Tag Archives: rating 3.5 of 5

The Summoner

Green, Layton. The Summoner (2010). Digital only. GryphonWorks. $2.99*

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started poking at this book; it seemed interesting enough, but not my usual read. It’s fairly apparent from my choice of books that I like young adult and romance novels– both genres known for being rather easy reads**. But I figured “why not” and found myself quickly engaged.


Dominic Grey is world-worn and jaded,  stuck in a dead-end government job in Zimbabwe. When a diplomat– and friend of the Ambassador– goes missing in the middle of nowhere during a Juju ceremony, Dominic is told to investigate. He won’t be alone, however; Nya Mashumba– local government official– will be escorting him and keeping an eye on his progress, and Viktor Radek– cult expert– will be helping out.

Things aren’t as straightforward as anyone hoped, and Grey is in deeper trouble than he could have imagined. Someone has sent him a message– back off– and he needs to find out who before anyone else disappears.

First Lines

The only thing Dominic Grey knew for certain about the disappearance of William Addison was that it was the strangest case to which he had ever been assigned.


It’s not often that I read a book cold, without knowing anything about it. I often pick books up because I know the author, or I liked the cover/blurb or I saw a good review. I usually have some idea what I’m getting into before I decide “sure, why not?” but in this case, at least, the results weren’t bad.

I found myself pleasantly surprised, for the most part. Dominic Grey is an interesting protagonist with an imperfect past. He’s really good at a couple things, and has a few character flaws which keep him interesting. He apparently speaks three languages– which are never listed– and is very well traveled. He’s a fairly accepting character, who doesn’t make snap-judgements. On the whole, while not an every-man, he is a bit of an ideal-man.

The writing is good, if not spectacular; descriptions were vivid, and most of the dialog was relatively natural. There were moments where characters were overly-expository in their speech, but with a topic/setting most people don’t know a lot about, it’s a damned-if-you-do/don’t balancing act. I feel like for the most part it is alright, though it does get a little bogged down in the second chapter.

The plot is really what makes this book interesting; there is an evil Juju man sacrificing humans to an evil spirit, and Grey, Nya, and Viktor are entangled in the puzzle. There are parts that are surprising, and parts that are not, but on the whole it’s intriguing enough to keep you reading (and good enough that I actually enjoyed reading it; I didn’t want to put it down.) It manages to move along quickly enough that you don’t get bored, without rushing along so fast that you get lost, either. At no point did I have to go “wait, what just happened?,” which is a good sign.

With good writing, solid pacing, an interesting plot, and good characters, this book is worth reading. It gets a 3.5/5*** — I liked it, but I didn’t love it. (Though I wouldn’t have felt upset at having paid $2.99 for it, either.) If it survives and becomes a series, I’ll probably check out the next book.


* Disclosure; I received a free copy of the book for review.

** There are always exceptions to the “easy reads,” The Hunger Games, for example, is not “easy” in any way. (But it’s well worth it.)

*** I am not the sort to read mystery/thrillers often, and I do not enjoy them as much as I enjoy sci-fi/fantasy/romance plots. I think if I were more of a mystery/thriller type this could easily have been a 4/5 or higher.


Filed under Book Review, General Fiction, Mystery & Suspense, Realistic Fiction

Glass Houses

Caine, Rachel. Glass Houses (2006). 239 Pages. Penguin. $6.99

The Morganville Vampires: Volume 1

From the Back Cover

Welcome to Morganville, Texas. Don’t stay out after dark.

It’s a small college town filled with quirky characters. But when the sun goes down, the bad comes out. Because in Morganville, there is an evil that lurks in the darkest shadows– one that will spill out into the bright light of day.

Claire Danvers has had enough of her nightmarish dorm situation. The popular girls never let her forget just where she ranks on the school’s social scene: somewhere less than zero. And Claire really doesn’t have the right connections– to the undead who run the town.

When Claire heads off campus, the imposing old house where she finds a room may not be much better. Her new roommates don’t show many signs of life. But they’ll have Claire’s back when the town’s deepest secrets come crawling out, hungry for fresh blood…

First Lines

On the day Claire became a member of the Glass House, somebody stole her laundry.

When she reached into the crappy, beat-up washing machine, she found nothing but the wet slick sides of the drum, and–like a bad joke– the worst pair of underwear she owned, plus one sock.


I clearly have a strong bias towards strong female characters, which are not really present in this series. Claire is smart, but she’s a victim; she doesn’t get revenge, doesn’t stop the bullying, and the violence, she just flees. There are definitely times when retreating is the best idea, and this book is full of those times.

