Monday, January 20, 2020

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: Retold Greek Mythology with Memorable Characters!

The Book Dragon has finished Labyrinth of Shadows by Kyla Stone and gives it 5 claws!
My review: 4.5 stars for a well-written and interesting twist on the Minotaur story from Greek mythology. The author has made Princess Ariadne even more sympathetic than the one I remember from the original story, mainly because she has so much spunk and determination and has not let her scarred and tragic childhood suck her down into despair. She's brave enough to dance with bulls and yet cares so much about others, she's willing to sacrifice herself to save the ones she loves. Her journey through the Labyrinth was frighteningly realistic and made the story difficult to put down. The other characters are memorable, too, including Ariadne's dysfunctional family, her heroic slave, and the doomed young tributes from Athens, which include the demi-god Theseus. The most tragic part of this story is the Minotaur himself, and I love the author's take on this well-known monster. I also appreciate how she handles the less-than-savory aspects of the original story to keep this a PG-13 read.

If you are interested in Greek mythology, especially the story of the Minotaur in the Labyrinth, or love to immerse yourself in a coming-of-age story with an unforgettable brave young woman, I recommend this book!

Here's a better picture of the gorgeous cover:

Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: An epic historical family saga!

The Book Dragon has read Because That's What Families Do by Pamela Sharp and gives it a roaring five claws!
My 5 star review: This is a very long book, but in the tradition of epic historical fiction, it does not seem at all long because I was swept up in the story and totally immersed. The author has done such excellent research that it feels like I was transported back in time and experienced slices of life from the 1940's, 50's, and 60's with the members of a lovable, not-so-average family in South Carolina. The three main characters are the religious and initially mild-mannered Beth Bradbourne, her flamboyant cousin Sarah Lockridge, and the young man they both fall in love with, handsome devil Clayton Martin, who is a perfectly rotten antagonist. Not only these three become living, breathing humans, but the large cast of unforgettable secondary characters are portrayed in all their glory (or dishonor, as the case may be). I don't think I'll ever stop thinking about them because they've managed to permanently reside in my heart!

If you lived during those turbulent times, or have an interest in post-World War II history, or if you simply enjoy reading about the trials and triumphs of someone else's family (and be prepared to fall in love with this one), I highly recommend this book! There is no "on screen" sex or violence, but there is a bit of language (though the most offensive terms are not spelled out). There are so many quotable lines, but most of them are spoilers, so I won't post them. I'll just leave you with this wonderful quote: "You can't give people faith; you can only show them yours."

Monday, January 6, 2020

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: A delightful poetry collection for children!

The Book Dragon has read The Taco Magician and Other Poems for Kids by Diane Gonzales Bertrand and illustrations by Carolyn Dee Flores (Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2019) and gives it 5 claws!
My 5 star review: The cover of this book is such a fun invitation to the poetry inside and complements the poems. The book itself is bilingual: read from one direction in English, and turn the book over to read the same poems in Spanish!

The poems are kid-friendly and use all five senses in a feast of fun images. Although they are organized in three sections (Clapping for Me, Curious Surprises, and Poetry Confetti), they speak to kid-friendly subjects and events. Many of the poems celebrate Hispanic culture, such as "Cascarones" and "Abuelita's Kitchen Table" (which will make you salivate while reading it), and all are universal to childhood, no matter what the cultural background of the reader.

The collection itself is colorful and fun-to-read poetry confetti, just like breaking open a piñata as described in "Piñata Poems." Other favorites of mine are "Books Take Me Places," "Ice Cream Rides Down My Street," "Little Soldiers," and my #1 favorite, "Sleep Had a Slumber Party."

Ms. Bertrand is a tremendous wordsmith and paints beautiful images of familia from her life experiences growing up in San Antonio, Texas, all the while making her poetry accessible and enjoyable for children. She even subtly encourages children to write their own poems. I highly recommend this book!

Note: I received a review copy directly from the publisher, Arte Publico Press in Houston, Texas. Opinions are my own.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2019

According to Goodreads, I read 64 books this year, but that's not completely accurate. There were a few books I read a few chapters but didn't finish for one reason or another. When you're living with multiple chronic health issues, life is too short to spend time on books that you don't fall in love with after the first few chapters. I have SO many books in my TBR pile, and I have so many stories I want to write myself, I've stopped feeling badly about not finishing a book.

