Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim Book Review

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim
Illustrated by Grace Zong

This is your typical story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears except this one starts on Chinese New Year and Goldy's neighbors are Pandas. She is sent to the Panda's house to wish them Kung Hei Fat Choi and to give them some turnip cakes. When they aren't home she then eats their rice porridge congee, before the usual chair and bed incidents. Unlike the original story though, Goldy returns to the Pandas' home and apologizes and then helps clean up and then they make turnip cakes together.

Although this is your typical gimmicky holiday book, it was actually very cute and a great way to introduce or celebrate the Chinese New Year with a child you love. It has a good message, but didn't feel terribly cliche.

Happy Lunar New Year, my friends!

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson Book Review

Steelheart (Reckoners #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Ten years ago, a star or perhaps it was a satellite took orbit around the Earth. It gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. They called themselves Epics. However, absolute power can corrupt absolutely and the Epics quickly prove that they are anything but human. They murder men, women, and children with cold precision. Their powers vary from healing to turning day into night to illusions, but they all have one thing in common--they all have a weakness. Only one group, the Reckoners, dares do anything about the Epics. And David wants in. He wants to kill Steelheart--the Epic who has all of Newcago under his thumb and the Epic who murdered his father ten years earlier. For a decade, David has been studying, planning, and obsessing with one objective--he wants revenge.

I admit, I read three books before this, books that I felt were so boring or bad that I didn't read more than 50 pages of any of them. As much as I would like to say I read every book I begin, the truth is, I have a pile beside my bed that is just too large for me to be laboring through books that don't capture me. So when a person has begun three awful books in a row, the relief to begin a great one is almost visceral.

The first sentence: I've seen Stealheart bleed. And I said out loud, "Damn, that is how you start a story." I know it isn't much, but there was a promise in that first sentence. It promised action. It promised a story. There was also a question, for the reader doesn't really know who or what Steelheart is, only that it is a proper pronoun.

Sanderson delivered the answers and the promise. This was a story with non-stop action, with a perfect prologue that immediately sucks in its readers, and a mystery that is always just out of your grasp. Also, this is the perfect book for the teen male reluctant reader. Nevermind that Sanderson already writes spectacular sci-fi and fantasy for adults, his transition to young adult books has been seamless, first with The Rithmatist and now with Steelheart.

Here is the biggest shocker, I have nothing bad to say about it. I loved the characters, pacing, mystery, and even the twist. I can't wait to read the sequel, although I would like to get my hands on Rithmatist #2 and I can't tell you which one I want more.

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson Book Review

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson

In 1854, The Great Trouble comes to Broad Street in London. Cholera. It sweeps through the neighborhood so quickly that the coffin maker has no time to make coffins. Thirteen-year-old Eel has lost his full-time job after being accused of stealing. Those who would vouch for him have fallen ill. As more and more of his neighbors fall ill, Eel goes to Doctor John Snow, who he works for by cleaning out animal cages. The Doctor has a theory concerning the transmission of cholera that no one will believe, that is it carried in water and not bad air. The culprit? The Broad Street pump. Together the Doctor and Eel set about to discover the cause of the cholera outbreak and to prove Dr. Snow's theory right.

Based on true events, The Great Trouble was a rather delightful historical fiction novel. Full of adventure, characters who were both fictional and non-fictional, and a real flavor for the London culture in 1854, Hopkinson does a good job of fictionalizing a real life event. Although the timeline is a bit compressed for the story to keep the pacing and action going, the author includes a great deal of historical fact at the end of the book with a real timeline as opposed to the fictional one. John Snow was a real physician known as one of the fathers of modern epidemiology and he was integral to the study and understanding of cholera. Eel himself is quick-witted although very much a boy of his time who knows his place, not wanting to walk into Dr. Snow's library for example for fear of tracking mud through the house.

The ending, or at least the ending for Eel felt a little too much 'Happily Ever After', but considering this a story meant for elementary and young middle schoolers, it made sense not to leave Eel and his little brother out in the cold. There may have been a way to tell the story that didn't feel so Dickensian, but then, perhaps that was the intent.

All in all, a great historical novel on a subject that isn't often illuminated upon with a ton of historical data in the back similar to that of the American Girl series.

