shed to get a rake. There was something else in the shed but tools however: a man, strangely dressed and just as surprised to find himself there as she was. More so actually, since he is very convinced that it’s the autumn of 1777, and where did the wall he was just sitting on go?

General impression
An nice book that started out okay and got better as I read on.

Characters
I wasn’t fond of Kathy Lee for most of the book. I didn’t dislike her, she seemed nice enough, but she also seemed more like a placeholder for a person. I cannot pinpoint why I felt like that, because the author has been really thorough with her, giving her a family, back story, and even a cat. The feeling subsided in the second half of the book but in the first few pages Kathy seemed to exist simply because someone had to be there to meet and greet the colonel, and no more. She also seems a bit too selfless to be true, particularly at first, when she first meets Robert and she radically alters her own plans to include him, although he was a total stranger: “We’d simply stay here as long as it took to get the Colonel back, and if it took longer than we thought I’d tell Lila I had decided to keep the house after all. That I would live here. And then we’d set up camp — the children, me, and, um, oh hell, Uncle Robert. And hope to God that no one came to visit us.”

On the other hand Robert, the colonel, felt sort of opposite: a character I rapidly grew attached to, which is an interesting thing if we consider that we only see him through Kathy Lee’s eyes. The fact that he was a British soldier fighting the Americans-to-be was a particularly nice touch :) Sure, he does adapt to modern times and morals blazingly fast, but that is sort of a given in a TT book, else the protagonists could hardly understand one another. Furthermore, the trip to this century has addled his senses a bit, a thing that can also account for some of his flexibility. Overall he’s a nice guy, smart, handsome, and with a troubled past — all the quintessential traits of a romance hero — and yet he didn’t feel cliché.

Relationships
One of the parts I liked most was the relationship between Kathy Lee and Lila, her mother. Lila is a historical romance writer five-times divorced, whose mental issues made her spend some time in a hospital while Kathy Lee grew up. As the latter puts it, “Until I went away to college I spent a good portion of my life never really understanding what was going on around me or what was going to happen next“. Even now the two are not very close, and Lila feels guilt for all the times in Kathy Lee’s childhoos that she was away. And yet all throughout the book it is obvious that Lila loves Kathy, and Kathy loves Lila despite it all. show spoiler

As for the main relationship, it started out a bit less that ideal, especially as for the first bit Kathy Lee acted like she was the mother and Robert her unruly child. However, as pages flew by and our hero and heroine grew used to each other, the relationship between them got cozier, making a romance between both desirable and believable.

Plot
The book revolves around the way Robert gets to adapt to his new environment, as well as his attempts to go back home. There is a bit of element of suspense, as there may be someone, an enemy, that is after him, but it is mostly hinted at than presented outright. I personally was far less interested in the ‘Robert adapting’ part than any of the rest.

What I liked most
The way Robert just had to explain the etymology of the names of the things he discovers in the present day. I didn’t realize there are so many things with Greek/Latin names surrounding us. Also, his infectious curiosity about how everything works, even convincing someone at one time to open up a lawn mower to show him what’s inside. I’ve seen the ‘man from the past discovers modern technology’ trope quite a few times until now (a thing that’s only natural, given my penchant for time travel-ly stuff) and I can say that this author has dealt with it very, very well.

What I liked least
A nitpick, but I couldn’t help feeling that there was no place for the parenthesis that appeared now and then (this may very well be the only book with parenthesis in it I’ve ever seen). Why yes, I know that I too am guilty of parenthesis overuse, but it feels a bit different to find them in a novel, especially as there were times there wasn’t an actual need for them. It made me feel like the book lacked an editor, which is a pity because other than this and a few typos here and there the book was rather okay written1.

Thoughts on the title
Quite generic, as I imagine it would fit more or less any time travel book out there. However, I must admit it was the thing that attracted me to the book (since I am such a fan of time travel stories and all) so it must be doing something right too.

Thoughts on the ending
Nicely done :)
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Recommend it to?
Anyone in the mood for a light time travelling romance.

Buy this from amazon.com | Deborah Truscott on Facebook

  1. ah, sad sad times, when we consider a few typos to be nothing bad. I cannot help remembering how, eons ago, even one typo in a book was quite a big deal :( []

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Genre: Thriller
Main characters: Jake Epping/George Amberson
Time and place: 2011/1958-1963, US (a small part of the book takes place in Derry, Maine)
First sentence:I have never been what you’d call a crying man.
Verdict: Loved it :)

Summary
Meet Jake Epping, 35. An English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, and recently divorced. He leads quite an ordinary, uneventful existence, until one day a phone call turns his life upside down.

