Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view


REVIEW:  Knight Awakened by Coreene Callahan

REVIEW: Knight Awakened by Coreene Callahan

Dear Ms. Callahan:

I was excited when I received the pitch for this book because I hadn’t read a medieval in quite a long time. The added element of mysticism intrigued me. The setting is supposed to be outside the Carpathian Mountains near Transylvania but while that is where the book is situated, the language of the characters seemed from all over. There were “ayes” and “lasses” and “politesse” and “Sweet Jesu” (the hero’s favorite exclamation). I couldn’t figure out if I was in Normandy or Romania.

Knight Awakened Coreene CallahanI deliberately tried to ignore this and delve into the story. It’s a mystical, paranormal, I tell myself, stop trying to ground it in reality. Taking my own advice, I move forward, only to be brought up abruptly by the insta lust connection the couple has. Afina Lazar is sought by Vladimir Barbu who must mate with her to seize control of Transylvania. He sends out Xavian Ramir, an assassin trained by Halal and the Order of the Al Pacii. Xavian finds her and kidnaps her. Instead of taking her to Vladimir, he decides to take Afina to his keep where he can install her as a healer.

The initial conflict is that Xavian demands truth from her in all things and is terribly upset when she lies to him. But she’s your captive, I yell at the fictional Xavian, what do you expect? And Afina, why are you so taken with this barbarian who has kidnapped you and your child, I say, shaking her a little to jostle some sense into her.

My admonitions must work on Xavian because he forgets his pursuit of truth and just starts wanting Afina at every inopportune moment possible.  His trewes are in constant need of adjusting even during moments such as when two are standing on a literal precipice trying to out-run those who seek to kill them.

Afina’s assumption of power is brought about by the taking of her virginity. It’s power she does not gain and cannot control without her male soul mate.  And Xavian glories that Afina is dependent upon him, like she is a trophy.  Wouldn’t it have been lovely had she owned power of her own, independent of a man?

The mysticism doesn’t really kick in until about 50% of the book and at first I am intrigued and then disappointed because I’ve read previous Callahan books and it’s kind of a redux.  There are some glimpses of interesting ideas such as the Al Pacii, the cradle of blood from which these assassins turned…warrior knights are birthed. But too little time is devoted to creating a complex political subplot which seems to be promised but is never delivered.

We also get emotional canon shots – intense passion, near death, deep vows, but none of the build up so it seems like we are missing important parts of the story. I get the message and intent, but I also want to travel the journey with the characters.  I read one of the early reviews suggested you put your brain in neutral and I guess that’s pretty good advice here.  C-

Best regards,



REVIEW:  Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

REVIEW: Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Dear Ms. Cushman,

The title of this book rang a bell when I saw it for sale. Since it has such a positive reputation and was a Newbery Honor book, I felt confident that it would be worth my time to seek out and try. I immediately fell for Catherine, called Birdy. But I also acknowledge that if a young woman who might act and think like Birdy actually existed in England in the year 1290, she would have been one in a million.

Birdy’s diary faithfully records a year of her life beginning when she was fourteen. It’s funny and honest in that Birdy doesn’t try to make herself out to be better than she’s actually behaved. But then lots of times Birdy doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong even when her mother,her nurse and the beast, aka her father, see it otherwise. It shows her initially rebelling against the standard activities that would take up most of the day of a girl in her position. She hates sewing, she hates embroidery, she hates standing and stirring cauldrons of nasty smelling soap. She hates fleas and the thought of marrying the kind of men her father keeps considering as potential husbands for her. She wants freedom – as she knows it – and a choice in her life. She sounds very much like a teenager today. Is this historically correct? Probably not to the degree that you’ve shown here but then you’re writing the book for today’s modern young women. Females of 1290 would no doubt view Birdy as a strange and alien creature while an accurate depiction (if that was even possible for us to achieve) would bore modern girls beyond belief.

During the course of the year, Birdy dreams of running off and taking up a variety of different trades and jobs. One by one, however, she rules them out or is told – sometimes gently and sometimes not – how unsuitable she is for them. Being a knight on crusade? Or a monk drawing illuminated books? Or a puppeteer at a fair? Or even just a villager? No, none of these are possible for her. So you have her use her brain to try and swing events to go her way instead of you turning her into a dreaded anachronism. In various ways, Birdy presents herself to these awful suitors as the last thing they want in a wife. And for the most part it works, much to her mother’s distress and father’s anger. Birdy might dream of running off and becoming all sorts of unsuitable things but when the rubber meets the road she fights in the only real way she can to get any control over her life that is possible.

But she also matures and gets advice from several older women about life and how to pick your battles. She sees instances where people act in ways Birdy might not initially understand or accept as what she would do but which are what those people think are best. She begins to understand that maybe she doesn’t know everything and that she might need to rethink her impressions of the people around her. Perhaps her older brother Robert isn’t quite the abomination she’s always thought he is. Birdy’s friend appears to believe it. Maybe the beast her father is a better husband than Birdy knew. Birdy’s mother certainly thinks so.

Is Birdy’s change of heart over her upcoming marriage growing up or giving in? Mainly I think growing up but that comes with a whiff of giving in. She’s still not enamoured of the man her father has chosen for her when she decides to face the music. But the advice that’s been given to her finally sinks in and begins to make sense to her. She can still be herself no matter where she is or goes and no matter what she becomes. No one can take that away from her and she has the power to make the best of whatever situation she finds herself in. B