Boston Jacky by L.A. Meyer Book Review

Boston Jacky: Being an Account of the Further Adventures of Jacky Faber, Taking Care of Business by L.A. Meyer

Jacky Faber is at it again in this eleventh installment in the Bloody Jack series. Having made port in her adopted city of Boston, Jacky is hoping to extend her fortunes by buying and Inn and a Theater. However, the rather puritanical attitude of those in Boston as well as the ethnic tension between the native born and those coming in from Ireland are making her time there difficult to say the least. Making more enemies than friends, Jacky is a little out of her depth when it comes to things on land.

Sometimes I feel like I am the only one still reading this series, but at this point, 11 books in, I am so invested that I couldn't stop reading if I wanted to. L.A. Meyer did announce that book number twelve will be the final installment in the Jacky Faber tales, which is okay by me. Although I have enjoyed Jacky's adventures (some more than others), I am afraid that it is time for the storylines to finally meet some kind of conclusion. 

I am, of course, speaking of the on-again off-again romance between Jaimy Fletcher and Jacky. Let us make one thing clear--I think Jaimy is a terrible catch. He has cheated on her at least once and in his grief over thinking Jacky is dead, quickly found a girl to bed with even while seeking revenge for her killer. He has made it clear that he dislikes her ways as a wandering minstrel, privateer, and adventurer and has said numerous times that once she marries him they will settle down in some cottage somewhere. And anytime he gets even a whiff of her supposed infidelity, he immediately becomes angry and defensive. Truth is, Jaimy was in love with her as a child, but then they both grew up. Jaimy turned into a self-righteous bastard and Jacky can't keep herself from flirting with any man who gives her a wink. Not a good match.

The book itself was mediocre. Not a mess like Mississippi Jack, but rather boring really. Jacky buys a bar, the ladies temperance society doesn't like it so they trump up some charges and Jacky has to go to court. That's it really. The big emotional drama, for Jacky is a rather emotional creature, is that her "children" are taken from her and she is accused of being a bad mother. Now, as much as I love Jacky for her wanton and adventurous ways, I have to agree. She really isn't a very good mother. In fact, her adopted son Ravi has better moral judgement and values than she has in her little toe.

Hopefully Meyer can really bring it home with the last novel Wild Rover No More. I apparently have a year to wait to see if Jacky and Jaimy finally work out their very serious communication issues or whether Jacky will finally marry someone who will actually love her for who she is.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black Book Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Tana lives in a world where vampires no longer hold themselves to secrecy. They live in front of cameras, endless beckoning parties inside Coldtowns, walled off cities where the turned and turning are forced to live. One morning, after a perfectly normal teenage sundown party, Tana wakes in the bathtub to discover that all her friends have been murdered. The only survivor is her just bitten ex-boyfriend Aiden and a strange vampire boy. As the vampire infection takes hold of Aiden, Tana and her newly freed friends make their way to the nearest Coldtown.

The mechanics of the vampirism in this book were fascinating and original. Vampires have a certain kind of venom, one that can only be passed on through a bite. Once bitten, if not drained and killed, an infection sets in that instead of creating a fever causes the body to go cold as if it is dying. If a person manages to not drink any human blood for 88 days, the infection will leave their system and they will remain human. But that is a big if, because the thirst for blood becomes such an overwhelming desire that people will do anything for it. Tana knows this too well, for she bears the physical scars from when her mother went cold. When her mother died.

That alone made the story interesting, but what made it better was the return to the monster angle of vampirism. I am a big fan of Anne Rice's Interview With the Vampire series. One of my favorite quotes from the book is when someone calls Lestat a monster and he quickly replies, "Yes, but I am a beautiful monster." That is how a vampire should be. Strange and terrible beauty. The vampires of Holly Black's novel are all that and more. They are complicated and petty. They raise ethical conundrums. Is it good to want to live forever? Do they still retain some of their humanity? Can you be both cunning and mad? And what would you do to remain human?

More than anything, I was really rooting for Tana's humanity throughout this entire story. Even if she turned into a vampire, I wanted her to remain human, to still be herself. She is strong and quick-thinking and her drive to survive was enough for me to keep reading.

There is of course a romance with an ancient and slightly insane vampire named Gavriel, which I found a little trite and the entire seductive drinking each others blood thing was just gross and really really not romantic, but I guess you can't have teen books without some kind of romance, so I will just pretend it didn't happen.

It appears that this may be another unmarked series, which is okay by me because I like this world and these characters that Holly Black has created.