When you go down the steps, it’s always 11:58 A.M. on the morning of September ninth, 1958.

Turns out time travel is in fact possible. Sure, it’s always in the same time and the same place, but it is quite a huge discovery nonetheless. It’s also a chance for Jake to put right things that once went wrong, starting with the day a demented father killed his wife and children, and ending with (why not) one of the biggest events in recent history, the JFK assassination.

However, the past does not easily accept to be changed. Each step away from the original timeline is a struggle — would Jake be able to win?

General impression
Oh, how I have waited for this book! Ever since I first read there was going to be a Stephen King book involving time travel and wanting to change history for the better I was totally hooked. And now that I have read it I can only say that it was every bit as good as I imagined it to be :)

Setting
Getting to see the life in 50s/60s-small-town-America through the eyes of a contemporary was quite a treat for me. I loved how, particularly at first, Jake kept comparing the old ways with his present-day ones, and usually it was the present that kept falling short. Life seems to have been a lot more peaceful half a century ago, complete with people that are (were) nicer and a lot more trusting. Some of the official IDs (the driving licence, if I remember correctly) didn’t even have photos!

One of my favorite scenes regarding past/present differences was when Jake went to a bank to make a deposit, and noticed how everything was done on paper. A thing that was only to be expected, since the PCs were still a long way off, and yet the mere idea struck me as novel in an it’s-so-obvious-why-didn’t-I-think-about-it-before kind of way. For some reason I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around a computerless bank (which only goes to show how used I got with having computers everywhere around me, since I cannot quite imagine a world without them).

Another notable difference between the then and now was that smoking seems to have been everyone’s favorite pastime back then. A thing that’s only natural, I guess, since no connection with cancer had yet been made, and all the papers were filled with ads portraying smoking as the coolest thing ever — and yet I, like Jake, found somewhat strange a world more often surrounded by blue smoke clouds than not, simply because it was so very different from the way things are now. I love books that make me think of things I have never thought of before, so this book was to me a winner from this point of view at the very least.

Characters
To be honest, Jake felt a bit Mary Sue-ish to me (or whatever the male counterpart of a Mary Sue is). He is supposed to be this ordinary teacher, but as the book unfolds it turns out there is nothing he cannot do, be it lindy hopping, killing people in cold blood, directing a successful play or writing what was quite likely to be a best-selling novel. His drive to do (what he considers) the right thing never falters, despite the fact that he knows the past will not allow to be changed without putting up a brutal fight. And, Mary Sue or not, I very much admired him for that. As I liked the way he always ended up teaching English, because this chance to help young minds expand was what he considered his vocation. I really do not have anything to reproach him, other than his being a tad too close to perfection :)

As a character, Lee Harvey Oswald was sort of a weaselly young man. There was no way in the world for the author to pull off making him sympathetic, and so he didn’t even try. The first time we ever meet Oswald is during an argument with his wife, Marina, whom he treats like dirt, and it all goes mostly downhill from there. And, of course, adding to that we have the fact that we only get to see him through Jake’s eyes, and Jake is not exactly an objective party (I am quite certain that Oswald would have been despicable enough even if he had the benefit of a not-so-subjective narrator, though). This however makes him feel more like a caricature (having some traits exaggerated while others are ignored) than a real human being — not that I am complaining in any way, the book is long enough as it is, plus the author didn’t have that much creative freedom in this case, as Oswald’s character has been documented over and over again. And yet, wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if the line drawn between good and bad had been at least a little blurry?

I should now say something about Sadie too. However, for most of the book I didn’t have that much interest in her. Sure, I loved to see the relationship between her and Jake develop (mostly because I liked him and so I wanted him to be happy), but other than that there was always something that felt to me a bit off about her, although try as I might I cannot quite put my finger on it. Perhaps she seemed to me overly-fragile and likely to break — I say that because somewhere in the last bunch of pages she starts acting sort of badass (she even threatens someone with a knife), and I actually liked her then, despite the fact that the said change did not seem all that plausible to me. Or who knows, perhaps I have just read her wrong, or did not pay her enough attention or something. Either way, we just did not click.