There’s a lot going on here; an entire town is run by vampires, and most of the human denizens live in fear, and are largely treated as livestock. They are branded by their “protector” who has control over many parts of their lives. They are required to donate blood, their movements are tracked, and they don’t even pretend to have the freedom to leave. What makes them put up with it? Fear and complacency.

Perhaps because of the fear and complacency, when Claire gets into trouble, the only people who try to help her are the loners and outsiders, the people who nobody else wants; Eve, Shane, and Michael. Things start to get really crazy when the four outcasts realize that they can’t keep running, and they aren’t safe, even together.

The novel manages to be interesting, and relatively unique. Everything fits together, and it seems cohesive, which is something. It’s hard to read about characters who are victims to everyone, who never have a true victory, and who are unfortunately at the bottom of the totem pole with no hope of ever rising from that position. There are still moments of humor which lighten the whole thing up, and which count for quite a bit.

This particular volume ends in a semi-cliffhanger, so I would advise having the second volume on hand to continue the story.

It gets a 3.5/5; it’s good, but not amazing.


Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Othello (Volume 7)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 7 (2006). 192 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

Previously: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, Volume 4, Volume 5, Volume 6

The Story This Far…

Yaya Higuchi is your typical Japanese teenager; she goes to school, hangs out with friends, and tries to fit in. Unfortunately, in her efforts to fit in, Yaya has taken it too far, and has become an incredibly quiet, timid girl who gets picked on because she takes it.

Enter Nana, a loud-mouthed opinionated girl who thrives on violence and will enforce Justice upon those who deserve it. She confronts school bullies of varying calibers; from Yaya’s “friends” Seri and Moe to the Hano the pimp, Nana cleans the school. But Nana’s work is never done; there are gropers and molesters and perverts and all sorts of icky people for Nana to beat.

However, there’s more going on for Nana than just Justice; she longs to be a singer, a real rock-star. When an opportunity presents itself (in the form of an invite from Shohei himself) Nana takes it, determined to follow through, no matter what.

Yaya, meanwhile, has withdrawn, unable to comprehend everything which has been going on in her life; she cannot handle the turmoil, and reality is just too upsetting. This leaves Nana in charge of their body until further notice. Will Yaya ever come back? And if Yaya does come back, what will happen to Nana?

In This Volume

Moriyama is worried that Yaya will never come back to him, can he do anything to coax her out? Nana, meanwhile, is pursuing her dream, and wondering what will happen to her if Yaya never returns. Everything comes to a not-so-surprising conclusion.


The series as a whole is very interesting; Nana and Yaya are opposites, completely different people stuck in the same body, yet they need each other. Without Yaya, Nana wouldn’t have restraint, and without Nana, Yaya would lack the courage to do nearly anything. Having been forced to abruptly come to terms with the fact that there she has another personality which she is not aware of is difficult, at best.

Interestingly, the two share the same dream, though Nana pursues music with a more single-minded determination than Yaya, who would not go against her father’s wishes to chase her dream.

There are some issues; characters fade in and out as convenient, setting is frequently established in one frame, and then the characters float in empty panels for a while, and sometimes the story doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. However, the story still fights on through all this, and ends up being a very fun, interesting approach to discovering your identity.

This volume gets a 3.5, because it was a bit rushed, and got a little too cheesy right at the end. However, the series gets a 4/5.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Graphic Novel, Shojo Manga, Young Adult Fiction

Othello (Volume 4)

Ikezawa, Satomi. Othello 4 (2005). 192 Pages. Del Rey. $10.95

Previously: Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3

The Story This Far…

Quiet and timid Yaya Higuchi doesn’t know it, but she has another personality– the outgoing and determined Nana. Unfortunately, quite a few people are very interested in the very noticeable Nana, most notably Shohei, Yaya’s idol.

So far, Nana has gotten Yaya into as many bad situations as she has gotten her out of. Sure, she got rid of Seri and Moe, but her attention-grabbing ways have brought her to Megumi Hano’s attention, and that may not be a good thing. Meanwhile, Moriyama has figured out that Nana and Yaya are the same girl, and does his part to try to protect the innocent Yaya from Nana’s mistakes.

At the end of volume 3, Megumi Hano asks Yaya to help her track down Nana, and Yaya agrees, wondering what she’s getting herself into. In volume 4, we find out.

In This Volume

Hano convinces Yaya to help her find Nana at their school, which is no mean feat, considering how many students there are.

Yaya gets a job with Hano’s father’s talent agency, which is not exactly what it seems, and may not be the good idea Yaya initially thought it was.

Nana gets Yaya out of some financial troubles.

And Hano gets suspicious of the relationship between Yaya and Nana.


