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 🙂

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.

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.

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.

Trial by Fire – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I’ve been waiting and waiting for this one while the library ordered it. Finally! I have to say, I was disappointed. The problem is that my expectations were too high, because it was a great book. It just wasn’t as great as I expected. Le sigh… no one to blame for that but me. 🙂

Trial By Fire reviewBefore I get ahead of myself… this is the second book in a series (I wrote about the first one, Raised by Wolves, in May). So it’s the continuation of Brynn’s story. As suggested by the first book’s title, Brynn is a human girl who was raised by a pack of werewolves. She’s a pretty badass heroine for a teen novel – not in an annoying, stereotypical kind of way, but in a very real way. (Well. As real as can be when you are referring to a story about werewolves.) In Trial by Fire, Brynn has become the pack leader of a collection of misfit werewolves, and struggles to keep them alive in the face of threats from neighbouring packs as well as some human threats.

Barnes is truly a gifted writer and her books always have an authenticity to them that most writers for teens struggle to achieve. Brynn is forced to let some of her independence go, to trust in and rely on the members of her pack, in order to survive and to do what’s best for the pack.

I wonder if there will be a third book in this series; if so, I’m definitely interested to see where Barnes takes the plot.

In other news, I’ve been re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series. So genius, so great. I got through the first four and I think I am now on Anne overload… either that or the books are getting worse. I’ve also been continuing my (somewhat reluctant and incredibly slow) exploration of non-fiction, so stay tuned for more on that…

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.]

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!

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.

I’m Alive…

I know, you all thought I gave up on this blog. Not true. I won’t, however, sport with your intelligence: no excuses. I’m just lazy. Let’s move on…

I’ve read 11 books since I last wrote a post. (I know, I’m sorry, ok?) Don’t worry, I won’t subject you to a post about every single one. Some of them weren’t that great — no need to have written record of that hanging about.

First, I’ll write about two more books I read that are on everyone’s lists right now: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Not my typical material, I’ll tell you (ok, I may already have told you, in my post about The Help). Both were loaned to me by my sister (thanks!) with very good disclaimers about them not fitting The Mandate. So I was forewarned and had a chance to steel my nerves before cracking the covers.

Water for Elephants reviewFirst, I will say that I do not like the circus. I don’t like books about the circus, or movies about the circus, or clowns, … you get it. I’m not talking about Cirque du Soliel -type circuses. I’m mostly fine with those. I’m talking about creepy, weird-ringmaster-having, sad-animal-displaying, scary-clown-ridden circuses. Shudder. So I was rather surprised that I kind-of enjoyed this book. I guess that’s the thing about good writing, hey? Imagine that.

For those that don’t know the general drift (crawl out of your hole, the book is everywhere and there’s also a movie…), here it is: boy goes to fancy veterinary school, boy’s parents die, boy leaves veterinary school, boy joins circus, boy falls in love with unavailable girl as well as with elephant. I know that doesn’t make it sound like a very good book, but it’s actually good. In spite of many things that I thought I wouldn’t like about it (and in spite of the difficulty I had reading it without picturing reese witherspoon as the main girl), it won me over.

This next one I sandwiched between a few superficial happy reads, cuz I knew it would be a doozy. I mean, it’s about the holocaust. Not exactly fitting the mandate. But again, I steeled my nerves and plunged in — and found that it, also, was very well-written. This time I really admired the main character, Julia.Sarah's Key review

Once again, if you don’t know the gist of the story you’ve probably been on the tundra for seven months but here’s the abbreviated version: Julia is an American journalist living in Paris, married to a Parisian, and is asked to write a story for the 60th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv, when the French rounded up a veledrome full of Jews and sent them on trains to concentration camps. Julia becomes very involved in the story, and finds someone that links that event to her current life in Paris. This was definitely on the sad side, but I found myself liking it, and not wanting to put it down, even so.

After these two, I was in the mood for something very much the opposite. Back to the mandate, for a good few books in a row now!

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.

Princess Academy and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Can I just say again how glad I am that I discovered Shannon Hale‘s YA fiction. It is so great!

