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.

The Silvered by Tanya Huff

It’s actually been ages since I read this one (my very wonderful husband gave it to me for Christmas last year), but I recently read on Tanya Huff’s blog that she won a 2013 Aurora for this novel, and I wanted to do some online cheering. Such a fantastic novel, this one. Jennifer Lynn Barnes was the first to make me eat my words about werewolf and vampire books, and Huff has certainly added fuel to that fire. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First of all, where have I been all my life? I had no idea there was even such a thing as an Aurora! Which, by the way, is the Canadian equivalent of the Hugo award. So, hooray for discovering this because I can now search out all past winners and read them. YUM. But, back to the topic at hand:

The Silvered book review

Mirian has dropped out of the mages’ university. In spite of her incredibly high test scores, she was not excelling. Naturally, she hasn’t told her parents. Meanwhile, trouble is a-brewing in the kingdom and the Emperor is running amok, destroying important members of the mage pack because of a prophecy made by the Imperial Soothsayer. When Mirian witnesses the kidnapping of five members of the mage pack, she knows she has to help. And the prickly yet attractive Thomas, younger brother to the pack leader, is her co-conspirator in the quest to save the kidnapped.

I’ve read a few of Huff’s other books (The Wild Ways, The Fire’s Stone) and really liked them. This was by far my favourite, I have to say. I’ve been waiting anxiously to hear whether she’ll be doing a sequel….

I really believe that Huff is one of Canada’s most talented fantasy writers, and I love how she works a Canadian sense of place into many of her contemporary fantasy novels (many are set in Toronto, and parts of the Wild Ways were even set in Calgary! Imagine!).

If you haven’t read this one, do it. I mean it. Especially if you are into fantasy and werewolves.

Congrats, Tanya Huff on your Aurora!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

I love discovering new authors, and Hartman is now an all-time favourite. This book is amazing!

Seraphina reviewSeraphina is assistant to the palace music master. A gifted musician, she must also hide a difficult secret — in a world where a tenuous, 40-year-0ld peace between humans and dragons is rapidly crumbling, Seraphina is an abomination: half human, half dragon. Trying to conceal this secret isn’t easy, especially when she finds herself wound up in trying to discover who is behind the erosion of the peace treaty between humans and dragons. She finds herself strangely drawn to Lucian Kiggs, cousin and fiancé to princess Glisselda; his keen eyes and clever mind are a danger to her concealed identity. At the same time, the garden of characters inside her head (set up to prevent these characters from running rampant around her mind, making her crazy), has begun to unravel.

Okay, okay. I don’t want to give it away so as usual you get an abbreviated synopsis. Now the fun part…. why this book is so amazing!!! First of all, the world. The world! So detailed, so interesting, and oh the people. These characters are so amazing! Seraphina is perfect: She is strong, smart, flawed, uncertain, inspiring, and best of all: she is imperfect. She makes mistakes, and she learns from them. She is empathetic, and she is rational. She’s even irrational when it comes to her heart… she is utterly relatable.

The writing! Oh, the writing in this book is so beautiful. The characters are alive! (Orma, Seraphina’s tutor: “I’m attracting small children,” Orma muttered, twisting his hat in his hands. “Shoo it away, will you?”). You feel everything each character feels. There is a whole culture of saints that is fascinating. And the dragons. I never imagined dragons like this! They are crusty, and animalistic, and not at all humanized; but they can take the form of humans, and can live in the human world.

All I can say is, no wonder this gem was nominated for the Governor General’s award this year. I can say (with an incredible bias, since I haven’t read the other shortlisted titles) that I vote for Hartman! I hope Seraphina wins!

The best news of all; Hartman is writing a sequel. Oh yes. Stay tuned!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

It’s about time I wrote about this one. While I was living in Victoria, my little bro and his girlfriend came to visit, and we visited my favourite bookstore — Munro’s books (Canada’s self-professed Most Magnificent Bookstore. I cannot disagree). So amazing. As I’m showing l.b.’s girlfriend around the YA section, pointing out all my favourites, a girl who works there was all, “If you liked those you should read this one. It’s really good, even though the cover is lame.” Touche, awesome girl who works at Munro’s. Touche. Because, let’s be honest: the cover is a bit lame. But the book is freakin amazing!!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone reviewDaughter of Smoke and Bone features heroine Karou (awesome name, no?), a blue-haired teenager living two lives (mostly) in Prague. One of those lives is secret -(ooh, intrigue). Karou goes to art school by day with her quirky, sassy best friend, and does errands for a mysterious paranormal beast every now and then. She’s a mystery, even to herself; she speaks many languages, was raised by Brimstone (paranormal beast), and if she could just figure out who she is, and where she came from, she’d be happy. Right? But then mysterious black handprints start to appear on the doorways she uses to get from city to city, continent to continent, instantaneously while running Brimstone’s errands. Brimstone starts acting weird… and she meets an all-too-familiar-feeling stranger in Marrakesh.

First of all, you know how I feel about characters; for me, they make a book. Karou is an amazing central character! So awesome. She’s smart, has sass, and is inquisitive. Taylor has built an amazing, mysterious, intricate, vivid, and believable world that you just want to immerse yourself in. I want to live in Prague now, too! I loved the life Taylor created there for Karou. The local coffeeshop hangout, Karou showing drawings of one world to her friends in the other world (Issa et al love seeing drawings of humans, and Zusana and the other students love seeing drawings of Brimstone et al). In fact, I loved Karou’s life in Prague so much that I was disappointed when the book shifted to centre on Elsewhere. (But, I guess that is ok since Karou was probably a little sad that her life in Prague was rustled up too, even though she found out who she is and where she came from).

Anyway. As I mentioned last post, I’m very much looking forward to the sequel and I hope it isn’t all battle-y all the time. Ya know? I hope Zusana is still around. She’s rad. We shall see!!

I’m so glad the girl in Munro’s introduced me to Taylor’s books. I’ve read a few more since and have been impressed 🙂

Looking forward to:

This fall a few books are coming out that I anticipate will be pretty awesome. Just in case you haven’t been squirrelling the book world news for these tidbits, here they are:

1. Ruins by Orson Scott Card (October 30, 2012). The sequel to Pathfinder (which I talked about this winter). Oh yes. Card is the coolest and I can’t wait for this – even if it is a giant tome of a book like Pathfinder was.

 

 

 

 

2. Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier (October 30, 2012). The sequel to Ruby Red, which I have not yet written about here but which I read early this summer and enjoyed. Plus, it’s always nice to read a book written by a non-english writer (Gier is german).

 

 

 

 

 

3. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (November 6, 2012). Sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I read this spring and LOVED. I also haven’t written about this one on the blog yet but hope to do so soon, because Taylor is fantastic.

 

 

So, there you go. Three great books to look forward to this fall – I know I am!

 

 

Another one that’s out this fall that I will probably read is Reached by Ally Condie (November 13, 2012). It’s the sequel to Matched and Crossed – you know I didn’t love these books, but I’ll probably read this to finish of the trilogy. 

Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins

I read this one right when it was first released, so back in March or April (yes, my memory sucks. I have a four-month-old, ok?!). Given that, I don’t remember it incredibly well so don’t have a ton to say about it, but I felt like I had to at least jot a few words down because this was the series that inspired me to start the blog in the first place.

Spellbound book reviewSpellbound is the third and final book in the Hex Hall trilogy, and we rejoin our girl Sophie as she heads off to find the Brannicks (sworn enemies of the Prodigum). Don’t lets forget that she’s been stripped of her powers by the corrupt council, and as Demonglass ended her dad and Archer were in the evil council’s slimy clutches, fates yet to be determined. Don’t worry – Cal was on the case, ‘member? So, obviously, Sophie needs to disentangle herself from the Brannicks (or does she?) and rescue the Prodigum from the evil council; all without her powers.

Ok. So, I will say, the book is great. Sophie continues to be sassy and teenagery (I’m sure that’s a word. It is now). But I have to say I was disappointed by the ending. SPOILER ALERT. Here it is. Cal dies? Seriously? I don’t know about that. I kinda thought he was the saving grace of the series, actually. I mean, don’t you think he shoulda been on the new council once the evil was vanquished? Plus, I’m sorry, I was camp Cal all the way. Perhaps I’m just too old for the star-crossed lover routine but Archer was not my cuppa, ya know? Anyway. My thoughts, several months late, for what they are worth.

The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

At the back of Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore has a list of books that she recommends. Naturally, I want to read all of them. One was The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. Turner is an amazing writer and I’m so glad I found this series! I wasn’t even that bothered that I read them out of order (which would normally drive me crazy).

The Queen of Attolia book review

Eugenides, or Gen for short, is the Queen’s thief. The Queen of Eddis, that is. He can steal anything – at least, he has been able to in the past – and he can get into any locked, guarded room in the neighbouring kindoms’ palaces to spy for his queen. When he finds himself in the dungeons of Attolia, and angers the Queen of Attolia, he finds that his life will never be the same again. But a greater threat to all three kingdoms – Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis – is bearing down, and each kingdom will have to make sacrifices if all three are to survive the threat of the Medes. Strong, arrogant, and sure of their supremacy, the Medes want to take over the three kingdoms for their own. Eugenides must help his Queen to protect Eddis, without angering the gods and while learning to accept his new fate and looking out for his own heart at the same time.

This book, and indeed the whole series, is so cleverly written I was blown away. Turner does an amazing job of keeping you in suspense, and revealing just enough about the plot and each character that you want to keep reading, knowing there are ulterior motives behind every new page, and endearing you to the characters in spite of what little you truly know about them. The characters are all amazingly complex, and all experience deep and realistic emotions. Somehow, they all know how to push each others’ buttons too, which is amusing to read about. Turner has a knack for showing how incensed her characters are by little jibes in short, artful sentences with very little description (were I a good blogger, I would insert an appropriate example here, but alas I have already returned the books to the library and so we shall continue on example-less). Apparently these kingdoms are loosely based on ancient Greece, which I find very interesting. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m very visual so I’d love it if there were maps of the kingdoms, and some of the cities, included in these books. Oh well, can’t have everything, right?

I was seriously excited to read that Turner plans at least two more books in the series (there are already four: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings).  Yay!

 

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Yes, it’s true: I’m still alive. Apologies for my long silence. I had a baby girl in April (yay) and she has taken up a lot of my time.

Go figure!

cutie baby feet

Don’t worry, I still had time to read a few books. Twenty, to be exact. I will hit the highlights though, rather than writing about all of them. No sense discussing the ones I didn’t enjoy (why revisit mediocrity, right?).

