Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Hello to any of you fair readers who have been patient enough to stick around. It’s been awhile, I know. Aren’t jobs wonderful? They pay you for doing something, thus allowing you to pay for things you need and want. Aren’t toddlers a joy? Puttering about with their cute voices and ever-present bodily functions that need attention. Alas, the downside of both of these things, the joy and the wonder, is that in my life they take precedence over blogging. Alack. Because I’ve been reading, my fellow book lovers. I’ve been reading some amazing things.

Cruel Beauty coverLet’s get into it, shall we? (No one ever said segues were one of my strong points). I’ve been thinking a lot lately about female characters in YA adventure tales – mostly fantasy. Cue Cruel Beauty, delivered into my iBooks shelves last night. Nyx is our heroine here, and she’s been given an impossible task: kill the demon who has been terrorizing her world for the past 900 years. After she marries him. Because her father bargained with the demon for her mother’s life, and promised Nyx to the demon in marriage before she was even born. Oh, and she will most likely die trying to kill the demon.

Yes, it’s a reimagining of beauty and the beast. I’m a sucker for fairy tale retellings, as you may know. I’m also a sucker for the imperfect heroine, which Nyx is; she’s known her fate since a young age and resents her twin sister, who gets to stay home and marry whoever she choses; who hasn’t been forced to study the hermetic arts all her life in training to kill her future husband. Nyx has become a master at stifling her anger and her hate, so that her sister can’t see them.

There were a lot of elements that I really liked here. Hodge works some Greek mythology into the story, and creates a very interesting ‘beast’. The deities of her world are mysterious and tricky and their sense of fairness seems warped, since only they can see the whole truth of the world.

But what got me thinking afterward was this: I’m also currently reading a (non-fiction! gasp!) book called Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and losing myself in books by Maureen Corrigan. She’s talking about female adventure tales, and how in literature the adventures that female characters face are more often day-to-day tasks that require great character and endurance (caring for family members, for example) than what we typically think of adventures (such as the things male characters often face, such as traveling to the arctic or some similar feat of great physical courage that is short-lived when you compare it to caring for a family member for their entire life). Corrigan goes on to talk about Jane Eyre as one of the great female adventure stories. Now, Jane Eyre happens to be my favourite book. And I am now finding myself drawn to fantasy books with female heroines who are typically facing these great physical adventures that might typically be faced by male characters if they had been written back in the day. (Arguably). BUT, there is usually also a big element of heroines facing self-doubt in these books as well.

I don’t want to wreck Cruel Beauty for you if you haven’t yet read it, but I will say it had me thinking about a lot of the YA fantasy heroines I read today, and that they now seem to be the ultimate adventurers; I think they would fit Corrigan’s descriptions of both the typical male adventurer (climb the unclimbable mountain, etc.) and the typical female adventurer (tasks that tend to entail more waiting and endurance and showing strength through years of strain). Which is pretty awesome.

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Crossed by Ally Condie

I’ve been on the hold list for this one at the library since mid-December. Finally got it!! So exciting.

Crossed book reviewCrossed is the sequel to Matched, and I think Ally Condie has done a good job of keeping my interest in the story through this book (there will be a third, too, as this is a trilogy).

Crossed continues to follow the story of Cassia. I know you all clicked on the Matched link above so you’ve refreshed your memory of the story line. In this sequel, Cassia has left the Borough and is doing work detail, trying to find her opportunity to get to the Outer Provinces and look for Ky. When the chance comes, Cassia takes a friend along – Indie, a strong-minded girl who’s on her work detail. Ky has escaped, and as they find Ky’s trail and follow it into The Carving (canyonlands), all the while trying to stay away from the Society’s watchful eyes.

Spoiler Alert: I’m gonna talk about it all after this, so if you haven’t read the book and want to, don’t read on…

Condie writes this one from two points of view, Cassia’s and Ky’s. Great thinking, Condie – it’s much more compelling to read about everything in the first person (I think). That said, towards the end of the book, Condie shifts back and forth between the two voices much more frequently and it becomes painfully apparent that the voices aren’t actually different enough for me to believe that they come from two separate people. Hmm.