Relationships
Jake however totally clicked with her :)
By now I have read quite a bunch of reviews, and mostly they all agree that the relationship between Jake and Sadie was one of the best things in the book. Ah, and it is indeed a nice relationship (particularly if we consider I enjoyed reading about it despite my less-than-lukewarm feelings for Sadie), but was I as impressed by it as some of the rest of the world? The answer is no, but this may well be my fault; after all, I started this book in order to read about time travel and affecting timelines and the likes, while a love story I could very well take or leave :)

Plot
I was very happy to discover that this is a very tame book, horror-wise, as there is almost no gore at all (at least by Mr. King’s standards), and there’s only a slight hint of evil lurking nearby — just enough of it to be deliciously creepy, no more. The vast majority of the plot revolves around Jake’s attempts to create a better future. At times this can turn out to be somewhat boring, as in order to take action Jake needs to stake out his ‘targets’ for a while, however for me there always was present an underlying sense of excitement: “will he be able to pull it off?” and “how will he be able to pull it off?”

What I liked most
The time travel! I am first and foremost a time travel buff, so how was I not to like it? :)
The history part of it! Seeing as I am also a history buff, I was bound to jump for joy seeing how I had an opportunity to learn more about a couple of people (JFK/LHO) that up until now I knew rather little about.

And then there’s of course the small details, such as I found it interesting how Al could afford to have the cheapest burgers around the area because he bought his meat from the past, at ’58 prices :) Although in his case it would have been a lot wiser if he had raised the prices a bit, methinks; as things were most people avoided Al’s establishment thinking that the meat in the burgers couldn’t possibly be actual beef given how cheap it was.

What I liked least
The time for nitpicking is upon us: at one time Jake is writing both a book and his memoirs, saying about the latter something like “these are the pages you are reading now”. But. But then he is forced to make a quick escape to the present day and he leaves the pages behind1 :) (and of course they get lost in the reset when he gets back in 1958)

Other than that, the one moment I found least enjoyable was the one when Jake sees a part of Sadie’s name (“DORIS DUN”), and it was the same as a part of the name of a woman whose husband has tried to kill her — so boom, all of a sudden Jake has this crazy idea that Sadie’s husband too will do the same thing. While I did get (and enjoyed) the parts regarding the past “harmonizing” with itself, this particular moment seemed to me to be pushing it a teensy tiny bit too far.

Thoughts on the ending
Unexpected and, as such, nothing short of brilliant :)

show spoiler

Recommend it to?
The Goodreads rating is 4.27, so if you have at least a passing interest in either Stephen King or time travel stories, I heartily encourage you to give it a try.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk | Stephen King’s website

Written by the same author:

Black House (with Peter Straub)
Under the Dome

  1. I am actually hoping to be wrong about this one, it seems to me quite a big slip up if the author did indeed slip. []

My Unfair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Main characters: Chrysanthemum Everstar, Tansy Miller Harris, Hudson Gardner
Time and place: mostly Sherwood Forest in the year 1199; a small Arizona town in “early twenty-first century”
First sentence:Dear Professor Goldengill,
Thank you for another opportunity to raise my semester grade with an extra-credit project.

Verdict: Four stars.

Summary:
By the time Tansy was twelve, she had worlds without number enfolded in her heart. And each one of them was built with the scaffolding of her father’s voice. She couldn’t read without hearing him narrate the story in her mind.

By the time Tansy turned thirteen, her parents got a divorce and her father moved away. Tansy, always a Daddy’s girl, feels that he has abandoned her, like she no longer mattered. When Tansy’s sister gets a part in a Broadway play, their mother has to go on tour with her, and Tansy is sent to live with her father and his new family. She still feels unimportant to him though. She starts dating a boy her Dad disapproves, just to show him that she couldn’t care less about his opinion either :)

But things go awry one evening and Tansy ends up at the police station. She tries to play tough, but she is a good girl at heart so she is easily tricked into divulging the guilt of her boyfriend and his gang. The next days are a difficult time for Tansy, who feels both hopeless and pathetic. There is a huge surprise in store for her though: her level of patheticness was so high it earned her a fairy godmother, complete with a set of three wishes to be fulfilled!

Alas, Chrysanthemum Everstar, the fairy, is but an amateur one, the kind that did not pay much attention in school. Tansy’s wishes end up taking her on a wild ride, including Robin Hood, King John, Rumpelstitskin, and… Hudson, the local police chief’s son. The only way to get back to a normal life is for Tansy to figure out the moral to her own story — will she be able to?

General impression
After reading and liking My Fair Godmother so much, it was absolutely obvious that this will be the next book I pick up. Now, however, I am not sure it was such a good idea. Thing is, I have found the first book absolutely charming not in the least because of the novelty of it all; while the wishes-gone-horribly-wrong theme is hardly novel, I do not remember when was the last time I encountered it, so I enjoyed everything and its freshness. In this context, the second book, which is based mostly on the same ideas, felt somewhat recycled and unoriginal in comparison. A pity, since it was a cute book, and I think I would have liked it a lot more had I read it first (although not as much as I liked My Fair Godmother, mind you, there are no patronizing dwarves here :) ).

Setting
The setting Tansy ends up swept in is a combination between fact and fiction: we’re talking about 1199′s England, the time of King John and Robin Hood, and somehow also the age where Rumpelstitskin made his deal with the miller’s daughter. It’s a time of fairies, and wizards (the king himself has an official one of his own), and other magical creatures; people are used to them and see nothing out of the ordinary in having them around. Rumor has it that the fairies are evil and care about their own interests alone, so mortals usually know better than to deal with them; however now and then someone is desperate enough to ask them for something, and so a new fairytale is born :)

Characters
The thing that I noticed being mentioned the most in reviews of the previous book was that people were happy that the main character doesn’t do well in school; apparently having a straight A student as a main character is somewhat of a cliche. The author must have noticed that too, so she pushes the envelope a bit farther this time: the reason Tansy does not do particularly well in school is that she wants to spite her father, who was a librarian, a book lover, and the one who taught her to enjoy books. It’s actually fun to watch Tansy trying to be a rebel, as deep down she is the goody-two-shoes type :) Luckily, shortly after the book opens, she realizes that the path she’s on leads her nowhere, so she’ll have to think of a new strategy to win her father’s heart. She doesn’t seem to have heard the song about money not being able to buy love, so that ends up being her main wish: to be able to turn everything she wants into gold. I liked the way the author has laid out Tansy’s motivations, managing to allow her to have such a wish without seeming greedy. The thing about Tansy is that, unlike Savannah (who among other things has tried to slay an ogre on her own), she is more damsel-in-distress-y, having people rescue her and take care of her more often than not. Which isn’t to say I did not like her — she’s brave, and kind, and willing to sacrifice things for what she thinks is right.

As for Hudson, I did not feel anything for him for most of the book. I actually spent about half the pages trying to put my finger on the reason why Hudson didn’t particularly work for me (unlike Tristan, whom I found interesting even at the times when I wasn’t sure whether I liked him or not). The closest I could come to an explanation is that Hudson is the distant type, and, as we see things through Tansy’s eyes, we don’t get to know enough about him to become emotionally invested in his adventures. Case in point: he becomes a lot more sympathetic near the end, as he gets closer to Tansy (and she gets to know him better). Coincidence? I think not. :)

Moving on to Chrissy, I was somewhat confused by her behaviour in this book. While in the first one she has been behaving somewhat erratically, yet managed to keep things balanced enough for me to still find her sympathetic despite her lack of logic, in this book she crosses the threshold into downright strange and sometimes silly. While the hint that she may have had a master plan all along is still there, this time I could not buy it, as things were too far out of control at times for her to pretend otherwise. At least I found amusing the way she had to get a job as a tooth fairy in order to feed her shopping addiction :)
I wonder whether there’s ever gonna be a sequel (she still hasn’t been admitted into university, so she is bound to have at least one other extra project :) ), and if so where will the story take her (and us) next.

Relationships
All I can say here is that the relationship between the two main characters started out in quite an original way :) Sure, it was somewhat obvious they will end up together ever since they first met, but the thing that actually brought them together was a complete surprise:
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Something I liked
I thought the way that Tansy was able to solve her problem with Rumpelstitskin was quite cool, in an imaginatively-plausible kind of way.
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Also, I was amused to note that this book answered one of the questions I asked in my previous review (“how do fairies decide which mortal to choose as godson or goddaughter?”). In Chrissy’s own words: “I needed an extra-credit project, and your life qualified according to the pathetic-o-meter.” :)

A quote about King John’s delight on being offered golden thread spools:

He stopped at several of the spools, admiring them like they were works of art. “Resplendent! Prodigious!”

He knelt down in front of one and stroked it. “We shall name this one Theobald, and he shall sit at the foot of our bed.”

Haverton made note of it on a scroll he carried. “I’ll have the guards take it there at once, sire.”

King John moved onto another spool, patting it lightly. “And this one we shall name Helewise because she is beauteous. Splendiferous.”

Something I did not like
There were a few things that I did not like, but all of them are rather small so mentioning them would feel like nitpicking :)

Thoughts on the title
Ah, I even liked the title of the other book better than this one’s :)
Although, to make this title justice, Chrissy does act somewhat out of whack in this book, which I imagine qualifies her for being considered “unfair”. So at least it’s an accurate title if nothing else :)

Thoughts on the ending
The ending was by far the best moment of the whole book’s. Loved it loved it loved it :)
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Recommend it to?
Anyone who wants to enjoy a light but not overly light read. This is a second book in a series, but the only connection between this and the previous book is the presence of Chrysanthemum, so you don’t need to know anything about the first book in order to enjoy this one.

Buy this from amazon.com | Buy this from bookdepository.co.uk

This book is a sequel to:
My Fair Godmother

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison

Genre: Fantasy, YA
Main characters: Chrysanthemum Everstar, Savannah Delano, Tristan Hawkins
Time and place: “Herndon, Virginia, early twenty-first century”; also, a land of fairytales, called Pampovilla, in the Middle Ages
First sentence:Dear Professor Goldengill, Thank you for allowing me to raise my semester grade through this extra-credit project.
Verdict: Five stars.

Summary:
The prom is approaching and Savannah, recently dumped by her boyfriend, has no one to go with. Which is why, approached by a fairy saying she’ll grant her three wishes, Savannah thinks aloud about how nice it would be if her life would have a prince to take her to a ball, you know, just like in a fairytale.

Next thing she knows, she’s Cinderella. Eight months before the ball. And the fairy, Chrysanthemum, is nowhere to be seen.

General impression
I loved this! The writing style (I would have quoted half the book if it were possible), the ideas, the characters, the world building, everything. I would never have thought I would like so much a book about an airheaded high-schooler who doesn’t care much about books, but I did! I am so looking forward to the sequel :)

Setting
Somewhere outside our world there is a school of Fairy Godmothers, where teenage fairies are studying various topics meant to help them in their future career. The criteria that makes a fairy become a particular someone’s godmother were not expounded upon; suffice it to say that a fairy is assigned a person, and they have to grant that person three wishes (because that’s how the story goes, right?) :)
Getting to live in a world where a fairy can poof into one’s existence at any moment, offering to grant three wishes, is bound to lead to some interesting adventures — as is the case with this book. Now, while fairies (and leprechauns, and computer gremlins) do exist and take their Godmothering responsibilities very seriously, their assignments are spread around in time and space, so very few people know about them at a given moment.

This is the case in Pampovilla too, actually. While there is plenty of magic there, complete with knights and ogres and dragons to be vanquished, most of the atmosphere is classical Middle Age-y, with folks going around their business, most of them knowing about the magic and the likes from stories only, not having direct contact with it. This made the characters transition from their own world to Pampovilla as seamless as possible in the circumstances, especially as even Savannah knew enough about the fairytales she found herself in to know what to expect.

Characters
The main reason I liked this book so much are the characters, whom I found likable and relatable, despite the difference in age and, well, everything else.

The book starts out focusing on Jane, the straight A student and the serious one (“The way the teachers loved her, they could have erected a statue in her honor. They would entitle it The Student the Rest of You Should Have Been“). And also, as was somewhat to be expected, the one in love with a guy that doesn’t even know she exists.

And then the POV switches to Savannah, the beautiful, airheaded sister, the one who thinks high school exists merely as an opportunity to socialize, preferably with cute guys. I did not know what to make of her at first but, somewhat to my surprise, she turned out to be a very likable character. I was happy to see that, despite her lack of interest in school-related stuff, Savannah never acts dumb, or ditsy. She is smart, brave, kind, and never takes the easiest way out just because it’s the easiest; she always tries to do the right thing, and I can never resist that :)

The fun part is that the fair godmother, Chrisantemum (Chrissy from now on), is very much of a teenage girl herself: good looking, loves flirting and pretty clothes, and is able to spend countless hours shopping at the mall with her friends. Alas, these activities keep her too occupied to actually pay attention to her charge, which is how Savannah ends up in all sorts of situations in the first place. Chrissy is, in a way, too much of a teenager for my taste, and, while it was fun meeting her and all, I am not sure I would have liked interacting with her for a longer period of time (alas, I may be too old and grumpy to get her). To be fair, her lack of patience regarding other people may be related less with her being a teenager and more with her being a fairy, and as such thinking herself way above humans (her paper about her assignment is named “How I Used Magic to Grant Wishes, Make Mortals Happy, and Rescue Them from Their Dreary Lives” :) ). However, when all is said and done I cannot say I did not like her; quite the opposite actually, I am looking forward to reading the next book she stars in.