Top of the list, and most recently finished, is Bitterblue. Cashore is a wonder, and while I didn’t love Bitterblue as much as Graceling or Fire, I really enjoyed it. So, just to be clear, Bitterblue is the sequel to Graceling (and companion to Fire; as Fire was a companion novel to Graceling). Naturally, this has me hoping that there will be a sequel to Fire, but who knows.

Bitterblue (Po’s niece) becomes queen of Monsea at the age of 10, and the book begins when she is 18. Trying to bring her kingdom out of the shadows of her terrible father Leck’s reign, she is now beginning to question the wisdom of her advisors; men who have helped her manage the kingdom since she became queen. Bitterblue decides to learn about her kingdom, as well as the people in it and what they truly need, by herself.

BitterblueCashore has, once again, created a truly inspiring heroine at the centre of this novel. I did find the book to be much darker than either Graceling or Fire, but that may be just because I find Leck so disconcertingly scary as a character. Seriously spooky. As with Katsa and Fire, Cashore did a beautiful job showing Bitterblue’s growth into a woman, but in Bitterblue’s case, into a queen also.

One thing I found frustrating (Warning! Spoiler follows!) was the unresolved romance interest for Bitterblue. Does she find herself a king? She seems to have a connection with Giddon, but what about Saf? Oh Cashore, you big meanie! I wanted to know who ends up making her a happy girl!!

I loved reading about the changes taking place in Monsea and the other kingdoms – the uprising in Estill, and the installation of a council rather than a king. I am hoping to hear more about this world in other books from Cashore! My copy of the book has beautiful illustrations of the bridges Leck built in Bitterblue City at the back, as well as maps of the castle and the kingdoms. I wonder, though, why a map of Bitterblue City wasn’t included, since Bitterblue asked for one in the book and received many from librarian Death (pronounced ‘Deeth’ – one of my favourite characters, incidentally)? I think it would have been a nice addition. I also think all the maps, and maybe the even the illustrations of the bridges, should appear at the front of the book! I went looking for a map of the kingdoms in my copy of Graceling before I thought to flip to the back of Bitterblue for maps! (Are you listening, Dial?)

The other extremely cool thing about this book is the focus on ciphers (codes). I love codes! So exciting that Bitterblue is cracking them throughout the book. All in all this was a fantastic read (even with the haunting undertone of Leck running throughout… I felt like his creepy ghost was standing two steps behind me the entire time I read this book! eek.), and I now have a bigger girl-crush on Kristin Cashore. Amazing writer! I read the acknowledgements at the back and was impressed that she mentioned the politics of Po’s disability and how it didn’t occur to her when she was writing Graceling that “making Po’s Grace grow so big that it compensated for his blindness ad the end of Graceling…. It didn’t occur to me, until it was too late, that I had disabled Po, then given him a magical cure for his disability — thus implying that he couldn’t be a whole person and also be disabled.” It didn’t occur to me, either, Cashore. Glad she pointed it out.

Wild Ways by Tanya Huff

I was so excited when I saw this at the library! Wild Ways is the sequel to The Enchantment Emporium which I read when I first moved to Victoria last year. This book was much shorter than EE, which I was glad for. (Long books are so difficult to hold up while you are reading in bed. Yes, this is *actually* my reasoning. Shut up.)

Wild Ways reviewThe main focus of this story is Charlie. She is one of the Wild Powers in the Gale family, and can move about by making us of things called the wild ways – passages through space and time, entered through natural spaces that wild powers can find and use. The story continues from EE, so it’s worth reading that one first, I think (Huff does a lot of set-up in that book, which is longer). Charlie is beginning to tire of her country band in Alberta, and is trying to ignore her itchy feet. When an old friend calls her up and asks her to come out to Cape Breton and play with his band for festival season, she realizes it’s time to keep moving and accepts. But there are other wild powers at work and Charlie feels the need to step in… not surprisingly, nothing is straightforward as it seems.

Apart from the dubiously black-and-white portrayal of the environmental aspect of the plot (I thought it was a good idea, especially with the incorporation of the fey, but it didn’t feel completely believable to me for some reason), I really enjoyed this book. Huff does a pretty amazing job of incorporating humour (we must have similar senses of humour) and Canadiana into her novels. And, this time she got all the street names right in Calgary, which  I appreciate (only one slip-up in EE but it was pretty blatant to this born-and-raised Calgarian).

It’s such a novelty to read fantasy by Canadian authors who write about familiar places and make Canadian pop culture references. I really must prioritize reading some of Huff’s other books.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and picked it up in November. I started reading it over the holidays and finished last week (it’s a long one). I really enjoyed this book. Card did a great job of creating a unique world and keeping me captivated for such a long book.

Pathfinder reviewRigg was raised by his father, a fur trader, and they spent most of their time in the woods where Rigg’s father gave him a unique education. When his father dies, Rigg must follow his final instructions: visit the innkeeper they sometimes stay with and get the money held there for him; then, go to find his sister in the capital city, far away.  Rigg has a secret: he can see the paths of people and animals that have moved before him, like shimmering ribbons in the landscape. His father taught Rigg to keep this ability secret, that it would frighten people; what Rigg didn’t realize is that his father was keeping other secrets from Rigg, too — secrets about Rigg’s identity, and his destiny. There’s a trailer on Card’s website (scroll down…). I haven’t watched it yet.