That being said, I have found some gems this year! It was difficult to narrow down my top 10, but as usual, the way a book made me feel is at least as important to me as whether it was well-written and engaging. All of these were both!

Book Dragon has to pose with many books on my Kindle now, since I no longer have the extra funds to purchase all the paperbacks I'd like to have, so most of my reads are ebooks these days. There's nothing like a realio, trulio book you can hold in your hands and hug when you especially love the story!

So, here are my top ten reads for 2019, beginning with #10 (and an honorable mention):

11. (Honorable Mention) is The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Since I read mostly indie-published fiction now (most by members of the groups Flinch Free Fiction, The Fellowship of Fantasy, and Catholic Teen Books), and wish to support that community, I rarely rank big trad-published books here, but this one was such a powerful story, I had to mention it! This broken young character has so much grit, and her situation is so heart-rending, you'll be rooting for her every page of the story. Set in England during the early days of World War 2. I've been reading it out loud to my 8 year old granddaughter, and it's hard not to try to read it with a British accent....

10. The Destiny of Sunshine Ranch by T. M. Gaouette
The situation of these foster children really tugged at the heartstrings of this former foster parent and is an unforgettable story!

9. One Leaf Too Many by Julie B. Cosgrove
I haven't read many mysteries, but this cozy mystery (a standalone first in a series, but you'll want to continue it...) combines genealogy, humor, fun friendships, and danger in a great story!

8. Blossom on the Thorn by Loretta Livingstone
Though this is the 3rd in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone. It's a beautiful and meticulously researched historical novel set in 12th century England. The series has time-travel elements, but this one is an earlier story of some of the beloved characters and will tug at your heart!

7. Elfling by Corinna Turner
I have to say that Ms. Turner is one of my new favorite authors! I read several of her books this year, and though I really like her dinosaur dystopian stories, this one touched my heart a bit more. Plus it's a pseudo-medieval fantasy England, which are always my favorite settings. Similar to the MC in The War That Saved My Life is a young scrappy girl living hand-to-mouth on the streets, and her character arc alone makes this book worth reading!

6. 3 Things to Forget by Cynthia T. Toney
I have really enjoyed the entire Bird Face YA contemporary series. The MC is so human, so lovable, and grows so much, it makes me want to cheer! This book could work as a standalone. It's set mostly in Alaska and has strong themes of family and loving our neighbor.

5. Sand and Storm by Stella Dorthwany
Even though this magical fantasy sort of wraps up with a not-quite-cliffhanger ending (which irritate me quite a lot), the writing is so stellar, I had to include it in the top 10. It's Indiana Jones meets Dune with nonstop action of the nail-biting kind, not one but two love triangles, and a very cool magic system that makes you FEEL the sand between your fingers. The cover is gorgeous but doesn't really hint at all the action, so I was pleasantly surprised! Don't miss this if you love fantasy!

4. I Am Margaret by Corinna Turner
I am pleased to be able to show the new cover of this amazingly powerful novel! I rarely read dystopian because it seems so depressingly possible, but this one grabbed me by throat and would NOT let me look away from a sometimes horrifying look at a possible future. It challenged my faith (in the best way) and made me think (also in the best way). Since my review, the book is supposed to have edited out some of the language, and I'm anxious to buy a paperback of this new edition so I can update Book Dragon's review. Younger and sensitive readers need to be cautioned that there are disturbing scenes of torture (a martyrdom) but they will challenge you to ask yourself, "Could I hold firm in my confession of Christ in that situation?"

3. The King's Trial by M. L. Farb
This book came highly recommended, and I was NOT in any disappointed! It's a Christian fantasy with so many quotable lines, I had to buy the paperback (and promptly loaned it out to keep the recommendations going). It's hard to believe it's the author's debut novel, it's SO well-written with great world-building and characters who grow on their journeys. The best part about it is the faith elements, which are integral to the story and gently encourage and admonish the reader.