As for Tristan, I think it was a very good idea to have him spend a few months in the Middle Ages before meeting the narrator/reader again. He must have taken it quite hard at first, but after a while he ends up adjusting very well to the day and age he finds himself in. I very much liked his resourcefulness, how he managed to find a way to earn his bread (by telling stories — according to him people turned out to be great fans of Battlestar Galactica :) ), and how he has formulated a plan to get out of his predicament. A difficult plan too, but he doesn’t waste any time complaining about what he cannot change, he just does his best with whatever tools he has at hand. And to think that in his own land he was a rather shy teenager :)

Relationships
The book starts out in Jane’s POV, so we get to see the way her relationship with her sister’s then boyfriend has begun and evolved from a sympathetic standpoint. Which was quite a nice touch, in my opinion. Jane’s situation is not easy, but she is indeed a far better match for the guy she’s been interested in all year (far before he met her sister) than Savannah is. And deep, deep down Savannah herself knows it, although she is disappointed and heartbroken and lacking a date to the most important social event in the near future. I liked the relationship between the two sisters, although it’s not much dwelt upon. I liked how each of them cared and worried for the other, despite there being a world of difference between them and despite the recent event that has pushed them apart.

As for Savannah and the guy she’ll end up with (I’m not saying who that is :) ), I liked the way their relationship develops. Sure, he has been interested in her all along, and yet she never noticed him until very recently. Drawn to him by a sense of duty, little by little she starts noticing him as a person, the way he looks, the jokes he makes, the way he acts. Just the kind of relationship I like seeing in books :)

Plot
About a decade ago there was a movie called Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser starring as a guy who’s granted seven wishes by the devil. However, each and every time he makes a wish, the devil (Elizabeth Hurley) takes it literally, making each wish’s fulfillment something to get rid of rather than something good. It’s one of my favorite comedies, and it is the one this book reminded me of over and over again. :)

What I liked
My favorite part was when Savannah found herself in the middle of Snow White story, and everyone was treating her condescendingly because it seems that the original Snow White wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Apparently, she is the one who has nicknamed the seven dwarves Grumpy and Doc and Dopey and the rest, because she couldn’t keep track of their actual names.
On the whole I found the dwarves’ reactions to her to be laugh-out-loud funny, and I am really sorry I cannot quote that whole part here :) They are all quite fond of her, and try to humor her as much as possible (e.g. they all still wear the misshapen caps Snow White has made them when she learned to knit), and yet somehow that always turns out to be quite hard to do (even now, as Savannah has replaced Snow White, because although she is smart enough she still knows too little about the new environment to act like a person who truly belongs).

I cannot help but quoting a part, although I am not sure how much it works outside context:

[...] I thought of the perfect way to learn the dwarfs’ names. I’d just call out a name and see which
dwarf answered me. It would be easy. Ha — and they thought I wasn’t smart.
“Dopey?” I asked.
“Of course you’re not,” the one in the brown cap said. “You’re just not used to cooking yet.” He went to the cupboard, took out a stack of bowls and spoons, and handed them out.
A dwarf in a blue cap went to the soup pot and stirred it. He kept poking the spoon through it as though
searching for something, then sighed, disappointed.
“Well, bring over your bowls and we’ll say grace.”
The gray-capped dwarf looked into the pot. “Aye, it needs praying.”
“Sleepy?” I called out.
“I am now,” the gray-capped dwarf said. “Think I’ll turn in for the night instead of eating.”
I tried one more time, searching the dwarfs’ faces.
“Doc?”
“Don’t be a pessimist,” The brown-capped dwarf said and handed me a bowl. “No one’s gotten sick from eat-
ing your food for days now.”

Fun bits aside, I liked how the author has managed to strike a balance between a clear, readable writing style and beautiful prose. Consider this quote for example:

Guys can smell desperation. It triggers an instinct in them to run far and fast so they aren’t around when a woman starts peeling apart her heart. They know she’ll ask for help in putting it back together the right way — intact and beating correctly — and they dread the thought of puzzling over layers that they can’t understand, let alone rebuild. They’d rather just not get blood on their hands. But sharks are different. They smell the blood of desperation and circle in. They whisper into a girl’s ear, “I’ll make it better. I’ll make you forget all about your pain.” Sharks do this by eating your heart, but they never mention this beforehand. That is the thing about sharks.

It makes me want to go out and find some other book of the author’s, to get to enjoy her writing some more.

What I did not like
Five stars = there’s nothing I want to complain about, I have liked everything well enough.
Which is definitely the case here. :)

Thoughts on the title
The title is the thing that has first piqued my interest in this book. Its explanation is funny in itself: Chrissy is a fair godmother because her grades are only fair, not good. And, according to Savannah, it shows :)

Thoughts on the ending
I cannot help but wonder whether Chrissy knew all along how things will eventually unfold (that everything will end well and everyone will benefit from the experience) or she was just lucky enough to have things work out in the end. I am leaning towards the former, although Chrissy does seem enough of an airhead most of the time to make the latter very plausible too.