I loved the world created in this book, and the mystery that surrounds everything as Rigg journeys toward the capital city (and towards discovering his destiny). Card does a good job of melding together two story lines that are 11 191 years apart, and appear at first to be very, very separate stories (one a science fiction, one a fantasy), then merging them at the end of the book. Masterful.

I don’t want to tell too much about the book because I think part of the reason I found it so good was that I got to discover everything as Rigg did. I will say, though, that Rigg has a friend, Umbo, who accompanies him on his journey and also has a mystical ability: he can slow down time. Card does a great job of showing how Umbo and Rigg explore the possibilities their gifts can create together, but I think Card dwells too much on the logic and arguments between Rigg and Umbo when they are discussing the potential ramifications of their abilities. For the most part, I think it would have been more exciting to let the reader wonder about these possibilities in our own heads (what if they go back in time and can’t get back to the present? If they go back and change the past, will they be able to find themselves in the present – won’t the present have changed too?) rather than so explicitly debating the possibilities in the narrative. The book would have moved along faster without these interruptions, and could have been much shorter that way, too…. just sayin. Card may have fallen into one of the traps that many people who are used to writing for adults fall into when they write for young adults – too much explaining. That said, while I found it annoying, it didn’t actually disrupt my enjoyment of the story — I never felt annoyed and wanted to put the book down (though I confess I did read the logic arguments pretty fast… one might even say I skimmed some of those parts). My opinion here is probably coloured a little bit by my general lack of patience for philosophical debate (this is why I never got through Sophie’s World… well, that and I hate the Socratic method).

I see that this story continues in another book, Ruins, and I will definitely be looking for that (not sure if it’s out yet).

Up next I’m reading a grown up book – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. It’s been interrupted by a library book, though – I got The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff (I’ve been on hold for ages) so I need to finish that before I move away from the Victoria library!

Playing catch-up…

Well, there are quite a few books I’ve read over the past two months that I haven’t yet written about here. I’m going to say something about a few of them here since most of them have been out for awhile and I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say (as opposed to my usual posts, ha ha).

Book of a Thousand Days reviewI picked up another one by Shannon Hale, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite YA authors. Book of A Thousand Days is about Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. The two are shut up in a tower for seven years after Saren refuses to marry the man her father chose for her. The books details their seven years in the tower, and what happens after the girls leave the tower. Apparently this is based on one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This wasn’t my favourite book of Hale’s (I found Saren to be pretty annoying, and Dashti seemed limited by Saren’s troubles in comparison to the strong female lead characters in Hale’s other books) but I still enjoyed it.

I ripped through True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (actually for a course I just finished). This Canadian book won the Governor General’s literary award in 2002 and is about Noreen, a teenaged girl whose life seems to be a pattern of mistakes until she winds up in the small town of Pembina Lake.  Here, she’s forced to confront her choices and think about what she wants. I really enjoyed this one.

Across the Great Barrier reviewI picked up another on of Patricia C. Wrede‘s most recent books (I enjoyed the Magician’s Ward so much!). Across the Great Barrier tells the story of Eff, a young girl living in the borderlands of an alternate wild west. While her best friend and her brother head East to go to prestigious schools, Eff is asked to accompany a professor who is surveying the wildlife in the wild settlement territory, west of the great barrier (a strong magical spell cast to keep out dangerous beasts). I guess this is a sequel to Thirteenth Child, which I have not read. I enjoyed this book but it was a bit slow and I found that Wrede’s world seemed to need a lot of explaining… the characters were great, though.

Next I picked up A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett. I loved Tiffany Aching when I read the Wee Free Men and was glad I found out where her story continues. In this book, Tiffany begins her apprenticeship in magic with an unlikely mentor. When danger searches her out, neither the Nac MacFeegles nor the most powerful witch, Mistress Weatherwax, can protect her. This was a great read. I think the next one about Tiffany is called Wintersmith so I will be on the lookout for that. Pratchett’s voice is great and Tiffany is so easy to love!

I also read a few free e-books, which were atrociously edited but I enjoyed them nonetheless.. The Mating, The Keeping, and The Finding by Nicky Charles were not great literature by any means but they kept me entertained during some very tedious afternoons where I thought boredom was going to steal my sanity. They are romance novels about werewolves. The first two were short and cute, with some juicy (if extremely far-fetched) romance scenes, but the last one was far too long and the plot was a tad ridiculous (even for the romance genre, and that’s saying something) for my taste. I would recommend these to you if you are stuck on a bus or in an airport and don’t want to spend money but need something to fill time. 🙂 (not the most glowing recommendation but there you have it).

Crystal Line reviewLast but not least, I just finished the Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey. I love this series so wasn’t too surprised that I enjoyed this one. It wraps up Killashandra‘s story and I found that the plot was not predictable – refreshing. The cover is pretty awesome, too. Loving the pink Descente-esque one piece. I was sad to hear that McCaffrey recently passed away. What a legacy of writing to have left behind, though.

Up next, I am very close to abandoning Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I picked it up when I heard, through the recent hype of the last book in the series, that he originally self-published this book, was subsequently picked up by a publisher and has now made some ridiculous amount of money. I am about half way through this and I don’t know if I can do it…  the only reason I haven’t already abandoned it is because I am holding out hope that the next few books will be better, since they will have had the input of an editor (one more impartial than the author’s parents) prior to publication. Anyone with reasons that I should continue, speak up. I’d love to hear ’em.   I also grabbed the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, The Subtle Knife, for a dollar. The first few pages had me interested so I may make better progress with this one. I remember liking The Golden Compass but I think it took me awhile to get through that one.

Now we’re all caught up! Aren’t you relieved?

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

I read about this somewhere that I now can’t remember, but their description drew me in: A fantasy/sci-fi re-telling of Jane Eyre. Obviously, I was hooked then and there.

I got this one out from the library last week and naturally devoured it. So good! You all know the story of Jane Eyre, I assume, so I won’t get into a detailed plot summary of this one…

Jenna Starborn reviewJenna is born in an artificial womb, commissioned by a wealthy woman who believes she cannot conceive. A few years later, she bears a son and Jenna falls into the shadows. She lives with her ‘aunt’ until the age of 10, when her neglect and mistreatment comes to the attention of medical practitioners. She is given the choice to attend a scientific boarding school on another planet, and jumps at the chance. She goes to school here and gives herself the last name Starborn, as many who were born in artificial environments do. She then works as a teacher at the institution for a few years until she becomes restless. She begins looking around for suitable positions and finds a job on yet another planet as a nuclear technician, responsible for the maintenance and repair of a generator for a private estate. Here she meets and falls in love with Everett Ravenbeck, owner of the estate. But Everett is hiding something… and the rest of the plot you’ll recognize from Jane Eyre.

I thought this was a really unique book, and Shinn tailored Bronte’s classic story to fit Jenna and her world very well. I loved that Jenna played a unique role in the Ravenbeck household (not that of tutor to a child), and yet was still an integral part of the household. Ravenbeck’s ward, Ameletta, has a tutor named Janet who, in a very Austen-esque turn of events, runs off with a wealthy man and ‘ruins her reputation’ so to speak. I thought that part of the plot was an odd inclusion but after thinking about it I realize that it did serve a purpose. I love how Shinn incorporated movement between planets, and the time it took to make those trips — it was a good parallel to the original story. There were a few parts of the book that I felt really dragged, because they were almost following Bronte’s plot by rote (it seemed to me), but they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I really enjoyed this both as a sci-fi novel and as  Bronte para-literature.

I was amazed to discover that Shinn has written many books, and does her writing evenings and weekends because she holds down a full-time job! Whooee, that is amazing.

I haven’t been doing that well at keeping up with things here (as you may have noticed). I have read quite a few books over the past few months that I haven’t yet written about. Right now, I’m reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini and I gotta tell ya, I’m struggling to get through it. I wanted to see what all the hype is about but I don’t know if I will make it through this  book, let alone the entire series.

I also read Griffin’s Shadow by Leslie Ann Moore, sequel to Griffin’s Daughter. It was pretty good. I will probably read the third one in this series too, at some point.

So there you have it. We are getting closer to being caught up!

Gifts by Ursula K Le Guin

I found this on the teen shelf of my local library branch. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before. Not that I am a vigilant follower of Le Guin or anything — I don’t know all of the titles she has published (by far! there are so many)  — but I have been poking around the teen fantasy section a lot this year so I was surprised that I haven’t come across this one earlier. There was a list of some other Le Guin titles in the first few pages and it didn’t include The Left Hand of Darkness, which I consider to be one of her most popular books. Odd, no? I think the titles included in that list were intended to be those appropriate for teens, but really. It was not exhaustive. Though I guess (and probably the most logical answer) these could be just the titles put out by that publisher. Oh, book world, why do you do these confusing things?

Back to the topic at hand. Ahem.

Gifts book reviewGifts is about Orrec, a boy living in the Uplands, where people fear their neighbours because each family has a Gift. Orrec’s family has the gift of unmaking (for the sake of description it could be called the gift of destroying). Orrec is coached from a young age by his father in how to control this gift that will appear for Orrec when he reaches puberty. But as Orrec grows and his gift doesn’t manifest, tension begins to build. Who will protect the farm, the land, if Orrec is known to be without the gift? One day, Orrec’s father asks him to try, to concentrate, and use his gift. When the consequences prove disastrous, Orrec decides that his father must blindfold him to prevent any further destruction. Orrec must now rely on others and come to terms with living as a blind man.

I didn’t love this book, though it was well written. I found that there was an overly ominous suspenseful tone to it, as if something truly terrible were about to happen (more terrible than the disturbing things that do happen in the story). So. As you know, not really my thing. But then the ending was a relatively happy one, which kinda confused me after the ominous tone throughout the rest of the book. Not my favourite Le Guin, but still a good book. I did really like the character of Gry, Orrec’s best friend, and I really liked the size of the book. Easy to hold up and read in bed 🙂

Anyway this book is part of a series (the other titles are Voices and Powers). Not sure if I will be reading the others.

How Anne McCaffrey Changed My Life.. Again

Advance warning: This is probably going to be one of the dorkiest posts I’ve written yet.

Not kidding.

