Monday, November 24, 2014

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in The Raven Cycle, a quartet of YA contemporary fantasy, by Maggie Stiefvater.

Being that they are stunning books that are highly serialized, I urge you to read the books in order. You can read my review of The Raven Boys here and The Dream Thieves here.

Being in a family of gifted females – gifted meaning clairvoyants, psychics and other type of weirdness – as well as having her own ability of increasing others’ power by her presence, Blue has always been an outsider.

But then she met her Raven Boys.

Now fully accepted into their exclusive group and part of the quest to find the long lost king Glendower amongst the ley lines, her experience in weirdness is coming in handy.

Things are not rainbows and sunshine, however.

Her mother has disappeared – and Blue doesn’t know whether to be angry or worried.

Dangerous people have tracked down Blue and her Raven Boys – people that are getting too close to following their footsteps to Glendower.

Their quest seems to be becoming an increasing risk to their lives.

Plus there’s the ongoing disturbance of knowing that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die…

Blue Lily, Lily Blue is a bit of a tough book to write a synopsis for. There are far too many things going on, really. It’s hard to describe in a short paragraph. Hopefully all of you reading this are already fans of The Raven Cycle!

As I started Blue Lily, Lily Blue – I was initially confused. I struggled to remember where we left off in The Dream Thieves, since I sadly didn’t have time to re-read it. It didn’t take long for things to come back to me, though.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue and the entire Raven Cycle is, in my opinion, very, very accessible to older readers. These are mature, brainy, sophisticated books with characters that are psychologically fascinating, a setting that is superbly atmospheric and a plot that is uniquely supernatural.

Really I have become a Maggie Stiefvater superfan! Her writing is so elegant, unassuming yet undeniably powerful. She sweeps me away with these novels and creates a story that is mesmerizing, suspenseful, creepy and always, ALWAYS new.

Blue is an awesome heroine – reminding me of some other recent favorites, such as Kami in the Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan and Madeline in The Colors of Madeline by Jaclyn Moriarty. Witty, quirky, compassionate but tough and principled.

Steifvater has created a full cast of three-dimensional, layered characters and an incredibly magical, dark storyline that is truly captivating.

All I can say is that I hope the wait for the final book is not long!!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fox Forever

Fox Forever is a YA sci-fi novel – and the third in the Jenna Fox Chronicles – by Mary E. Pearson.

Happily, I was able to take the time to re-read The Adoration of Jenna Fox and The Fox Inheritance before reading Fox Forever. Yet again I was moved and amazed by the originality and characterizations that made both books so stunning.

I recommend reading these books in order to get the whole effect – so refrain from reading this review if you haven’t yet read The Adoration of Jenna Fox and The Fox Inheritance.

Locke Jenkins has left the relative comfort of Jenna’s home to live the life he’s been robbed of for the last 260 years – time that Jenna has lived, despite still looking a young seventeen-years-old.

But he has a Favor to repay – from the time that he and Kara were escaping from the monstrous Dr. Gatsbro and the Network – those who are on the fringes of society as non-civilians in this futuristic, split United States - helped them.

They seem to think Locke would be a great participant in their latest assignment – and possibly their most important. In order to pursue the rescue of a Resistance leader long thought dead, Locke is tasked with infiltrating the home of a government official by befriending his teenage daughter, Raine.

Locke wasn’t trained for espionage, however – and he’s finding it difficult to perform the increasingly challenging “favors” the Network requires of him and deceiving Raine…

Fox Forever was fantastic!

It took me a few pages to get used to the more political intrigue angle of Fox Forever – but it didn’t take long to grasp on to the humanistic, lyrical, character-centered science fiction that I have come to adore from Pearson.

As we delve more into the situation of this high-tech world and what the Network is doing to try and work toward change – it really shows how much imagination the author put into it. I am continually spellbound with the intricacies of the involvement of different types of Bots in everyday life – and the way some are dreamers and some aren’t – as well as many other types of thought-provoking science fiction.

Fox Forever is a deeply moving, creative, intelligent and breathtaking final novel.

It ties up these three superb novels with an elegant, gripping, suspenseful, meaningful finale.

Now more than ever I am ready for more books from Mary E. Pearson!

Monday, November 17, 2014

House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways is a middle grade/YA fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones and the sequel, of sorts, to Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air.

Due to this, I recommend reading the books in order to get the full, fun effect.

When Charmain’s great-uncle, the royal wizard of their land, becomes mysteriously ill and is carried off by elves to be tended to, Charmain is volunteered by her wealthy aunt to look after his house in his absence.