I read Princess Academy last week. I admit it took me a bit to get into it. I wasn’t sold on her world immediately, but once things got rolling I was immersed.

Princess Academy reviewMiri is small for her age, and lives in on Mount Eskel where everyone who can works at the linder quarry: strength is counted a definite asset. Miri’s father has forbidden her from working at the quarry, so she tends to the house and garden for her father and sister. Since everyone her age started workinga t the quarry, Miri feels increasingly isolated. One day, a messenger comes to Mount Eskel to announce that the royal diviners have seen that the next princess will come from Mount Eskel. As a result, all of the girls aged 13 to 17 in the village must attend the newly created princess academy, to prepare themselves for the possibility of marrying the prince in one year. Now Miri has somewhere new to try and fit in, but she also must participate in the fierce competition to be chosen as top of the class.

This was a cute story, and I liked Miri more and more as the book went along. In fact, the more I got to know about the characters, the more I liked all of them: Miri’s quiet father; Katar, the oldest girl and the academy with the strong personality; and Britta, an outsider herself who befriends Miri after the other girls at the academy shun her. Hale has some really unique ideas too, that seem to be a common theme in her YA books (well, the three I’ve read so far); her characters are usually very in tune with the natural environment around them. This really appeals to me. The people of Mount Eskel, for example, have a real connection with linder, the stone they harvest. Hale’s descriptions of this connection, and how Miri and the other characters discover more about it, are fantastic.

Enna Burning is the sequel (ok, they call it a companion novel but I really think it is a sequel. Let’s just call a spade a spade, ok people? Less confusion.) to The Goose Girl. I will say I enjoyed The Goose Girl more, but I loved Enna just as much after reading this book as I loved Isi after reading The Goose Girl.

Enna Burning reviewWhen Enna returns to the forest to care for her sick mother, she stays on after her mother’s death to look after her brother Leifer. One day Leifer comes home with a mysterious piece of vellum, and he seems to be able to create fire out of nothing. He has changed in other ways too, and Enna isn’t sure if this talent with fire is good or bad for him.  Meanwhile, the kingdom of Bayern is going to war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tira. When Enna learns the secret of fire too, she is torn between staying away from creating fire and using it to defend Bayern.

I was saying above that in Hale‘s YA books, the characters have a special connection to nature: in this book, Enna’s connected to fire. [Spoiler alert] She can feel the heat in all living things around her, and draw on it to create fire. This is the same world as The Goose Girl, where people have the talent of speaking with birds or animals, the wind (in Isi’s case), fire (in Enna and Leifer’s cases), and some have the talent of people-speaking (persuading others with their speech).

[Ok, real spoiler alert… for real this time…] The only thing that bothered me about this book was that Enna killed so many people by lighting them on fire, and I thought the horror of it was downplayed a bit too much. I felt like the knowledge of having done this would have driven Enna crazy. I know it’s a YA book, and I know that war is war, but if you’re going to burn people alive in a book (very disturbing!), at least put enough about how terrible that is into the book.  That said, this could just be my Happy Stories Only complex shining through… 😉 And really, this is mostly a happy story with a great ending! I must say, Hale has a knack for good endings.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Oooh, this was so good. I can’t believe I have never read this before! I didn’t even know about it until I saw the BBC series (which I loved).

For those who don’t know the story: Margaret Hale is a young lady who lives in Helstone with her parents. Her father is a Parson and, after a crisis of conscience, leaves the church and moves the family to the northern industrial town of Milton, where Mr. Hale can find work as a private tutor. Mrs. Hale comes from a well-to-do family, and Margaret spends time in London with her aunt and cousins often before going with her parents to Milton. The contrast of the industrial town from their quiet rural living in Helstone is quite abrupt and all three have trouble adjusting to their new town.

Elizabeth Gaskell North and South review

Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell is a beautiful writer. (Interestingly enough, the version I read was written by ‘Mrs. Gaskell.’) I was a bit wary, after reading the foreword, which states that the novel was originally published in pieces, in a serial. By the time I got a few chapters in I wasn’t even thinking about that. Gaskell will now be up there with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte for me. She does an amazing job of weaving politics, romance, family, and religion into this book. It has a similar view of pride in love as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Margaret and Mr. Thornton get off on just the same wrong foot as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy do in P&P. Yet in other ways the stories are incredibly different.

I look forward to reading more by Mrs. Gaskell!

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. 🙂

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I really liked the idea for this book. There were times when I felt like the writing got in the way of the story, but that may be just because I’m an impatient reader 🙂

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane reviewThis is a story about Connie, a grad student starting work on her PhD in 1991. She’s looking into the Salem witch trials of 1692, and the book jumps back and forth between present day and the time of the witch trials. Connie prides herself on being a researcher, but her mother is a free spirit; needless to say, the two don’t always get along, so when Connie’s mother asks her to clean out her grandmother’s vacant house and ready it for sale, Connie is annoyed. She now has to spend her summer cleaning up someone else’s mess AND nailing down a topic for her thesis. Don’t worry, she runs into an interesting guy along the way.

I didn’t always buy into Howe’s characters, particularly the evil thesis adviser, and I did find that her descriptive passages brought the story to a screeching halt a few times. That said, I liked how Connie’s relationship with her mom developed as Connie learned more about her past while going through her grandmother’s belongings.

It was a relatively fun read, and Howe did a good job of weaving the actual history into the book, but to me it felt a bit amateur.

 

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

But first, a word about the new look of this blog. I was getting tired of the same old same old, so I decided to try on a new theme. Mostly, I love it. The photo I had on there before clashed with the alarmingly lemon-y new sidebar colour, so I had to change it. The only things I don’t love about it are 1) the ridiculous colour of the sidebars — ouch (sadly, I can’t change them), and 2) that the text for the links is purple. Purple? Really? sigh. But these things I can live with.

So about this book. So cute! I loved it. Would have liked it a lot when I was a YA reader, for sure… it reminds me a bit of the old Enid Blyton books (though I confess it has been a long time since I read any of them, so I guess it just reminds me of my memory version of those books).

The four Penderwick sisters and their father have rented a cottage on an estate called Arundel for their summer holiday. Naturally curious, the girls get themselves into all kinds of trouble with the strict owner of Arundel, Mrs. Tifton.

I picked this one up after reading what Aarti had to say about it – the book sounded charming. I was able to get it basically right away from the library, and I was not disappointed! This is a great summer read, for sure. Birdsall does a great job of keeping it lighthearted through the calamities, and I love that Mr. Penderwick is always speaking latin.

Reading this has also got me hoping that the box of my childhood books that I stored in 2009 is still kicking around somewhere. I’d love to reread those Enid Blytons again!

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

I read this one in about two hours. It was a good little read.

Jacinda is a rarity amongst her kind: sure, there are lots of draki, descendants of dragons who can take on a human form, living here and there. But Jacinda is the only fire-breather to be born into her community in recent memory (keeping in mind the lifespan of a draki is abotu 300 years). Jacinda breaks the draki rules, so she and her mom and sister hi-tail it outta the draki community to live with us regular old humans.

I haven’t given a very full description here, but if I do any more describing then you won’t need to read it at all. This wasn’t my favourite teen fantasy book. The writing was so-so, the main character wasn’t as endearing as I wanted her to be (in fact, she seemed a bit whiney and her inner dilemma had me annoyed with her rather than sympathizing). That said, it’s an original idea of Jordan’s. Dragons who can take human form? So cool.

While I enjoyed this one, I feel like it didn’t really live up to it’s potential.

(Saying that makes me feel very Adult, in a goofy way, like a mom or teacher telling a teenager they aren’t living up to their full potential, to which I can picture my teenaged self saying, “What does that even mean?” Reminds me of summer camp when I was 13, and being told that I wasn’t showing enough ‘initiative’ to be recommended for the leadership program for 14-year-olds — one occasion of my teenaged-self thinking “What does that even mean?”).

This kinda reminds me a bit of The Iron King by Julie Kagawa – cool idea, but I really wanted it to be executed better. [Sophie Jordan and Julie Kagawa, please know that I admire you for writing books. 🙂 ]