The moral of the story is “nothing worth having comes easy”; in Chrissy’s own words:

“Did you think wishes were like kittens, that all they were going to do was purr and cuddle with you?” She shook her head benevolently. “Those type of wishes have no power. The only wishes that will ever change you are the kind that may, at any moment, eat you whole.But in the end, they are the only wishes that matter.”

Recommend it to?
Anyone who doesn’t really and truly hate YA. And who knows, you might like it even so (I myself am not crazy about some of today’s YA tropes, and this book managed to steer clear of all of them; and did I mention it’s fun? :) )

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Part of the same series:
My Unfair Godmother

Crusade in Jeans by Thea Beckman

Genre: Historical fiction / Fantasy / Juvenile fiction
Main characters: Rudolf Hefting of Amsterdam :)
Time and place: 1212, Germany and Italy
First sentence:“And this,” said Dr. Simiak, “is the material-transmitter.”
Verdict: Interesting enough. :)

Summary:

“He had allowed himself to be transported to the Middle Ages in the romantic hope that he might attend a tournament. A miscalculation had pitched him into the middle of the children’s crusade, which to him seemed no less than insane, but which he also found deeply moving.”

And thus begins Dolf’s adventure in the Middle Ages :)

General impression
The book is nicely written (although people have been complaining about the translation), and very well documented, although the author does take some liberties. Although written in the 70s it has aged well; the only thing I have to complain about is the slow pacing — I am fairly certain the expectations have altered radically in that area in the last 40 years, so current-day children may get bored. And of course, thank you NetGalley for the book! :)

Setting
The year is 1212 and superstitions are everywhere. The most obvious example of this is how the very crusade Dolf is part of has started: a shepherd boy thought that God told him to take children with him and travel to Genoa. Once there, the sea will part; the children will pass through, and reach Jerusalem, where the purity of their hearts will make the Saracens flee and surrender the city.

A quote explaining the way the people’s minds worked:

What dark recesses were hidden in the pious souls of these people of the Middle Ages? How easily they renounced responsibility for their deeds! It was God who ruled the world, not them. They unhesitatingly declared God or the Devil to be responsible for their deepest emotions, their desires for revenge or their illusions.

Characters
I absolutely liked Dolf. The fact that he is not written like a modern teenage character (cracking up jokes at all times, be them more or less appropriate, and bragging how he doesn’t know this or that because he is too cool for paying attention in school) was a huge plus for me. There are some things Dolf knows about the age he finds himself in, and some things he doesn’t — I found this to be the most plausible choice, and I loved that. Actually, Dolf is every bit as I would have wanted the hero of such book to be: he cares for those around him and does his best to improve their lives, he’s courageous and stands his ground when he needs to, he never complains about his lot in life (ending up stranded most likely forever in a backward century is quite a lot for someone to deal with), and so on and so forth. Yet he’s not made of steel — sometimes it seems there’s no way to make a bad situation even remotely right. He got discouraged when his efforts seemed in vain, he even cried. But he always was able to find a way in the end, and I liked that.

Another important character was Leonardo Fibonacci, who in the book is a young student travelling to Bologna. There is a scene where Dolf teaches him the Arabic numerals, a nice touch given that Fibonacci is said to be the one who made Arabic numerals popular in Europe (Roman numerals were still extensively used in his time). The only problem is that Fibonacci was 42 in 1212; also, his magnus opus was published in 1202, ten years prior. I cannot but wonder why did the author think to have Fibonacci as a character in the first place — other than the scene I mentioned there is no talk of math, much less of something ‘advanced’, that only a mathematician of the age could have known, so there is basically no use to having a known mathematician as a character, versus having a random person no one has heard about, and whose personal history has not been documented.

As far as secondary characters go, we have a bunch of them, and now and then some of them die (rather believable given the circumstances they travel in, and I actually like it when an author doesn’t miraculously spare everyone). My favorite was Carolus, a page who was told he would become the king of Jerusalem; like Dolf, he never spares any effort to make right the things he can make right, regardless of the effort involved. As for girl characters, I found them disappointing in a way, as they don’t do much of anything other than healing the sick or wounded as best they can. I understand that this was the way of the times, but… yawn.