To Charmain this is an opportunity to read nonstop without pesky, bothersome parents about to disturb her – but she soon discovers that time to read at this unique house may be tougher to come by than she expected.

A humble, ordinary dwelling on the outside, Charmain’s great-uncle’s residence is a wonder from the inside – with the ability to bend space and time. There’s also a clingy, stray dog in residence that may or may not be magical and an inconvenient arrival of a clumsy wizard’s apprentice.

To top all of this off, Charmain becomes involved in the king’s search to find clues on how to locate a mysterious Elfgift to save her country, meanwhile avoiding a menacing purple Lubbock with bad intentions.

All in all not the reading paradise she expected it to be…

House of Many Ways has that eccentric, quirky vibe that I love – and despite not having the faintest idea what was going on for a while, I was still thoroughly delighted with the novel. The writing style alone brings a smile to my face!

An interesting aspect to House of Many Ways is that except for being a book lover, Charmain is not the most likable of heroines. She’s selfish, brash, impulsive and insensitive. However, as always, Jones is fantastic at weaving character development and growth into what initially seems to be just fantasy fluff.

There are a few great shout-outs to Castle in the Air, as well as Howl’s Moving Castle. I felt the follow-up with those characters were charming and definitely entertaining.

I can’t say that the plot in House of Many Ways was as clearly concise as the first two books – but as it began to near the end I saw how it all started coming together. Difficult not to appreciate the intricacy!

As with each Diana Wynne Jones novel I have read thus far – I see strong re-read potential here!!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a historical fiction novel by Markus Zusak.

In 1939, Liesel has lost her little brother and has been left by her mother to live with foster parents in Germany. She clutches The Grave Digger’s Handbook, a book left by her brother’s grave by accident, even though she does not know how to read.

This first act of book thievery is only the beginning – and as she learns to read with the assistance of her foster father she commences a passion for books and words.

But as the Nazi’s hold in Germany strengthens, Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement and sets off a string of events that will change Liesel’s life forever…

I have heard of The Book Thief, of course, for quite some time. As I finally reached the point to read it for myself, I was a bit scared of it not meeting expectations – or that it would and I’ll cry for ages!

The prologue is powerful, golly that’s for sure.

The Book Thief is deeply touching, frightening and engrossing.

This is a meaningful and very good book – but for me it was not as earth-shattering as I expected.

This is one of those times that you wonder if you hadn’t heard so much about it, if you would have loved it more.

Don’t get me wrong – it is very, very good. But I didn’t cry and I didn’t feel as emotionally drained as I thought I would.

It’s an effective novel that was very well done and more than worth the read, though.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Surprised by Love

Surprised by Love is a Christian historical romance by Julie Lessman, the third book in The Heart of San Francisco trilogy.

Though each book in the series focuses on a different family member, I’d still advise reading the books in order to avoid spoilers – as the characters overlap. First you’ll want to read Love at Any Cost and then Dare to Love Again. Click on the titles to read my reviews of those novels.

A year ago plump, smart Megan McClare left San Francisco to study in Paris.

During that year she has turned into a beauty – having slimmed down, learned some makeup tips and fashion how-to. Even her own family has a tough time recognizing her at first!

With ambitions and a heart that is as strong in faith as ever, Megan embraces the opportunity to intern at the district attorney’s office.

But then she finds out that Devin Caldwell will also be interning there – the boy that she had a crush on when she was younger.

The boy who mocked, teased and hurt her with callous words.

Faced with this difficulty, Megan turns to her best friend Bram for advice – but Bram counsels forgiveness while alternately struggling with his own newfound, troubling attraction to this girl who used to think of as a little sister.

Will recommending forgiveness push Megan into the cad Devin’s arms?

I liked the transformative story – a duckling turning into a swan, essentially – but it did get a little old rather fast for me. You can only take so many exclamations of shock and so many statements of Megan’s beauty before you think, “Okay! I get it!!!”

As always, the strength of Surprised by Love and the other books in the series is in the grounding of the family – encompassing both drama and romance. An ongoing romantic dilemma between Megan’s widowed mother Cait and her uncle Logan has been pleasing – yet even that starts to feel like we’re going around in circles.

At 150 pages, I was enjoying Surprised by Love but felt the novel lacked direction. Just felt like there was a little of repetition and a frustrating lack of progress. The romantic themes began to feel like they were being conked over my head.

Yet, by the end of Surprised by Love, there were some healthy shocks and a few pretty darn touching family moments, as well as romantic declarations.

So – take from that mixed feedback what you will!

*I received a copy of Surprised by Love from the Baker Publishing Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Castle in the Air

Castle in the Air is a middle grade/YA fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s also a companion to Howls Moving Castle.

To keep from being spoiled at all on Howl’s Moving Castle – I recommend you read it first. You can read my review here.

Young carpet merchant Abdullah makes smart buying decisions and spends his free time with his friend Jamal and Jamal’s people-hating-except-for-Jamal-and-Abdullah dog.

He also spends a lot of his time dreaming.

When one day a mysterious man sells him a persnickety magic carpet, things begin to get complicated.

That very same night, Abdullah awakens to find himself in his imagined palace garden and meets girl just like the one he’d daydreamed about – she is a princess and her name is Flower-in-the-Night.

Just as Abdullah begins to think all of his dreams are coming true – Flower-in-the-Night is kidnapped by a wicked djinn.

A quest has begun – as he must save her!

Along the way his stubborn magic carpet leads him to a shady genie and deceitful soldier. Not to mention a couple of black cats.

Is there any way Abdullah and this strange group of “helpers” can rescue the princess?

This is my fourth foray into the novels of Diana Wynne Jones and I can officially say I am a fangirl!

Castle in the Air is utterly charming! It made me smile from start to finish – making this reader’s heart a happy one!!!

It’s clever in that wordy way I love, witty and joyful to read. Castle in the Air surprised me, refreshed me and felt FUN all the way through!

As appears to be a common theme for Jones, we have strong females shown, fantastically silly situation, splendid dialogue, humor and that grounding in astonishing character development.

Plus, having peeks at Sophie and Howl’s life after Howl’s Moving Castle was AWESOME!

I loved Castle in the Air! It is truly a book for all ages – as are all of Jones’ books that I’ve read to date.

All I can say is: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Of Beast and Beauty

Of Beast and Beauty is a YA fantasy reimagining of Beauty and the Beast by Stacey Jay.

Inside the domed city of Yuan live the Smooth Skins – of which blind Isra is the princess.

Despite being blind, she knows she is a hideous blemish on her people and has been held in a tower, unseen by the Smooth Skins, since her mother’s death.

But does it matter? She’s been raised to be a human sacrifice anyway – a girl whose death will mean the prosperity of the Smooth Skins for years to come.

Outside Yuan is the vast, barren desert where those they call the Monstrous live. As they fight starvation, Gem is one of many that cross the border into Yuan to search for food for their loved ones.

When caught, Gem becomes a prisoner of Isra and the question of who is the monstrous becomes more pressing than ever before.

Isra’s way of life is called into question by her association with Gem – who she begins to consider intelligent, compassionate and wholly human – not monstrous at all despite his claws and hardened skin.

A deadly, dangerous choice lies in their future…

Of Beast and Beauty floored me.

To begin with, Stacey Jay writes in a tone that is disturbing, gritty and very edgy. She makes Of Beast and Beauty more reminiscent of the Grimm type original stories – a version that is more gory and chilling, but still all its own.

There’s elegance to the evolution of the characters and plot. It’s stunningly romantic – a love story that sets aside all superficiality and continually surprises you.

I cannot say I love it more than the Disney version, or other retellings, but this novel stands all on its own.

This is a new story – engrossing and increasingly beautiful as the pages turn. All of my initial doubts faded as I was pulled deeper and deeper into the novel.

Of Beast and Beauty is heartbreaking and intense.

Truly a stunning book – I loved it!!!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Mirk and Midnight Hour

The Mirk and Midnight Hour is a YA historical retelling of The Ballad of Tam Lin by Jane Nickerson.

Though this novel takes place in the same universe as Nickerson’s previous novel Strands of Bronze and Gold, my review of which you can read here, it is not necessary to read in order.

Violet Dancey, seventeen, does her best to assist in the efforts of the fight against the North as she lives out her daily life in Mississippi. She tries to help wounded soldiers – though she hardly knows what she’s doing.

When her father announces that he is going to marry and Violet will have not just a new stepmother but also a stepsister – a girl her own age that she knows and does not particularly care for – she is not pleased. To have her comfortable little home invaded by strangers – while she’s still grieving her beloved soldier twin brother and relies on the support of her best friend, a slave her own age that is more like family – sounds devastating.

Then her home of Scuppernong Farm also is visited by two cousins – one very young and one closer to her age and dangerously handsome – and Violet has to accept that her home is now fit to burst with people.

But there are secrets in this town. A mysterious family that many shun. Wild voodoo dances in the woods. A cabin that may house someone forbidden to Violet.

Something isn’t right. Something is dangerous.

And it may be in Violet’s home.

I’m not so sure that I provided a synopsis that does The Mirk and Midnight Hour justice. Hopefully it will make you curious, though, because it is a quite wonderful book!

As I read The Mirk and Midnight Hour I savored the historical, atmospheric setting. There’s a gothic feel, yes, but also an environment that feels wholly believable in reality.

Violet is a very likable character – she’s compassionate, lonely, conflicted, grieving and plain. There are plenty of dramatic plots surrounding the Civil War, the family, slavery and enigmatic, otherworldly elements that are hinted at and slowly build.

The Mirk and Midnight Hour is suspenseful, full of heart and reflection and occasionally quite creepy! It’s also very romantic, well-paced and haunting. It showcases terrible human cruelty, a moment that turns the plot and leads to a heart-pounding, terrifying climax.

I found the supernatural elements of the book to be suitable chilling and unsettling. Very much so!

The Mirk and Midnight Hour is a satisfying meal of a book. I highly recommend it!!!

I hope to see more from Jane Nickerson soon!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Famous Last Words

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

To celebrate, what is more appropriate than a ghost story?!

Famous Last Words is a YA contemporary murder mystery –slash- ghost story by Katie Alender.

Still haunted by the circumstances surrounding her dad’s death two years ago, Willa is struggling to adapt to a new life – after all, she’s still trying to return to the person she once was before her dad’s death.

With a successful Hollywood director as her new stepdad, Willa and her mom have moved into a mansion that used to be the abode of 30s starlet Diana Del Mar.

Overall things are going okay – if a bit awkward and strained – but the fact that there is a serial killer targeting young, burgeoning actresses on the loose makes the move hard to swallow.

When Willa begins to have strange visions – and begins to get the sense that either she’s crazy or this house is haunted – she has no one to turn to.

Until she meets Reed – a guy at her school that is obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.

But – is that the best sort of friend to have when you’re already questioning your sanity?

Early into Famous Last Words I found it to be not bad but not particularly original. A ghost story combined with a murder mystery isn’t new, after all.

Once a few more pages in, though, Famous Last Words did become more intriguing. The book morphed into a quick, entertaining read that actually became surprisingly creepy at times.

Willa wasn’t a character I loved – but I did appreciate her matter-of-fact way of handling herself in the midst of otherworldly encounters. Can’t help but root for the girl that doesn’t go the ordinary, horror movie bimbo route!

In the end, Famous Last Words was rather predictable for me – I was able to pick out the serial killer pretty early on – but it was also fun to read and relatively well done.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Unmade

Unmade is the third book in the YA contemporary supernatural trilogy The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan.

This is a phenomenal, emotional trilogy that you MUST read in order!!! Therefore, feel free to check out my review of the first book Unspoken here and the second book Untold here.

But whatever you do – DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNTIL YOU’VE READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS!

Understand?!?

I’m trusting you!!!

An only recently severed psychic link connected Kami and Jared their entire lives – creating a bond that was indescribable to others. Half the time they thought they were crazy – but oh how they relied on it.

When Kami and Jared came face to face in Kami’s small, English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, the shock of realizing they were both real, flesh-and-blood people nearly tore them apart.

Now, Kami is left heartbroken as Jared is missing – and everyone is telling her he must be dead.

She’s sure she would know if he were dead… wouldn’t she?

During the months of Jared’s disturbing, sudden absence – the power-hungry, blood-thirsty, mad-sorcerer Rob Lynburn has continued to gather followers and cement his place as the master of Sorry-in-the-Vale.

Kami has never easily taken brute force as leadership – especially when they require human sacrifice.

Together with a haberdashery of best buds Angela, Holly, Rusty and her new, reluctant mind connected Lynburn boy Ash – Kami is determined to save her town with the only thing she has…

Truth.

Oh my goodness.

How do I count the ways in which I love Unmade?

Or – rather – the whole Lynburn Legacy trilogy combined?

It would take far too many adjectives, fellow bibliophiles.

Like the prior two books, Unmade is immediately gripping, chilling and addictive. Sarah Rees Brennan – an author I will be on the lookout for more books from – manages to create a heartbreaking, terrifying tale that has characters that light up the pages and spark laugh-out-loud moments of relief.

Kami is a heroine that is smart, unique, hilarious and stylish in the best sort of way – her own! I adore her – and I adore an author that gives me such a fun, brave, awesome character to follow. Not to mention the wonderful supporting cast of colorful personalities that enhances the tale all the more!

This is a stunning, romantic conclusion that I absolutely LOVED!

It was perfect!!!

As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews for this series – this is a love story that is much deeper, darker and meaningful than most that ever are portrayed in YA – or even contemporary adult literature.

Bravo, Sarah!