Pretty much all I have to say today is this: Anne McCaffrey is so amazing!!! Auuugghhh! A few weeks ago I re-read Crystal Singer, which I found at a used book sale (thank you, local curling rink). I think the last time I read this, I was probably in junior high so it has been a long while. It was every bit as great as I remember. I don’t know how McCaffrey does it, but she makes science fiction and fantasy seem way less geeky. The covers of the books are completely hilarious, and very much targeted at sci fi readers, but once I get into the book I forget that I’m reading a dorky sci fi book and have to really concentrate on raving to everyone I know about how great the book is.

Dragonsong Anne McCaffreyAt the same book sale, I had also found Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, but of course not Dragonsong (the first in the series). I have been patiently (‘patiently’) waiting since then (March?) to read them, and checking every used bookstore I walk/drive by, because I wanted to start at the beginning. So when I was visiting my sister-in-law a few weeks ago and saw she had Dragonsong on her bookshelf, I begged to borrow it. Thank-you, Catherine! I re-read the whole series and am now firmly ensconced in a full-on, me-in-junior-high-school-style worship of Anne McCaffrey once again.

After I finished the series, I branched out into other authors for a few books. Only to find Killashandra (sequel to Crystal Singer) at the library, which I promptly checked out and rationed. Got my fix…

Who knows how long the worship will go on this time… yep, I’m a giant dork. 🙂

Glimmerglass by Jenna Black

It’s been a few weeks since I finished this one, so I’m going from memory here. I really enjoyed it – more so than other recent teen reads, I’ll say.

Glimmerglass reviewDana decides to leave high school after her mom shows up drunk (again) to her singing recital and embarrasses her: she heads over to England, to a town called Avalon. It’s the only place where the faerie world overlaps with the earthly one, and apparently the dad she’s never met lives there. Turns out her dad is actually a pretty important guy in Avalon, and everyone knows who Dana is — and wants her for something.

I liked the idea of Dana being a faeriewalker. (Someone who can travel between the human and faerie worlds, no problem, and can bring magic into the human world and technology into faerie. Ruh-roh, as Veronica Mars would say.)  Plus it’s been awhile since I read a faerie book, AND Black‘s a pretty decent writer. Some of the plot elements are a bit obvious, but… that’s ok with me right now. Part of the mandate, I’ve found, is predictability (though, with a caveat: if good things happen unexpectedly, that’s ok. Bad things? No indeed. Foreshadowing, please!).

And, like so many teen books these days, it’s part of a series! I know, shocking. So I can always read more if I want to. Maybe later…

I picked up Linger by Maggie Stiefvater and Chime by Franny Billingsly from the library, but couldn’t bring myself to read either — just not in the mood, I guess. Chime seemed a bit … dark… for the mandate, and I tried a few pages of Linger and just couldn’t get into it. Probably partly because I had another few books lined that I KNEW I’d like … stay tuned for more about that!

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

You know how I feel about werewolf and vampire books, but, like many other people, I read a bit of praise about this one from Neil Gaiman so I decided to try it. After reading a few chapters, I decided that I’d like the book, and went back to read the blurb on the back cover. I was surprised to find that this is the same guy who wrote The Good Fairies of New York. I tried to read that one earlier this year and could NOT get through it. I found it really, really annoying. I tried fairly hard to stick with it, because there’s something really interesting and refreshing about Millar‘s style, and I really liked the idea. So I’m glad I picked this one up, and got to enjoy Millar’s style.

Kalix hates being a werewolf. She’s the youngest in the royal werewolf family, the most powerful werewolves in Scotland, and she hates them all: her brothers and her father especially. She has run away from home, at 17, and is drowning her sorrows in laudanum (how very Victorian of her). She wants to die, but the strong werewolf inside of her will have none of that. Many want to kill her, both werewolves and humans alike, and since she sold the magical pendant her sister gave her, she’s no longer untraceable. As the book goes on, she is drawn into the battle for the throne that is going on between her two brothers, and makes friends with some unlikely humans.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is a much longer book than what I’ve been reading lately. It’s some 520 pages and there is no messing about in it’s layout: the book starts right at the top of the third page, and there are no page breaks between chapters (all 200+ of them!). Long book,  short chapters? Interesting approach. Anyway, at first I found that while I really liked the story, Millar was quite repetitive. If he’d cut out most of his descriptions of the characters the book could have been 25 pages shorter without losing any meat of the story (we KNOW the colour of all characters’ hair. you told us the first time you introduced them, so you don’t need to tell us every time we get back to that character’s story again! Mental picture does not need to be re-established every second page). Luckily the repetition petered out by about halfway through the book (or else I was just able to tune it out?!) and I really enjoyed it. I liked the sub-plot about her sister Thrix, the werewolf fashion designer.

There’s a sequel to this one, so I’ll probably pick it up and see what happens to Kalix!

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

This book was a surprise. It was so good! Like, Robin McKinley good, I thought. Which I found surprising because the first book I read by Hale, Austenland, was entertaining and based on a unique idea, but certainly not as well-crafted nor well-written as this. Hale is in her element here. 

Based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, this book is about Ani, a princess. For the first few years of her life, Ani spends her days with her aunt, who teaches her how to talk to the swans near the palace. When Ani’s aunt leaves, and her mother, the Queen, finds out she can talk to birds, the Queen prevents Ani from having any contact with birds. When Ani turns 16, she learns that her mother has arranged her marriage to a prince of the neighbouring kingdom, Bayern. As she travels with an armed guard and her lady in waiting to Bayern, she realizes that all is not as it seems. Some of her guards attempt to kill her and she narrowly escapes with her life. Now in Bayern, she changes her name to Isi and works as a goose herder to save enough money to get back to her mother the Queen, and tell her what happened.