Relationships
There are no clearly spelled feelings between the members of the cast (how un-cliche, I liked that). Sure, this children as a whole trust Dolf, he loves them, the monks love them (two out of three), various friendships form, there’s even a girl that’s friends with Dolf — but I was very happy to discover that the author has chosen that to take the oh-so-predictable path of having Dolf fall in love with a 12th century girl, a doomed first love that would have him choose between going home to his family or staying with her, yadda yadda yadda (especially as he’s not yet fourteen, so it would have been a tad early to burden him with all that drama).

Plot
I would say there are two parts of the plot, and two different story arcs. As I started reading I was very, very curious what would happen when the children would reach the sea shore, and Nicolas would have to perform his miracle. Geography is not my strong suit, but even so I had an idea about the time (in-book
time) until this episode, and I could not put the book down until seeing how it all resolved.

However, this happened at more or less about two thirds of the book. There were plenty of pages left, and unfortunately now there was no longer a definite timeline. For all I knew, there could have been years until something truly outstanding happened. So, while I read on, curious about the way Dolf will manage to go back home (whether he will go back home actually; but I was fairly certain he won’t remain stuck in the Middle Ages forever), I kinda lost interest in any of the rest. The plot felt dragging to me, although there isn’t much difference between the children’s adventures before the seaside event, and after. And yet now that I no longer had some nearby event to look forward to my interest kinda waned.

Thoughts on the title
The title is what I first noticed about this book. I’d say it’s great :) The two words, ‘crusade’ and ‘jeans’, together basically scream time-travel, making it easy for the fans of the genre (me, me, me!) to notice it.

Thoughts on the ending
Interesting :)
show spoiler

What I liked most
The way that the author has managed to interweave history (at least the 70s version of it) with the story in the book. According to Wikipedia it seems there have been two children’s crusades. One of them was led by a German shepherd named Nicholas, just like the one in the book (and consisted of about 7000 children, who crossed the Alps into Italy, where they hoped the sea would part in front of them; show spoiler

— all of these just like in the book). The second crusade counted 30 000 children, and was led by a 14 year old boy named Stephan — an event that is also mentioned in the book as having recently happened. And yeah, apparently a recent interpretation of the original texts has concluded that there were never any children involved in any crusades (this study was done in 1977, a few years after the book was released), but it didn’t detract in any way from my enjoying the book.

show spoiler

What I liked least
There’s nothing that has bothered me enough to be worth mentioning here :)

Recommend it to?
Kids who enjoy time travel stories and/or medieval times.
Adults can give it a try too, of course. :)

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Time and Again / Nora Roberts

Genre:Romance, Fiction, Time Travel

Time Was

Main characters:Liberty “Libby” Stone, Caleb “Cal” Hornblower
Summary:One day Cal fell out of the sky straight into Libby’s life. But, as she took him home and tended him, little did she know exactly how out of the ordinary was that. Because Cal did come from Philadelphia, as he claimed, only it was the Philadelphia of 300 years into the future. Predictably enough they both fall in love passionately, although they know their time together is limited, as Cal has to go back to the future where he belongs.

Times Change

Main characters:Sunbeam “Sunny” Stone, Jacob “J.T.” Hornblower
Summary:History is a bit repeating here: we have Libby’s sister staying at the same cabin and Cal’s brother coming from the future. :) And of course they both fall in love (despite both being a bit temperamental) and they face the same problem as Libby and Cal did (although J.T. doesn’t have the courage to tell Sunny where and when he’s from).

My favorite couple was Sunny’s and J.T.’s, the temperamental ones, spending their time arguing or literally fighting. The other two were likable enough too (though what kind of name is Liberty Stone) but they were a bit too mellow for my taste. All day they did nothing but avoiding each other (until they got together of course), and it kinda got a bit boring after a while. I also liked the girls’ parents, who interestingly enough were going to be both household names into the future (she was a rug weaver whose work was going to get in museums and his herbal tea company was going to grow to be huge and famous even after three centuries).

When I was young I really liked Nora Roberts books, but it seems like my opinion is changing. Most of the time lately I find them almost too boring to go on. You usually get two characters in the beginning, and you know they are going to get together (sometimes they are the only two characters, what else could happen). Most times these characters, though they are madly attracted to each other and they have no actual reason why they shouldn’t be together, keep finding various reasons to postpone it *yawn*. Avoiding to touch each other, stuff like that. A bit boring when nothing else happens, to keep your mind occupied. And parts of this book are very much like that. Luckily there are a few interesting scenes too, when characters stop avoiding each other and stuff happens, but my general state was ‘unexcited’.

As a conclusion, it probably is an OK book if you want a simple, plain romance. Two (four) people madly loving each other and making passionate love to each other. If you want something more than that I wouldn’t quite recommend it.