Scandalous begins in eager anticipation of a party at Hampton Court Palace. Each character prepares with a different goal in mind. Belinda, beautiful, vain, and attended by fairies, vows she will not eat until she has found a husband. Lascivious Baron Charles also plans for conquest. Society matrons hope for scandal and ruin to add variety to the dull affair. The event progresses without incident until Belinda scorns the Baron and defeats him in a heroic game of cards. The Baron revenges himself by cutting a lock of Belinda’s well-maintained hair. Goaded by the interference of an evil fairy, Belinda rails against the Baron and destroys her reputation. The story closes as several characters agree to pay a poet to memorialize the day’s events.
Inspired by Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” Scandalous is a unique combination of Shakespeare and Springer, poetry and prose. While the characters are highborn, beautiful, and wealthy, base deeds are not beyond them. The contrast is heightened by Carter’s use of prose for descriptions and poetry for conversations. Like “The Rape of the Lock,” the satirical novella pokes fun at the social conventions 18th century high society but does so in a deliciously risqué way.
This is the second book in Rob Henning's Ultimate series, and manages to be an excellent complement to its predecessor. If Journey to Spirit Kingdom brought a bright smile to one's face, Olympic Gold got the reader's heart racing and clattering almost non-stop until the end. Emphasizing the spirit of sportsmanship, it is a rousing and inspiring piece that sends the message "everybody can win" to its readers.
The story begins in Corinth, and revolves around two cousins, Alexis and Adonis, and how they embark on an extraordinary journey to pursue Olympic gold. Now, this is the Olympics in Ancient Greece mind you, so aside from what everybody in modern times may know about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the reader also gets to meet a centaur and then even Zeus, Hera, and Hades! Inasmuch as this story will be quite enjoyable for readers of any age, it will certainly be most appreciated by a youthful audience, and by young boys in particular. Older readers who may have some familiarity with the Greek pantheon and the tales of the (mis)adventures of the various gods and goddesses will be a little confused by the rather amiable representations of the different immortals in this tale. Most of them are quite pleasant, and with the exception of Hades, quite endearing.
Henning starts his tale by establishing with the readers the camaraderie between the Corinthian athletes, the hero worship and loyalty Alexis has for his cousin, and the fondness and love Adonis has for Alexis. By the time the Corinthian athletes reach Olympia, the pace starts going faster and faster till it culminates in the competition for gold in the main event---the pentathlon. The reader is treated to the excitement of a grand sporting event, with a team to root for and a competition so close that one holds one's breath---which I did! I even confess to skipping on to an event's final results when I got too impatient and wanted to know who won!
An admirable facet that Henning showcased was the superb talent children could have. The characters Clio and Alexis were exceptional children and good models for young readers to emulate. Henning sets up these characters to merit much admiration from their elders, despite still being children, and I find it quite refreshing to see the author treat his child characters in a touching and respectful manner. Another aspect I enjoyed was how Henning managed to give his characters lots of balance and shades of gray---even the established villains had something to offset their infamy: whether it was a love lost or an important lesson learned, even the villains were treated well by Henning at the end.
Obviously I enjoyed Olympic Gold quite a bit, and I appreciate that the first and second book of Henning's Ultimate series give readers plenty to enjoy. I encourage readers of all ages to gulp down this delicious vitamin-loaded protein shake of a tale---it's a fine complement to that clear broth with fresh cilantro I already invited readers to sample.
Review also posted at Bookideas.com
Journey to the Spirit Kingdom is like fresh cilantro spiking clear chicken broth. Food similes are risky for illustrating my point because not everyone likes the same dishes, but "a breath of fresh air" seemed too overused. The minty-clean feeling and genuine smile one gets after finishing this first book of Rob Henning's trilogy can be considered a breath of fresh air, but that phrase does not do enough justice to the lift one feels after hearing this tale.
Young Savuti, who will quickly endear herself to readers, could be your little sister or niece or daughter. She is however a little bit more blessed - born a princess (extraordinary enough these days), youngest of 11 brothers (just as extraordinary as being a princess), and born a dreamwalker (pretty extraordinary compared to being a princess or having 11 brothers). And yet she is quiet and humble and keeps to herself, as anyone who has 11 rambunctious brothers eventually learns to do. A princess yet pretty much ignored, privileged yet set aside by most of her family, a dreamwalker yet unaware of her unique power. It was the designs of a greedy Englishman and the dedication of an Animal Spirit Council trying to protect the lovely little kingdom from ruin that helped her come to her own and discover these blessings.
The author has scored a home run with his delightful heroine (a goal would probably be more appropriate, since soccer figures a lot in the story). A lot of the principal characters are all just as well-crafted in shades of strengths and weaknesses, hopes and desires, making them feel very real. Take King Chinsala, Savuti's father: not exactly father of the year material, but Henning implies that this happy-go-lucky ruler of Makgadigadi has his heart in the right place despite his self-indulgent ways. My favorites though were two animal spirits: Kubu, the archetypal Fool Sage, who inadvertently ends up dropping a gold nugget of wisdom every time he opens his mouth; and Bhungane, who watched, listened, learned, and taught Savuti to do the same.
Rob Henning uses a light touch in painting this story, and young adults will appreciate how genuine his characters are. I personally think readers of any age will find themselves in a happy mood after finishing the book, and maybe even ready to see just how much fun soccer is. I believe that Henning will hit his target audience right between the eyes with his shimmering world of people and creatures that they will want to hold close to their heart. Can a tale be adorable? I certainly think this one is, and I encourage you all to find out for yourselves.
Review also posted at Bookideas.com
The Ultimate Fantasy - Chinese Hero is the third installment in Rob Henning's Ultimate trilogy. Like its two predecessors, this magical adventure doesn't disappoint---there is high adventure and hi-jinx enough to satisfy readers of any age, but it will be especially enjoyable for children. Set in Ancient China, this tale is brimming with mystical creatures, resourceful children, and temperamental royalty. Despite the magical setting and great adventure, Henning manages to enflesh his main characters well, take them to task for coddling their flaws, and reward them greatly for transcending those flaws---even the all-powerful Jade Empress had a little lesson or two to learn!
This is a tale of how a young orphan named Jia, her best buddy Manchu, and a magical rooster named Chi stumbled into the great adventure of trying to save China from the five deadly daughters of the Jade Empress. Jia's best buddy Manchu, who had a real talent for getting into BIG trouble, set them on the path of becoming China's unlikely heroes. When the First Princess of China was angered over losing the throne to her little brother, she decided to break the Egg of Chaos that held the five powerful daughters of the Jade Empress prisoner. Manchu and Jia were in the area and inadvertently happened to witness the event. When Chi arrived at the scene, he commandeered the two children (or possibly Manchu managed to volunteer their services---he really is very good at getting into trouble!) to help him find the Jade Empress's daughters and lock them away once more.
Henning's characters show his great respect for the talent and potential of children---Manchu and Jia are about nine, and because the Prince who became Emperor of China is about twelve, his elder sister the First Princess could not have been too far from childhood either. The First Princess was an accomplished warrior and had commanded armies at her young age; her little brother, though rather bratty at the beginning of the tale, eventually shows a grasp for learning from his mistakes that could make him a commendable Emperor someday. Manchu and Jia, two ordinary children, are pitted against five magical beings who control the elements: one who commands Fire, another who commands Water, and still others who command Earth, Wood and Air. The children do have magical help in the form of Chi---Guardian of Summer, a giant red rooster with the strength of a lion and pride to match---but these two children have the wits, the determination, and the heart between them to take on the powerful and magical creatures. One gets the impression that Henning believes children, just by being who they are, can already accomplish great things even before they grow up! I think that's an excellent perspective to take, and I think that will encourage children to aim high in anything they do.
This third book in the Ultimate series is full of action and adventure, but Henning does not forget to pepper the adventure with personality and heart. Jia and Manchu truly are best buddies, despite Manchu's endless quest to get Jia in trouble and Jia's eternal goal to bludgeon some sense into the boy. Chi is not some glittering magical creature in the distance---he's got more moxie than any other magical chicken would dare let on, and has some rather uncomfortable lessons about himself to face. It seems Henning took the charm he crafted in the first book of this series, mixed in the "edge of your seat" action he had in the second book, and produced a harmonious blend in this third one. Henning keeps getting better at crafting these tales, and if he ever extends the Ultimate trilogy to more books, I would certainly be there to pick up the next one!
Review also posted at Bookideas.com
"The Way to Die," a spy thriller by James Carter, has as its heroine a young and beautiful British agent named Sienna Thorn who makes that Swede with the dragon tattoo look like a school girl. If Thorn is not exactly certifiably pathological, she is unquestionably obsessed about her missions. You will meet a lot of intriguing people in this novel -- spies from any agency you care to name, terrorists from the usual suspects, and innocents who just happen to cross her path. But don't worry about keeping the names straight: most of them don't make it from one chapter to the next. Collateral damage is Thorn's MO.
Understandably, this habit makes her less than popular with her superiors and peers. As the head of MI6 notes, "Thorn was glad about Meaker's death. She viewed the event as an opportunity, and that was a little annoying." But it doesn't make her any less fascinating to follow. Intent on kidnapping for interrogation -- merely killing assassins is just busy work for the Brits who have major terrorist worries -- Thorn sets off first for Istanbul, follows her quarry to Israel, and eventually winds up in Afghanistan. The reader has hardly recovered from one car chase in one exotic location before he finds himself hurtling boulevards against the oncoming traffic, roaring onto sidewalks full of pedestrians, and leaping intersections in yet another unfortunate city. Thorn is the traffic nightmare from hell.
Is it fun? Well, if not being able to put a book down is fun, yes. We are accustomed to liking our protagonists in spy stories, and Sienna Thorn never goes an inch out of her way to inspire affection. She is, however, successful, as maybe only the obsessed can be in such a world.