Catherine, Called Birdy

Published October 26, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

catherine called Birdy cover

Review of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Overview from Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man–any rich man, no matter how awful.

But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call–by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.

Unfortunately, he is also the richest.

Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?

Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

My Review:

The story of Catherine, a girl of fourteen who comes from a moderately wealthy family, is told to the reader from the diary she writes in every day. The first entry records the fact that her brother is responsible both for her being able to read and write and for the fact that she is being forced to write her thoughts down. The diary itself takes us through a year of her life.

I got this book out of curiosity after I spied on the website that the library has for those who want to borrow e-books. I never imagined that I would like it so much. I thought of it only as a short book to pass the time until I found another one.

I not only liked it though, I absolutely loved it. I think it has been a while since I read a book that I could honestly say that I loved but this one was great. Not only did I appreciate the author’s attempts to portray the Middle Ages as realistically as possible but I was also surprised by how funny it was. The main character is not type of girl who stays out of trouble and she is not exactly an all-out rebel either but she does get into some scrapes once and while and they are hilarious. Not only that but hearing her thoughts about people and some of the things that she does to show her displeasure with her lot kept made me laugh out loud. And there are very few books that can make me do that.

Here is an example:

“More lady-lessons. It is impossible to do all and be all a lady must be and not tie oneself in a knot…A lady must have six hands! She must not look proud nor yet too humble, least people say she is proud of her humility. She must not talk overmuch yet not be silent, lest people think she does not know how to converse. She must not show anger, nor sulk, nor scold, nor overeat, nor overdrink, nor swear. God’s thumbs! I am going out to the barn to jump, fart, and pick my teeth!”

The main conflict in the story, besides Catherine’s desire to escape being a lady, is her attempt to keep her father from marrying her off to some old weirdo for money. She prefers not to marry at all but if she must marry then she would rather marry someone close to her own age. This is where many of her troubles come from as well as her desire to help others, such as some of the villagers that are under her father’s thumb.

If there is any downside to this story, I can’t see it. I didn’t even find any swear words unless you count Catherine’s own attempts at swearing by saying “God’s thumbs” or “Corpus bones” which just make me laugh. She is one of the most likeable characters I have read about for a long time. I think I will order the e-book version of this so that I can have this one permanently. I think I could read it again and again.

P.S. This will probably be the last time I will be posting on this site. I am moving over to for future reviews since there seems to be more interest there and more flexibility.

Valkyrie Rising

Published October 19, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

valkyrie rising cover

Review of Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson

Overview from Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she’ll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she’s there.

What Ellie doesn’t anticipate is Graham’s infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect that something powerful and ancient will awaken in her and that strange whispers will urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, suddenly there’s a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it’s up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring, Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

My Review:

This week’s review is a paranormal Young Adult story. It is called Valkyrie Rising and recounts the story of our main character Ellie.

At the start of the story, Ellie is just another average teenager who feels like she is living in the shadow of her older brother, Graham. He is popular yet overprotective and because of his popularity very few boys her age are willing to cross him by asking Ellie out. The only one who is really even allowed to talk to her much is Tuck, her older brother’s best friend who she has a massive crush on. Tuck is also a major flirt so Ellie never takes anything he says seriously anyway.

Every summer, she and her brother take a trip to Norway to visit their grandmother while their mother is leading some university trip to Italy. (Their father has been dead for some time.) Although Ellie usually finds it somewhat boring she is relieved to be going this year because she senses that it is the only time she will be allowed to get out from underneath her older brother’s shadow since he is not as well-known there as he is at home in Los Angeles.

So off she goes, to be followed later by her brother. But on her first day there she already sees a difference in Skavopoll. The residents are hostile toward her. They tell her that she should never have come there and they seem to believe that her grandmother is somehow at the center of some plot to kidnap the boys of the town. A few of them have already disappeared and when she confronts her grandmother about this with questions, she receives very few answers and most of them are misleading.

Setting out on her own she vows to find the answers for herself before her brother and Tuck are kidnapped as well. (Tuck has decided to tag along on the trip with them this year.) But when no one will tell her anything, she will have to use her own intuition and sleuthing skills to find out what is happening both to the town and to her as she seems to suddenly have hypnotized the people of the town unintentionally. Where is she getting these strange powers? How can she convince people that she is not involved in the kidnappings? And how can she protect those who are left from becoming the next victims?

I liked this one quite a bit though I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I loved it. I learned a lot about Norway and Viking Mythology while feeling highly engrossed in the story. The story threw a few surprises my way both in some things that I expected to happen but didn’t (thank God there was no love triangle) and some twists that did happen yet I never saw them coming. In short, I was not bored. Also the book was not overly long.

The only downside was I thought the swearing was a bit much for a Young Adult novel though I have seen worse. I think perhaps it is best that the readers of this book be older teens and not younger but other than that, I give it an enthusiastic recommendation.

Contains: some swearing, fantasy violence


Never Say Die

Published October 12, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

Never say die cover

Review of Never Say Die by Will Hobbs

Overview from

When the motto of your village is “never say die,” you have a lot to live up to. . . .

At home in Canada’s Arctic, Nick Thrasher is an accomplished Inuit hunter at fifteen. About to bring home a caribou for his ailing grandfather, Nick loses the meat to a fearsome creature never before seen in the wild. It’s half grizzly, half polar bear. Experts will soon be calling it a “grolar bear.”

Returning to his village, Nick receives a letter from the half-brother he’s never met. A former Grand Canyon river guide, Ryan Powers is now a famous wildlife photographer. He’ll soon be coming to Nick’s part of the world to raft the remote Firth River in search of huge herds of migrating caribou. Ryan also wants to learn what Inuit hunters are saying about climate change in the Arctic. He invites Nick to come along and help him find the caribou.

Barely down the river, disaster strikes. Nick and Ryan are both thrown into the freezing river and find themselves under a ceiling of solid ice. With nothing but the clothes on his back and the knife on his hip, Nick is up against it in a world of wolves, caribou, and grizzlies. All the while, the monstrous grolar bear stalks the land.

My Review:

Though this book was short (about 140 pages on my nook), I read it mostly to fill in the gaps between my usual fare and of course because it was a Free Friday offering. I thought the story line might have some promise but what really sold me was the description of it as being a kind of modern-day version of Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Nick is our half-white, half-Inuit narrator and is approximately fifteen years old if I did my math right when I calculated his age based on the age difference between himself and his half-brother who is also a main character in this story.

His troubles start with the appearance of the so-called grolar bear which is a half-grizzly, half-polar bear combination creature. The bear is ferocious, large, and downright evil and nearly kills him. He pops up a few more times again before the book is over.

Then he gets a letter from Ryan (the half-brother I mentioned earlier) who explains to him that he is taking a trip up to Nick’s neck of the wood to ply his trade. He is a wildlife photographer and writer. He wants to research the rumor that caribou are dying out due to climate change. He is also interested in the grolar bear though it is not the main point of his research. He hoped to convince Nick to tag along on his expedition that will take them to the Firth River and hopefully the caribou.

Nick agrees to go with him despite his misgivings and some of his differences of opinion with his only brother. Only interference from his dying grandfather persuades him in the end.

The trip does end up being wild, wonderful and scary all at the same time but along the way he develops a respect and camaraderie with his brother that along with their discoveries make it a trip of the lifetime.

I am not really sure that it compares all that favorably with the Jack London classic that I mentioned earlier but it was still an interesting read. It was not as one-sided on the issue of climate change as it thought it would be. There is some respect for the Inuit way of life as well as Ryan’s views. Of course I suspect that the author is leaning towards the environmentalist position but at least he doesn’t portray hunters as the menacing evil of the Arctic like I thought he would when I started reading.

This is also appropriate for younger readers though perhaps not too young. There is some wildlife type violence in here after all. I think probably fifth grade or above might enjoy it but I am no expert.

I also enjoyed it though it is not likely to become one of my favorites. Still it was better than what I was initially expecting.

Sins of the Father

Published October 5, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

sins of the father cover

Review of Sins of the Father by Angela Benson

Overview from

God asked the biblical Abraham to sacrifice his son. But Abraham Martin’s only god is money.

Successful media mogul Abraham Martin has great wealth, an elegant wife, Saralyn, and a rebellious son, Isaac. He also has a secret: a second family that no one knows about. Now, after thirty years—driven by the urging of his long dormant conscience—Abraham is determined to do the right thing by finally bringing his illegitimate children into the light…and into the family fold.

But beautiful, manipulative Saralyn will never accept the proof of her husband’s indiscretions. Isaac, the heir, shaken by his father’s revelations, will fight mercilessly when his world is threatened, and may lose everything that matters as a result. And while Abraham’s forgotten daughter, Deborah, is open to the undreamed-of possibilities suddenly awaiting her, his son, Michael, cannot forgive the man who cruelly abandoned them to near poverty. And he’s driven by only one desire: revenge!

Angela Benson’s Sins of the Father is a powerful story of a house bitterly divided—a rich, multilayered family saga of betrayal and redemption, rage and compassion, faith, forgiveness, and ultimately, of love.

My Review:

Sins of the Father struck me at first as something that might be just a ho-hum read, something I could use to keep my brain occupied while I waited in line at the grocery store or waited outside in my car in the morning before going to work. It was much better than that.

Yes the setting was contemporary but the story it told was not all that conventional. The story starts with a man named Abraham trying to reassert himself into the lives of his illegitimate adult children. Growing up, they were supported by him financially but not in any other way. He never visited them, he never called them, he never even wrote to them. Why? Because they were children that he had with another woman.

He had pushed them both aside till his mother’s death changed everything for him. He decided to honor her wishes and do right by them and it started with a small production company that he bought and asked his illegitimate daughter to run for him.

So far so good but then he tried to bring both of the adult children from another woman into his family which was previously just him, his wife and his legitimate son, Isaac. This part was not going to happen. His wife would do everything she could stop it, while the other son, Micheal is just looking for a way to get revenge on his absent father. Granted some of the others involved have doubts about the idea as well but these two are just itching for a fight, in some cases literally.

The story was very obviously a Biblical parallel story. The characters’ names alone give that away. Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Saralyn, and Leah are all the names of characters in this book that mirror or are similar to the names of Biblical characters. The story of a father with children by two different women also mirrors the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible while the illusion to Esau as an example for Saralyn’s son Isaac to not follow is also a hint.

The drama underneath it all is modern even if we may not personally know too many people who find themselves in the same situation as this family, we can still relate to their feelings. Too many children today grow up without a father figure in their lives so Deborah and Michael’s story is relatable. There are also many children who grow up with high expectations from their parents like Isaac does. And many women have been abandoned when they are no longer deemed useful by their significant others. In that way, this story is timeless.

The best part for me was that not only were the plots and subplots in this book engaging, but the story itself did not have a lot of swear words or other offensive material. Of course sex was a part of the story. How could it not be? But it was not the focal point of the story, the human drama was. I can’t be sure but I think this could be classified as Christian fiction but the Christian message contained in here, despite the similarities with the Bible, was not heavy-handed. It seemed to occur naturally within the plot and I like that as well.

There was one thing that struck me as a little bit odd. The author twice mentioned two members of the family having photos of themselves with two different presidents displayed in their offices and both of them were democrats. I am not sure if that was significant or intentional nor do I know if it is supposed to mean anything to the reader but it did get me wondering for a while. Why two democrats? But like I said, it was odd, but not a problem. I am not sure how conservative readers might feel about it. I just chose to say “hmm” and continue reading.

I can’t really think of anything bad about to say about it. I liked it a lot though I can’t say I loved it. I think you might too.

A note to my readers: This blog is now also being published on and might be moving over there permanently.

A White Wind Blew

Published September 28, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

a white wind blew cover

Review of A White Wind Blew by James Markert

Overview from

When the body fails, you’ve got two choices. Send a doctor in, or send a prayer up. And if neither works?

You’ll find Dr. Wolfgang Pike at his piano.

Music has always been Wolfgang’s refuge. It’s betraying him now, as he struggles to compose a requiem for his late wife, but surely the right ending will come to him. Certainly it’ll come more quickly than a cure for his patients up at Waverly Hills, the tuberculosis hospital, where nearly a body an hour leaves in a coffin. Wolfgang can’t seem to save anyone these days, least of all himself.

Sometimes we just need to know we’re not the only ones in the fight. A former concert pianist checks in, triggering something deep inside Wolfgang, and spreading from patient to patient. Soon Wolfgang finds himself in the center of an orchestra that won’t give up, with music that won’t stop. A White Wind Blew delivers a sweeping crescendo of hope in a time of despair, raising compelling questions about faith and confession, music and medicine,and the undying force of love.

My Review:

This is a sad but beautiful story. Mostly sad though. Our main character, Wolfgang Pike, is both doctor and future priest but that was years ago. He has yet to finish his seminary training and is only about half-way through. His training was interrupted by a marriage that ended in the tragic death of his wife. When she died, Wolfgang vows to resume his studies, thinking that he can never love again.

In the meantime he becomes a doctor and gets a job at Waverly Hills, a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. It is the 1920’s  and the preferred treatment seems to consist most of sun therapy, that is the patient is basically told to sunbathe in hopes that it will reduce the effects of the disease.

A few patients do seem to get better and they eventually make “the Walk” that shows that they are strong enough to leave the place. Those patients still have an uphill battle when they go out in the world among the healthy. But some of them come back to help others.

Wolfgang tells himself and the priests at the seminary that he is only staying at Waverly because he is needed there. TB has made a resurgence in the area and he wants to help but three years go by. Three years and he is showing no signs of leaving. And he seems to be falling in love again though he doesn’t want to admit it to anyone, let alone himself.

And there is the music. Wolfgang loves it, was raised on it. He will play to any patient at the hospital that asks it of him. And it seems to be working. Many of them are getting better.

When he finds some musicians and singers among the patients, he decides to start an “orchestra.” I put that in quotation marks because he only has three real instruments playing in this “orchestra.”

Some don’t like Wolfgang’s orchestra but in particular they don’t like the fact that he has invited some patients from the “colored” sanatorium down the hill to join with the whites. Some amateur clansmen will do anything to stop him, even killing those involved if necessary. They also don’t like the fact that Wolfgang is Catholic.

And now for the negatives. There are a few sexual scenes as well as some language but I didn’t find it that it overpowered the plot. I think the story might be a bit too sad for some but it wasn’t nearly as depressing as some of the books I reviewed in the past. At least there is a positive overall tone at the end so I didn’t find it to be too much of a downer.

So in summary, I guess, I liked though it might now be one of my favorites. Still I think I feel comfortable in recommending it to a friend or anyone else looking for some thought-provoking historical fiction.

The Kingmaking

Published September 21, 2013 by myliteraryleanings

the kingmaking cover

Review of The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

Overview from

Who was THE MAN Who became THE LEGEND We know as KING ARTHUR?

“You are the Pendragon, rightful Lord of Dumnonia and the Summer Land; Lord of less Britain. By all that is right, you ought be seated where Vortigern sits…You ought to be King.”

Here lies the truth of the Lord of the Summer Land.

This is the tale of Arthur flesh and bone. Of the shaping of the man, both courageous and flawed, into the celebrated ruler who inspired armies, who captured Gwenhyfar’s heart, and who emerged as the hero of the Dark Ages and the most enduring hero of all time.

This is the unexpected story of the making of a king — the legend who united all of Britain.

My Review:

The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick looked promising to me as I downloaded it, one of Barnes and Noble’s Free Friday offerings that I just couldn’t pass up. In the end though, it was a disappointment.

In fact, it disappointed me many time. I thought about turning off the book many times but then the characters would do some small thing that would make me think that maybe they will redeem themselves but in the end, they didn’t.

That is not to say that I disliked all the characters. In fact, I like the character of Gwenhyfar a lot. She was strong and brave and seemed to always try her best even though her feelings often confused her. Also, she seemed to learn from her mistakes.

Unlike another main character: Arthur. This story is based on the now famous character of King Arthur. In this story though, he is not yet king. He starts off as some tag-along boy who Uther keeps with him on his quests to regain his lands in England.

But the quest goes badly and Uther is killed battle. All seems lost until Gwenhwyfar’s father Cunedda reveals the secret of Arthur’s parentage—he is Uther’s son. It was kept secret from all but three or four people to keep him safe from Vortigern, his father’s mortal enemy.

Arthur seemed to start out as somewhat likeable. He was the silly misfit who was trying to make his way in the world; to make something of himself despite what thought were his humble origins.

Then he becomes a man and everything seems to change. He loves Gwenhyfar sure, but he doesn’t tell her and maybe that is for the best for it seems that there is one thing that he loves even more than her, much more than her: his crown. He admits throughout the story that he will do anything for and proves it with his actions.

First, he joins up with his father’s enemy Vortigern in an uneasy alliance but admits he will break it when it suits him. Then he marries Winifred, Vortigern’s half-Saex daughter to obtain her dowry and although he at first declares that she will be his wife in name only he impregnates her with a child.

He worries that she will have a boy and take him to her Saex family to use as a pawn against him. He takes her away to “Less Britain” so that she can’t use his son against him but she has a girl who dies shortly after the birth. All the while he tells anyone who listens that he doesn’t love his wife and wants to divorce her.

But then later in the book he gives into his wife and impregnates her again. He just doesn’t seem to learn his lesson. All throughout the story he is guided by his impulses—both sexual as well for war. They seem to be running the show, not him. This made him a less than sympathetic character for me. If it weren’t for Gwenhwyfar, I wouldn’t have kept reading. I kept wondering what she saw in him though. Her story was worth reading, her courage admirable though I think she could have done without him.

Contains: war violence, sexuality, some language