I don’t really like the fake-friends that seem to make so many appearances in these series, I consistently think of Sae from Peach Girl when looking at Hano– who calls herself “Hano-chan” which is approximately the equivalent of speaking about yourself in third person constantly. Giving yourself honorifics just isn’t done, and Hano’s use of it is one of the more obvious displays of how unhinged she might be.

Yaya has more issues, and Nana seems to be getting her into a lot of trouble, even when she tries to protect her. The dynamics are interesting, and because this is the 4th book of 7, things are really beginning to build toward a climax.

This particular volume gets a 3.5/5, because I am so very annoyed by parts of it.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Graphic Novel, Humor, Shojo Manga, Young Adult Fiction

Alchemy and Meggy Swann

Cushman, Karen. Alchemy and Meggy Swann (2010). 159 Pages. Clarion Books. $16.00

Margaret Swann has never been a normal girl. Deformed since birth, she has been treated as an outcast, as a tainted soul, cursed by a demon while still in the womb. She’s called “witch” or other more awful names. When Meggy leaves her small town for London, there is no love lost between herself and those she is leaving behind. Despite that, she almost immediately wants to go home, back to her mother’s alehouse, back to what is familiar, if not welcoming.

In London, she is told she has been “summoned” by a man Meggy only knows as “Master Peevish.” It is revealed to her that Master Peevish is an Alchemist, that he expected an able-bodied boy, not a crippled girl, and that he is her father. Her relationship to her father is distant– he never knew anything about her, having been too absorbed in his “science” to stay at a small alehouse in a small town. When he realizes that Meggy’s legs will stop her from being the ideal servant, he ignores her. There is little to say about Meggy and her father, and what there is to say should be read about, rather than spoiled here.

Because people from Meggy’s old village were superstitious, and fell into the category of “cripples were cursed by the devil,” she has never really had friends. The one exception to this is Louise, her pet goose, who was also crippled in a way. Unfortunately, one of the first things Louise does in London is annoy Master Peevish, so Meggy must re-home her only friend. With some help from Roger (her father’s ex-servant/apprentice) Meggy manages to find a place for Louise where nobody will eat her.*

Then, Meggy must learn to make her own way in London. Roger has always been friendly to her, but he is busy now, working with an troupe of players. The cooper next-door is kind, but has his own problems to worry about. There are many other people that Meggy meets while running errands for her father, or trying to fill her stomach. Through her adventuring, she figures out that people can be kind, and that she, herself is kind sometimes.

There are more life-lessons for Meggy before the book is through. Things happen which make her realize that she is strong, despite her disability, and that she can make her own fate instead of having it made for her. Like Cushman’s other heroines, Meggy is a strong girl, and she does alright, in the end.

In Conclusion:

Meggy is the sort of heroine you’re rooting for, despite her being a bit of a jerk in the beginning. She softens, over time, as she realizes that not everyone hates her. The language is a bit dense at times, but if you just keep going, you adjust, (much like Scones and Sensibility) and by the end the language feels natural. There’s a bit of a blurb at the back about the history included in the story, which crams a bit of extra education in there.

Overall, I feel like this was a good book, though I definitely prefer some of Cushman’s other titles a bit more. It scores a 3.5/5– I liked it, but I’m not going to be rushing out to buy my own copy any time soon.


* When I was a kid, my parents got me one bunny. But, they thought, the bunny might be lonely. We’ll get him a friend! Which might have been fine, if the bunnies hadn’t then err… bred like rabbits. We went from one, to two, to five, to thirteen or fourteen at the peak. I gave away bunnies to anyone who would take them if they would promise to never eat it. Of all the animals I’ve kept as pets, chickens are the only ones I’ll eat, because they were dumb and smelly and annoying. Bunnies are soft and snuggly and friendly, and the idea of eating one freaks me out.


Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy

Shakespeare’s Storybook

Ryan, Patrick & Mayhew, James. Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard (2001). 80 Pages. Barefoot Books. $19.99

We all know that it’s only recently that plagiarism really became “bad,” and that playwrights and novelists borrowed liberally from folk tales, novels, and reality to create a lot of their works. I’m sure any of us who have studied any of Shakespeare’s work are aware that he did not think up everything. Rather, he took what was available and adapted it into the very special plays which we know (and mostly love) today.

What this novel does is summarize the barest details of the play, and then introduce a folktale which it was likely (or is known to have been) based off of. It’s illustrated, and explained in terms that your average elementary schooler could understand. My sister Kim said “Hey, that’s cool, I guess.”* The illustrations aren’t bad, either. (They’re really done in a very nicely stylized way.)