The other thing I found slightly frustrating was that the plot does one of those full circle things. I HATE that sh*t (see my first post about not finishing Journey to the Centre of the Earth). We’ve just followed Cassia and Ky on this nearly epic journey, only to find that the resistance thinks Cassia would best serve the cause from within Society. Seriously?! THAT was your brilliant plot idea for the second novel in a trilogy? Come on, Condie. Perhaps I find this so frustrating because Condie dangles such a delicious sounding plot carrot in front of us readers close to the end of the book – Cassia could skip out on the Society AND the Rising and high-tail it for the hills with Ky. HELLO. Obvious choice! I would have been more interested in reading about this in the third book. 

All in all I enjoyed this book, but it was a bit of a let-down — Condie did a great job of creating a unique dystopian society where her characters struggled to live within its bounds in Matched… in this book, the Society felt less than three-dimensional (possibly even a bit stereotyped!) and Cassia wasn’t nearly as interesting either.

So… there you have it. Read it at your own risk. I still enjoyed the book – it was a great, quick YA read – but it was no masterpiece (sorry Condie, but you know it’s true- I still admire you for writing books).

In other exciting news, I just read a killer additional scene from Hex Hall (remember that? the book that started it all here on spines and soles?). Rachel Hawkins wrote an additional scene between our girl Sophie and Archer. Ver-ry juicy, mmm. AND, get this: she has promised to write another one about Sophie and Cal. Heck yes! So head on over to her blog and read some YA goodness.

This is the last post I’ll be writing from Vancouver Island… sniff. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be in much closer proximity to the Rocky Mountains.

Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Once again I am woefully behind here. Nonetheless, I have been reading so let’s focus on that.

I just finished up Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg. Not surprisingly it is based on Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice. I found it to be very entertaining.

Prom and Prejudice book reviewLizzie is a scholarship student at snobby Longbourn Academy, where the girls are obsessed with prom (the event is covered by Vanity Fair). Lizzie is largely snubbed by her wealthy classmates. Her only friends are Jane, her roommate, and Charlotte, the other scholarship student. With prom fast approaching, Longbourn girls are doing everything they can to line up dates with guys from neighbouring all-boys Pemberley School, and designer dresses to wear to the event. But Lizzie has more important things to focus on, and she meets someone who is so different from all the Pemberley guys that she might actually like him.

The story is very closely based on Austen’s original – names of characters included. It was a quick read and the story was cleverly adapted to modern day. I liked it so much that I went out and grabbed Eulberg‘s other book, The Lonely Hearts Club, from the library. Liked it too. I’m always glad to read good adaptations of my favourite classics, and in this case I was lucky enough to discover a new writer too.

Last month I picked up the graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice, and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  It was done by Hilary Burningham and I was surprised to find out how many classics have been turned into graphic novels. A whole new way to enjoy my classics! I can’t wait to pick up the graphic novel of Jane Eyre.

I’ve also read through the Hunger Games series, but don’t feel the need to create a separate post for these books as they aren’t new releases and they’ve been reviewed ad nauseam, I’m sure. Suffice it to say that I picked them up on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, and couldn’t believe how much I liked them. As I’ve mentioned on here before, dystopian fantasy/sci-fi isn’t often my cup of tea (you know, happy ending mandate and all that), but I thought these were fantastic. Katniss rivals Brynn as far as badass heroines go.

Speaking of badass heroines… well, ok, not-so-baddass heroines… I also read  Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I wrote about the first novel in the series, Iron King, here.  The concept for Kagawa’s world was still really unique, but the plot wasn’t my favourite and I found that the main character, Meghan, less than badass and actually kinda whiney. I may not read on in the series.

I’m learning so much by reading all these books. Who knew I got so attached to the characters!

 

Matched by Ally Condie

I read this one a while ago, but I’ve thought about it on quite a few occasions since then. I was pleasantly surprised by this book.

Book review Matched Ally CondieThe story opens just as Cassia, a 17-year-old living in a tightly controlled world, is about to find out who her ‘match’ is — that is,  the man she’ll be spending the rest of  her happily choreographed life with. Unlike most of the other 17-year-olds who go through this process, Cassia knows her match once he is revealed: Xander is someone she’s grown up with, and a close friend. But when the pops the disc that each person is given at their matching ceremony into her player, two faces appear. Xander’s, and someone else’s — and Cassia knows this person’s face, too.

I’m not often huge on dystopian fiction, so I was surprised by how much I liked this book. Condie has a real knack for spinning tales, that’s for sure. I won’t say this was an amazing book or anything, but I enjoyed the read. Lots of folks have compared it to Lois Lowry‘s The Giver, but it’s been approximately one hundred years since I read that so I can’t comment.

When poking around on the internet before writing this post, I landed on the book’s website. Now THAT is amazing. So clever! The site is designed so that you, the website visitor, feel like you are entering into Cassia’s Society-controlled world. You can even find out who your match is! [Full disclosure, I didn’t do this part, since I already know who my ‘match’ is. But I think it’s cool that you can do it.]

How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls by Zoey Dean

I read this one between the two Serious Books (well, more serious than my usual fare) I wrote of in my last post. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of substance in the book — far more than the cover or the blurb suggested to me. I’m not saying this is literature. It is what it is. But I did enjoy it, and was surprised by how much. Yesss, beach book.

How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls reviewMegan Smith recently graduated from Yale and is working as a writer for a celebrity gossip mag: not really her thing. She’s not all that surprised when her boss lets her go, but she is surprised by the offer of another position: tutoring two rich teenagers for a few months, until their SAT test. Still struggling with a mountainous student loan, Megan takes the job.

So, not being someone who’s really in touch with the teen television scene, I hadn’t realized that Dean has written about a gazillion books (the A-list series, Gossip Girl series, Pretty Little Liars series, etc etc.), many of which have been turned into TV shows. So, I guess it’s not that surprising that the book is good. She knows how to captivate an audience. This book was even turned into a series. Hmmm, interesting.

Anyway it was the perfect offset to the more un-mandate-like books that I read this past month.

Jane by April Lindner

Well I finished reading this modern-day adaptation of Jane Eyre last week. Let me preface this by saying I LOVE Jane Eyre. It is one of my favourite books ever and especially lately: I have probably read it 4 or 5 times a year for the past three years. (Though, I’m not going to lie, a few of those times I skip a lot of the very beginning, and start when Jane gets to Lowood).

Jane  April Lindner book reviewJane (the book) is set in present day, and begins as Jane (the character) is forced to quit university when her parents die. She has two siblings, both considerably older than her, who do not offer to support her continued education. Jane has to find a job, so she applies at a nanny service. She gets a position as a nanny for the daughter of a rich rock star. The story is fairly true to Jane Eyre so if you’ve read that book, you know what happens. 🙂

I thought that Lindner did a good job of modernizing the part of the book where Jane leaves Thornfield for her period of self-imposed exile. I don’t want to give too much away, since this is part of the book I was very pleasantly surprised by.

I didn’t super-love Jane Moore as a character. I found that she wasn’t as strong as Jane Eyre was, in some ways, but she did an admirable job as a stand-in. I also didn’t completely believe that Nico (aka Rochester) could fall in love with this Jane, but once their romance started it seemed a bit more believable.

Lindner did some other really clever things in the modernization. In Jane Eyre, when Jane leaves Thornfield she has no money and won’t say where she’s from so she essentially has no way of getting a job. These days, if a person had been working for several months it’s highly unlikely that she wouldn’t have any money. Lindner gets around that by writing that Jane doesn’t want to access her bank account because she knows she can be tracked down that way; same with using her cell phone.

Overall it was a very clever re-telling. It’s no Jane Eyre, but it was an entertaining read.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great YA boarding school book (I’ve always been fascinated by these, never having attended a boarding school myself) and I love almost everything about the main character, Frankie. Plus, it’s got secret societies in it. What’s not to love?

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks reviewAs Frankie transitions from awkward to attractive, she finds herself falling into a new crowd at school: Enter, newfound popularity—complete with gorgeous older boyfriend, Matthew. But Frankie quickly discovers that people don’t see her smarts, just her looks: Matthew most of all. And her family still thinks of her as a geeky kid who needs to be protected. Understandably, this gets under her skin. So Frankie takes matters into her own hands, determined to get the recognition her intelligence deserves.

Frankie is such a great character. She’s badass, but she’s also a teenager who wants desperately to be liked by the boy she likes, and to fit in with the crowd she idolizes. The only thing that bothered me was that Lockhart seems to have written Frankie as a girl who is always attracted to power-hungry males, yet, as intelligent as she is, she doesn’t seem to recognize this in herself. I’m not saying it isn’t a realistic thing — nobody is perfect, and I’m glad Frankie isn’t. It still bothered me though.

I loved that Frankie picked up the habit of creating words from their opposites (e.g. creating dulged from indulged etc.) and thinks it’s so funny she just starts using these words all the time, much to the chagrin of the other characters. This is totally something I would have done in high school (and it would have annoyed my friends too).

I highly recommend this one. 🙂

Magician’s Ward by Patricia C. Wrede

Told ya I had this one comin’ from the library. It was so good I devoured it in a matter of hours. I wish Wrede had written more books about Mairelon and Kim!

Set in the same alternate regency England as Mairelon the Magician, where magic is a part of life, Kim is now living in Merrill’s (Mairelon’s) family home as his ward. She’s learning to talk and look like a lady, and she’s also learning magic. Of course she and Mairelon have a mystery to unravel. I was happy to discover, just at the point of the story where I was thinking, “Kim’s old enough that she could have a romantic interest now, isn’t she?”, one appeared. Excellent.

I may try out some of Wrede’s other series…

Up next: I’m reading the Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (prequel to the Hero and the Crown).

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

This book is exactly the kind of book I live to read right now. So amazing!

Katsa is possibly one of the best-written heroines I have encountered in a long, long time. She is complex, she isn’t as stereotyped as many other female main characters in teen fantasy novels, and, yes, she has someone worthy to fall in love with. Not only that, but when Katsa and Po do fall in love, I believe it. Their romance doesn’t feel rushed, choreographed, or contrived.

While I have complimented many a book on how vivid the worlds they create are on my blog thus far, The Seven Kingdoms (the fictional world where the book is set) is not only vivid, but is as complex as Tolkien’s world (is it called Wilderland?).

Katsa is Graced – that is, she has magical powers. Her power happens to be a supernatural ability to kill. She is the niece of a king, and this king has pressed Katsa into using her Grace as his personal enforcer. As she grows up, Katsa begins to distance herself from her role as the king’s thug and begins to use her grace to help people. In doing so, she meets Po — another Graceling fighter. Together they fight a danger that is spreading through the Seven Kingdoms.

I love that those who are Graced are uncommon, but are identifiable by the fact that they have two different eye colors. I am looking forward to reading Cashore’s next book, Fire.  

In other news, I just finished Lauren Oliver’s Delirium. It’s a future where love is considered a disease in the United States, and people are ‘cured’ at the age of 18 so they can never fall in love and then paired with an ideal mate. When Lena is seventeen, just a few months before she is slated to be cured, she falls in love.

So, I didn’t super love this book. Mostly because it didn’t fall under the happy ending mandate, but also because it just wasn’t that great. It was good — it kept me turning the pages — but it wasn’t anything too special. [Lauren Oliver, please note: I think you are a great writer and good on ya for publishing two books so far.]

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

I could not put this book down, which is surprising given that I am on such a happy-subject-matter-only bent right now and it is evident from the inside cover of this book that it is not happy subject matter.

Sam is a typical high school girl until the day she dies in a car accident and starts to relive the day of her death over and over again.

So, okay, it’s not a terribly original plot idea but Oliver hooked me from the beginning and the book sailed along at an incredible pace. Each time Sam relives her day, and she discovers what she can change and what she can’t, I found myself liking her more and more; Oliver does a great job of showing how Sam changes, and grows up, in a matter of a few days. (Well. Repeating the same day several times.)  

This is not fantasy, just fiction; but I still really enjoyed it. I see that Oliver has written another book, Delirium, and I will totally be checking that out too.

In other news, I can’t seem to get through Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. I am finding it difficult to read, in the same way that I found it difficult to watch Seinfeld because I couldn’t stand watching George embarrass himself over and over. So I stopped watching Seinfeld, and now I’m gonna stop reading Anansi Boys. Sorry, Gaiman. I’ll try it again later…

So what’s up next? I’ve picked up Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede after reading what Aarti had to say about it on her blog. So far, I’m loving it!