Lo and behold, after a quick look on Hale’s website, I learned that McKinley‘s Beauty was the inspiration for Hale to write The Goose Girl!  Go figure. Anyway this book was amazing. It had the otherworldly tone that I love so much in a fantasy book, just like McKinelys and like Gaiman’s Stardust. The world-building was really good, and I loved the characters. The evil ones were truly evil (but in a YA way). There were some plot twists that I didn’t see coming (but probably should have!), which is always a nice surprise. I can’t wait to read more of Hale’s YA books!

After poking around on Hale’s blog, I learned that they are currently filming an Austenland movie! Yes!! So excited about this. I think it’s a story that will translate well to film, and could be quite funny. Here’s hoping!

Griffin’s Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore

So, I have been very interested of late by people who self publish fiction ebooks, and the quality of these books. I also wonder if people have their books edited, how much they are sold for (or if they are available free), and how they become popular. I have done some reading about this, but not a tonne. In particular, I want to talk about two that caught my interest.

One I saw on a bookshelf in my local Chapters: it being about the characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I naturally wanted to read it so went to look it up at my library. They didn’t have it, and after poking around online I discovered that it had initially been self-published by the author and was only picked up by a publishing house after it was pretty successful and she had written more books. I am talking about Mr & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, or Two Shall Become One, by Sharon Lathan. I was able to track down the ebook from my provincial ebook library, and couldn’t get past the first few pages. I am not really into harlequin-type romance novels, so I wasn’t too surprised. I did find Lathan’s story as an author pretty inspiring, though. She saw the 2005 P&P movie, loved it, and decided to continue their story. She self-published the first few, and their success caught the eye of a publisher who picked them up and has since published subsequent novels based on Austen’s characters. Obviously there is a market for this kind of thing – not too surprising that we want to read more about the characters Jane Austen created.

When I was poking around for free ebooks, I found Griffin’s Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore. I stuck with it, enjoyed it, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, plot, and characters in comparison to the last free ebook that I read. Then I started looking around for the next book in the trilogy and discovered that this book is only free for a limited amount of time. It’s not self-published – and I’m not sure why I assumed it would have been, just because it was available for free (I know what happens when I assume). It’s actually published by Ridan Publishing (who I had never heard of before) and the sequels cost money. They don’t have them at my library so I may actually pony up and by the ebooks. I’m not saying it was an amazing book, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

The story is about a girl named Jelena, who is half-elf and lives in a human world where she is shunned because of her elven blood. When she discovers that her uncle has sold her as a concubine to a neighbouring lord, she flees into the territory of the elves to try and find her father (the source of her elven blood). But there is something else going on inside Jelena, something bigger, and she has to figure out what it is and what it means.

The first few chapters were rocky, I’ll tell ya. It wasn’t until the fourth one that I got into the story, and I read it over a pretty spread out amount of time, so by the time I got to the end I had forgotten that the first few chapters were about a different time period than the remainder of the book (this is when it would have been useful to be reading the hard copy instead). If I had read it over a shorter period of time, I would probably have been able to remember the first few chapters and figure out how they were relevant to the rest of the plot. As it was, when I went back to check something to write this post, I was surprised that I didn’t recognize any of the characters’ names in the first few chapters. Moore knows how to write a convincing romance between two people, though, and that kept me reading.

So, I am testing the waters of free (and not free) ebooks and finding some books I like.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This book was so good!!! I feel like I start every second post with that sentence, but oh well. 🙂 I can’t help it if I keep finding all these wicked books! I can’t believe I didn’t read this one when I was younger. I would have LOVED it.

Kate is a lady in waiting (? or something? I am not too great at paying attention to courtly plot stuff) for the Queen’s sister in exile (Queen Mary Tudor, I believe), along with her sister Alicia. When Alicia makes a blunder, it is Kate who is sent away to the Perilous Gard (apparently a Gard is a castle); so called because it is rumoured to be in fairy territory.

This is a re-telling of the ballad of Tam Lin, apparently, though I was not really familiar with Tam Lin before I read the book. The Scottish ballad is about Tam Lin being rescued from the Queen of the faeries by his true love. I came across reviews of this book after reading Tithe by Holly Black, which is another book based on the ballad.

I thought this was a really great YA book, and very deserving of its Newbery honour. Pope‘s writing kept my attention as an adult and I highly recommend it. I am interested to read other re-tellings of the Tam Lin ballad. Time to start searching…

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

I went into this book thinking that it was a prequel to The Hero and the Crown, but after reading it, I don’t think it’s either prequel or sequel. It is set after The Hero and the Crown, as characters in that book are mentioned in The Blue Sword, but it’s centred on a whole different cast of characters. I think my confusion stemmed from the fact that the Blue Sword was written before The Hero and the Crown (but is set after). I absolutely loved this book, as I did The Hero and the Crown.