We’ve got several stories: “The Devil’s Bet” for The Taming of the Shrew, “The Hill of Roses” for Romeo and Juliet, “A Bargain is a Bargain” for The Merchant of Venice, “Snowdrop” for As You Like It, “Ashboy” for Hamlet, “Cap-o-Rushes” for King Lear, and “The Flower Princess” for The Winter’s Tale.

The stories are nothing special, and most of them are at least passingly familiar. Several of them are Cinderella variations (something I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading) and a few are your standard folktales. A little is said about the origins of each of them, and it is a very cute book. (One which I will be donating to the library, since I don’t need to re-read a children’s book about Shakespeare when I have my massive Norton anthology of Shakespeare anyhow.)

I could explain the contents of the folk tales, but I’ll resist the urge. I’m sure most of you know most of them anyhow. The biggest issue I had with the book was the last story (“The Flower Princess”) in which a “wisest wise woman” calls a King and a Prince “You stupid idiots!” which just doesn’t seem very wise to me. Aside from the fact that her grammar is atrocious, and her vocabulary is hardly child appropriate, there is the fact that she just called two fairly powerful men “Stupid Idiots” to their faces. Before she leads them to “a painting” of their dead loves, only to find out that it’s not a painting when they start to sing. I mean, really. They couldn’t figure out they weren’t a painting? I realize that I’m obsessing over something which by fairy tale conventions I should be willing to ignore, but I’m just not sure I can ignore this one. (And Kim, said sister agreed with me.)

The Quick Version:

If you’re looking to introduce an elementary schooler to some Shakespeare, or want a light fluffy folk-tale read with some heavier literature relationships, then this is the book for you. It’s not terrible, actually. It gets a 3.5/5 and will be donated to the library when I have the time to drop it off.


* She’s 10 next month, so “cool, I guess” is about as enthusiastic as she gets right now. She’s in her “whatever” phase.


Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction

Scones and Sensibility

Eland, Lindsay. Scones and Sensibility (2009). 309 Pages. Egmont. $15.99

I came across Scones and Sensibility in someone’s blog, though I no longer remember where, exactly. They made it sound good, so I got it through Link+, which was definitely worthwhile. I’ve been cheap and broke recently, so the library has been my friend. Despite it taking over a week for me to finally get around to writing the review, I did really enjoy it.

Twelve year-old Polly Madassa longs for the perfect romance of her favorite novels– Pride & Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables. She longs to be a perfectly polished young lady like those in her novels. However, as a young girl who is expected to help out at her family’s bakery (by making deliveries), Polly cannot do things exactly the way she intended.

Chapter One: In Which My Family Is Introduced and I Contemplate the Less-Than-Desirable Traits of My Dear Sister’s Boyfriend*

It was upon turning the last delicate page of my leather-bound copy of Pride and Prejudice that my transformation into a delicate lady of quality was complete. (1)

Polly’s so-called transformation is the source of the entire plot. She tries hard to be a young lady of quality– she writes with a calligraphy set on old-fashioned stationery, she speaks in an “old fashioned” way, and she indulges in ladylike activities. She’s so blissful that she longs to help other people find her happiness– by setting them up for romance**. Her narration also follows this theme, lending her a lot of personality. Of course, as with all books which feature match-making, things don’t go the way she plans. (Especially not her own romance.) There’s a bit of self-realization, and Polly does seem to grow up a bit before the novel ends.

The biggest issue this book has is that it should probably have been 50 pages or so shorter. It sort of drags toward the middle. However, the story as a whole is cute, our main character is charming and well-meaning, even if she sort of messes things up. Her speech gets a little old sometimes, too. The moments where she breaks character are actually more meaningful than pages and pages of other characters inexplicably accepting her eccentricities.

The Quick Version:

With a cute plot, and endearing characters, this book is a winner– if you can get past the language. It takes a while to get used to Polly’s narration, which (as Jenn from Books at Midnight points out) may be too difficult for its target demographic. The title makes me long for baked goods,*** and the story made me want to curl up with an actual Austen novel and relax. It gets a 3.5 out of 5, because the language is a rather large barrier.


* I noticed the chapter titles first, and they set the tone for the whole book. However, there was an error I noticed (Chapter 14 refers to events in Chapter 15, and those in 15 refer to 14’s title) which was momentarily distracting, but not really a big deal.

**Despite the title, which is reminiscent of Sense and Sensibility, this particular novel is much more closely related to Emma, as Polly spends far too much time match-making to be any other Austen heroine.

*** I went back to my home-town for the 4th of July, and longed for an orange-chocolate scone from Moody’s. Unfortunately, I never got around to buying one, and this book just compounded the longing.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction