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!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hexed

Hexed is a YA supernatural contemporary novel by Michelle Krys.

Indigo Blackwood has followed her best friend to popularity in high school.

She’s a cheerleader and dating one of the best looking guys in school.

This is against all odds since she could instead easily be considered the daughter of that weird woman who runs an occult shop. Since that would be accurate.

But then strange things start to happen. A guy drops dead in front of her. Her mother’s ancient “bible” of witchcraft goes missing and she gets some odd, offbeat visitors at school.

Not long after that Indie’s life begins to change forever…

Hexed surprised me.

This is a fast-paced book with humor and intriguing paranormal suspense. I went back and forth between thinking Indie was pretty unrealistic and not loving her to finally coming around a bit later… In fact, I had a hard time with ALL of the characters for a while but did find myself begin to thaw.

Hexed is fun, yet surprisingly violent, with dark twists that take the book places I did not expect. There’s romance – though that was part of my issue with the characters. Again, it got better – but for me Hexed strength is its plot versus its characters. At least for now.

I can see how Hexed could make a good start to an entertaining witchy series.

By the cliffhanger ending I can say I was prepared to read more!

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time is a classic sci-fi children’s novel by Madeline L’Engle.

I know, I know. This another one of those, “How could you not have read this yet?” books.

Well, I’m getting around to them!!!

Many of you have probably already read A Wrinkle in Time – but for any of you who haven’t, join me in fixing this literary crime.

It’s a stormy, windy night when Meg simply cannot fall asleep in her attic bedroom. Wandering down the stairs she is joined by her beautiful, scientist mother and little brother Charles Wallace.

It’s on this night that the mystery of her father’s disappearance begins to unravel. It’s on this night that the marked difference of Charles Wallace becomes all the clearer.

It’s on this night that Meg meets Mrs. Whatsit.

Thus begins a journey of Meg, Charles Wallace and new friend Calvin O’Keefe – a journey that will reveal that far more is out there in creation than she could have ever imagined – including her father.

It’s a journey fraught with peril, magnificence and the fate of the universe…

I’ve always heard about A Wrinkle in Time and am happy to have finally read it. Unfortunately I read it at a rather busy time while I was terribly hot when our air conditioner was not being very cooperative.

So I look forward to rereading it in the future, probably when I jump into the other four books in the A Wrinkle in Time quintet.

I’ll admit I was oftentimes rather confused as I read A Wrinkle in Time – though always intrigued.

I loved the original feel of the characters and plot. It’s complex and demands the reader’s attention – which sadly at the time of my reading was not as focused as it needed to be.

A Wrinkle in Time shows a sad, realistic darkness, has a fascinating sci-fi edge – especially when the characters end up on the creepy, frightening world of Camamotz. It’s thought-provoking and features a lot of Christian overtones and Biblical quotes – which I personally loved.

Intelligence plays a huge, pivotal role in A Wrinkle in Time. Meg, Charles Wallce and Calvin are all “different”. They are very smart and are either hiding it to fit in (Calvin), misunderstood and perceived as stupid (Charles Wallace) or react to it by being inattentive in school and thoroughly shunned (Meg).

By the end of A Wrinkle in Time I felt perplexed – yes, again being honest here – but pleased.

I definitely need to reread this book – when I am not delirious from heat and exhausted from lack of sleep.

Hopefully you’ll get it the first time around!