Friday, April 29, 2011

Daughter of Xanadu

By Dori Jones Yang
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 1/4 stars

Emmajin is a Mongol princess, the granddaughter of the great Khan who has helped to take over much of the known world, including nearly all of China.  While many Mongol women are now used to the easy life of court, Emmajin would rather become a soldier like her cousin Suren.  She can shoot arrows from horseback better than almost anyone, man or woman, and wishes she could join the army and help expand their glorious empire.  But the odds of the Khan allowing a woman in the army is remote.  Instead, Emmajin continues to sabotage any attempts by her family to marry her off, much to her younger sister’s dismay.  There are many foreigners at court, and the Khan decides to have his grandchildren befriend them to try and gather intelligence about their countries and see which would be the most likely for the Mongol Empire to conquer next.  Emmajin is assigned to the famous Marco Polo and his uncle and father.  At first Emmajin is standoffish and severe, but Marco’s easy manners begin to charm her and her thoughts about the rightness of the Mongols takeover of the world wavers the longer she spends in his company.  When Marco unwittingly trusts her with some vital information that could influence an attack on Christendom, does Emmajin remain loyal to the Khan and get the place in the army as she has always desired?  Or does she follow her heart which bends more and more towards Marco?  This well-written story is all the more interesting for being told from the first person view of the Mongols.  While a few of the twists and turns may be guessed at by a savvy reader, most of us will just follow along, fascinated by details in the story and by Emmajin’s conflicted emotions.  A thoroughly enjoyable tale with a historical note in the forward as well as a helpful map to help us sort fact from fiction.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Alice in Charge

By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Rating: 4 stars

Alice is back in her 25th book and she's finally a senior!  As she takes on her last year in high school, she is feeling overwhelmed.  Not only is she Features editor of the school paper, The Edge, but she is also tapped to be part of the new Student Jury to pass judgement on crimes by students.  Add to that the pressure of visiting and applying to colleges, missing her boyfriend Patrick away at college in Chicago and doing her normal schoolwork, and Alice is a blur of busy-ness.  Then things become even more complicated when the new student from Sudan, Daniel, gets a Nazi hate symbol placed in his locker.  Some other signs of a supremist group pop up as well--who are these kids?  And when Alice gets a piece of hate herself for going to the dance with Daniel, she knows they need to do SOMEthing at the school to get a dialogue going.  She finds herself worried about other issues as her school year moves along, like whether or not she should go to college close or somewhere far away, and whether or not the substitute teacher Mr. Granger is being inappropriate with students.  As always, there is plenty of laughter mixed in with Alice's family and friends, and readers will enjoy the funny parts right along with the more serious moments.  Another solid installment in the series, and fans will look forward to the next book about the second half of her senior year.