This is the story of Harry (a girl − her full name is Angharad), who must leave Homeland and join her brother at a remote desert outpost after her noble-born father dies. Not long after she adjusts to life at the outpost, the king of the desert lands, Corlath, visits the outpost to request help of the Homelanders in fighting against the invading Northerners. While there, Corlath sees Harry. His kelar, the magical intuition of the desert people, tells him to steal Harry away and bring her back to his city. Harry soon finds that she doesn’t feel as out of place as she thought with the Damarians, the desert people. She even finds that she has kelar herself. When she begins to learn the ways of the Damarians and train in their legendary horsemanship skills, she is confused by her feeling of kinship with these people. When she participates in the apprentice’s fight to prove her horseriding and fighting skills, Corlath gives her Gonturan, the sword of Aerin, and makes her one of the honoured king’s riders, the Laprun. Harry is the first Laprun-minta, female Laprun, in a very long time. She must listen to her kelar and to Gonturan to protect both the Damarians and Homelanders from certain death when the Northerners invade. She defies Corlath’s orders and rides off herself to protect the pass near the desert outpost where her brother is stationed. Of course there’s a bit of romance in the book for Harry, but I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it.

Just as she did in The Hero and the Crown, McKinley manages to tell a multi-faceted story effortlessly and beautifully. This book has the same legend- or myth-like quality to the writing that I love so much. After reading this, I have to say again how surprised I was by Pegasus: while it was beautifully written and the world McKinley creates is gorgeous, it didn’t seem to go anywhere for a very long time, and when it finally did, it crept along. I find this amazing, considering how much plot McKinley packed into The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword while still maintaining the mystical quality of her writing and without having the books feel rushed; books that are a quarter of the length of Pegasus. I see that McKinley has written many other books, and I’m now curious to read a few of them (though probably not Sunshine, vampires not being my thing).

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure this is my first Terry Pratchett book. For reals. It was great. An original take on witches, and a great heroine.

For those who haven’t read it, the book is about Tiffany Aching, an intelligent young girl from a small town in The Chalk who is a witch and doesn’t know it. Strange things start to happen, and soon it’s up to her to get her little brother back from the Faerie Queen who has stolen him. Luckily, she has the help of the Nac Mac Feegles (the Wee Free Men): pictsies (pictish pixies?) that are mostly into fightin’, drinkin’, and stealin’.

This was an incredibly clever book. I’m so glad I picked it up and can’t wait to read more about Tiffany Aching. I still can’t believe I didn’t read any Pratchett when I was in junior high (the last period of my life when I was obsessed with fantasy, particularly books by Anne McCaffrey). I think I may have unwittingly lumped his books in with those of the Dragonlance variety (never really floated my boat), since Pratchett books were coming out as quickly as the Dragonlances were in the 90s (at least, that’s how I remember it). Speaking of Anne McCaffrey, I recently found some of my old favourites of hers at a used book sale, and I am so excited about it! I found Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, but am still on the lookout for Dragonsong. Since it’s the first one in the series, I have been trying to see if I can find that to read first before I re-read the other two. I may not be that patient…

Right now I’m reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which is amazing so far. AMAZING. So much better than Pegasus.

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.]

Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede

This book was great. It’s exactly the kind of book I would have LOVED when I was a kid — heck, I love it now — and I wish I had discovered it when I was younger. It’s a bit heavier on the mystery side of things for my usual tastes but it was a captivating book. I would say it is more of a young readers book than a teen book.

Kim is a street kid living in London, passing as a boy and getting by however she can. When she’s asked to poke around inside a magician’s wagon, she get caught, and receives a surprising offer to join Mairelon, the magician, in his traveling show. Kim’s street smarts and observant eyes come in handy as she tries to help Mairelon unravel a mystery and clear his name as the suspect of a major theft.

I liked Kim so much that immediately after finishing the book I reserved its sequel, Magician’s Ward, from the library. Can’t wait for it to come in! So glad I discovered Patricia C. Wrede, and can’t wait to read more by her.

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

Over the weekend I finished up reading Pegasus. This is one of her newest books (perhaps the newest?) and I think I fell prey to my expectations. This was a good book; great, even; but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting after reading Beauty and The Hero and the Crown.

I did love Sylvi, the tomboy princess who’s the centre of the story. Every member of the royal family is bound to a pegasus on their 12th birthday. But when Sylvi is bound to Ebon, they find that they have an unusual bond; one that everyone else is afraid of. The book tells how Sylvi and Ebon become the closest of friends, and together they push the preconceived boundaries of human-pegasi communication and interaction.

The story had great elements: a beautifully constructed fantasy world, loveable characters, and a solid plot line (complete with an evil magician). I found that it took me a long time to get through the book, though – perhaps I’m too used to reading more typical teen books that I can speed through in a day or two, but this seemed to drag on. When I was about three-quarters of the way through, I thought about how sometimes when I’m loving a book and I’m getting through it really fast, I ration it — a few pages a day — so that it will last longer, because I don’t want it to end. Pegasus was a good book, but I felt that the story progressed too slowly, and I was frustrated that it was taking so long to unfold.

It ended sort-of abruptly, and without wrapping up, which says to me that there’s going to be a sequel… this is something I find mildly annoying in books. If there’s going to be a sequel, fine. If you want to let your readers know that during the book, also fine. But at least wrap the story up in a satisfying way!

All in all, this book was a good one, and I enjoyed it. Just not as much as other stuff I’ve read by McKinley…