2. Heart of the Curiosity by H. L. Burke
It's no secret that H. L. Burke is one of my favorite authors, and for me, this was her best book this year. This wonderful steampunk is part magic, part mystery, and part coming-of-age while dealing with serious subjects in a very effective way. The characters wormed their way into my heart, and the magical setting in an old, mysterious theatre was a feast for the senses. As in most of Ms. Burke's stories, there is some romance going on, too!

1. King of Malorn by Annie Douglass Lima
Since the Annals of Alasia are my new favorite fantasy series, I was thrilled when Ms. Lima released the long-awaited fifth book, which picks up a few years after Prince of Malorn and has all my favorite characters! At first I was puzzled over her choice to tell the two kings' stories from other characters' points of view, but it was very effective, and I eagerly burned through the pages, kind of surprised when it ended, I was SO immersed! Even though it's 554 pages long, it does NOT feel long at all. There is so much going on, but Ms. Lima masterfully orchestrates all the pieces of the story and brings them together by the end for a satisfying conclusion.

I hope you will try some of these books and love them as much as I do! Happy reading!

Monday, October 7, 2019

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: An imaginative fantasy full of magic and emotion

The Book Dragon has finished H. L. Burke's Ice and Fate duology (Book 1 is Daughter of Sun, Bride of Ice, and Book 2 is Prince of Stars, Son of Fate) and gives them both five claws!
My review: These are not two separate stories but an entire story told in two parts, so neither stands alone. I give the overall story 4.5 stars. At first I had trouble connecting with the MC Arynne, who is a princess, sister of the King of Solea, a land on the side of the world where the sun always shines. The other MC Kajik at first came across as full of himself, so I didn't much like him either. But I kept reading because the world building was so interesting, and both characters grew on me by the end of the second book. Kajik is from the side of the world where the sun never shines, and it was fun to see how the author delved into the differences between the two lands, making them feel real in every way.

There are several antagonists and minor characters who are well-drawn and add to the emotional depth of this story. Even though it's not my favorite of Burke's stories, it is memorable and well worth the read. Recommended to anyone who likes fantasy romance. I would rate it PG-13 for a couple scenes of sensuality, a few scenes of violence, and unrelenting bullying by an unreasonably harsh parent.

Here are better images of the very appropriate covers:

Monday, September 30, 2019

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: A Likable Christian Fantasy

The Book Dragon has read Exiles, the fourth book in the Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight, and gives it four claws!
My review: 4 stars for this fourth installment in a likable Christian fantasy series. Though there are some special moments, it wasn't my favorite of the Ilyon Chronicles. It felt more like a transition, with less tension than I was expecting, other than a few scenes of peril involving Prince Daniel, Anne and her family, and Jace.

What was really good in this book, without giving away spoilers, was Prince Daniel's faith growth under pressure, the love between Anne and her family and Trask and his father, and Jace learning more about his ryrik heritage in an unlikely place. The treetop city of the cretes was very interesting, too.

The reason I felt this book was mostly a transition was because the previous book had such a powerful redemption story (my favorite of the series so far), and if the heart-stopping ending of Exiles is any indication, I'm expecting book 5 to be full of danger and tremendous obstacles for the heroes to overcome with the rise of the new villain.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Monday Review by the Book Dragon: Excellent Epic Christian Fantasy Debut

The Book Dragon has finished reading The King's Trial by M. L. Farb and gives it a roaring five claws!
My 5 star review: I've got to say that this is one of the best books I've read with wonderful characters who grow on their journeys, stellar writing, fantastic world-building, and a twisty, nail-biting plot. The only thing less than positive I have to say is that the ending isn't really an ending, which frustrates me no matter which book I'm reading. So, just a caution that everything won't be wrapped up at the end. At least it's not a cliffhanger!

Many quotable lines, but I plan to buy the paperback so I can better mark them. (I want a copy anyway because the cover art is so gorgeous!) This is the only one I managed to highlight in my Kindle:

"Prejudice is a powerful mask for fear."

The faith elements in this book are integral to the story and gently encourage and admonish the reader, which I love in Christian fantasy! Highly recommended!

Here's a better image of that gorgeous cover: