Tagged: isabel

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman

The Last Song by Eva Wiseman(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Spain had been one of the world’s most tolerant societies for eight hundred years, but that way of life was wiped out by the Inquisition. Isabel’s family feels safe from the terrors, torture, and burnings. After all, her father is a respected physician in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Isabel was raised as a Catholic and doesn’t know that her family’s Jewish roots may be a death sentence. When her father is arrested by Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, she makes a desperate plan to save his life – and her own.

Once again, master storyteller Eva Wiseman brings history to life in this riveting and tragic novel.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I honestly couldn’t have been more disappointed in this novel; it’s pretty hard to make a story set in the Spanish Inquisition boring but Eva Wiseman certainly managed to.  The main problem was that the writing style of this book is awful.  It’s essentially this: Isabel did [x].  She didn’t know how she felt about it.  Then she reacted to [y].  She felt sad about it.

Are you snoring yet?  That’s basically how the entire book goes.  We are told something happens, then told how Isabel feels about it without actually seeing what happens or seeing anything resembling emotions from our main character.  It’s like she’s carved from wood!  Not only that, there are so many inconsistencies in her character because she goes from “Ugh, Jews” to “sure I’ll go dress as a boy, sneak out of my house and go to a Torah study session with this boy I just met a couple of days ago”.  We’re told she warred about the decision but it really didn’t feel like it at all.  Just like when we’re told she’s worried about her father in Torquemada’s custody but you don’t really get the feeling that she is.

This is a middle grade novel so obviously some things are left out or simplified, but with this excruciatingly boring kind of writing style it was also impossible to empathize with any of the characters.  They’re basically just stereotypes that you find in a thousand other middle grade novels.  Isabel is the poor little rich girl who’s betrothed to a man she hates, her mother is the melodramatic sickly type, her father has always been the supportive and encouraging one who then admonishes her for thinking independently, etc.  Even Yonah, a character who could have been quite interesting, was boring because Eva Wiseman never really went into the hows and whys of his character.  He just exists to guide Isabel to Judaism and be the love interest, not to have anything resembling a personality.

My final problem with this book is that it was so predictable.  A poor little rich girl gets betrothed to a man she hates, something comes along that makes that betrothal impossible and she gets to marry the man of her dreams, usually a person of much lower rank and/or wealth.  Pretty much the whole book was summarized in the blurb above, so there were no real surprises in either the characters or the plot.  The Last Song wasn’t even particularly poignant at the end, when the Jews and ‘Moors’ are expelled from Spain on pain of death.  It should have been a touching, sad moment but it wasn’t.  This book just totally lacked emotion.

What can I say?  If you like being told a story but not actually having to think about it for yourself and discover things about the characters, I suppose this book is for you.  If you like three dimensional characters or unpredictable plots, I can’t even recommend it.  I just don’t see where there’s anyone who would like this novel, aside from pre-teens and early teens who have never read about the Spanish Inquisition.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The year is 1162.  Sixteen-year-old Lady Jeanette Avenel has always enjoyed her freedom as second daughter of a minor Norman nobleman in Teviotdale, Scotland.  But after her sister, Isabel, disgraces the family, Jenny is suddenly thrust into the role of eldest daughter.  Now Jenny has been chosen as a potential bride to the heir of the king of Scotland.  While learning the customs of the royal court, Jenny is drawn to a mysterious young man rumoured to have been kidnapped by fairies, not knowing his past holds a secret that threatens everyone close to him—including Jenny.

An Earthly Knight is one of those books that stays with you, even years later.  I decided to re-read it a few weeks ago and it was just as good as I remember.

Based off the ballads Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight and Tam Lin, it is both a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy.  Since I have never read either of these ballads, I will not comment on how close An Earthly Knight sticks to them because I have no idea.  However, I do recognize many fairy tale elements, like evil fairies and false love, so readers who love fairy tales will also enjoy this book.

Lady Jeanette, usually called Jenny, is the wonderful main character of this novel.  She is three dimensional, strong for a woman of her time and does not fall instantly in love with Tam Lin.  Her sister Isabel is actually my favourite character because although she is only a secondary character, Janet McNaughton did not neglect her character development.  Or the character development of any other secondary characters, for that matter.

An Earthly Knight may be a bit slow-paced for some readers because of the descriptive writing style, but I still enjoyed it.  Janet McNaughton draws her readers into a world where history and myth collide, where love and loyalty are put to the test and traditions are challenged.  If you like fairy tale re-tellings, fantasy, and/or historical fiction, this is the book for you.  As long as you don’t mind a little cliché, that is.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

(Cover picture courtesy of Kirkwood Public Library.)

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons.  Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons.  Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.

But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundane like Clary and her mother?  And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight?  The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Clary Fray is just an ordinary fifteen-year-old girl until she witnesses a murder in Pandemonium Club and realizes no one else can see the murderers.  She discovers that the murderers are Shadowhunters, people who hunt and kill demons.  When Clary’s mother is kidnapped and Clary herself is almost killed by a demon, the Shadowhunters take her in and Clary discovers secrets about her past and her mother that she might have been better off not knowing.

City of Bones is pretty much your average urban fantasy book: vampires, werewolves, warlocks and secret societies.  Despite these clichés, it is a surprisingly enjoyable read.  The plot is riveting and filled with unexpected twists and Cassandra Clare has obviously spent quite a bit of time on world-building.  The only aspect that really falls flat is the characterization.  Clary could be substituted for any other YA protagonist, Jace is your stereotypical ice-cold hunk, Isabelle is a man-eater and Simon is the tragic best friend who *SPOILER ALERT* secretly loves Clary.

If you can get past the poor characterization and the typical urban fantasy clichés, you will enjoy City of Bones.  It does have its shortcomings, but Cassandra Clare is a good writer and manages to pull off a funny, enjoyable and addicting book.

I give this book 3/5 stars.

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