Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Welcome to Bordertown

Welcome to Bordertown is a collection of YA urban fantasy stories and poems by numerous authors and is edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner.

Inside this large volume are thirteen short stories, one graphic novella, and eight poems – all of which are centered on the city of Bordertown. Bordertown sits on the edge of the human world and elfin realm and is a place where different rules apply. Neither magic nor technology is highly reliable there and runaways and fantasy-lovers find refuge here – sometimes.

It’s not a perfect place. Many find that they are leaving one kind of prejudice behind for another. But it is a place where music, art, and imagination flourish and people learn more about themselves.

Yet nobody has been able to enter Bordertown for thirteen years. For whatever reason, the way was blocked. On the side of Bordertown, only thirteen days passed. But now that is has reopened both sides are crashing together in the confusion of new residents, new technology, and all sorts of trouble this block has made for either side of the city limits…

Welcome to Bordertown is varied, interesting and fun – though a little dryer and sparse than I expected. Each story feels more like the beginning of a novel rather than a short story. They don’t feel complete to me. Also, I had a hard time because some of the tales felt rather superficial and even boring or mean-spirited with jabs that glare of liberal leanings. However, some of the stories do sparkle with eccentricities, inventiveness, and memorable plots.

Among my favorites were: dark hope in A Voice Like a Hole by Catherynne M. Valente, a true second chance in Incunabulum by Emma Bull, a bizarre prophecy in A Prince of Thirteen Days by Alaya Dawn Johnson, one of the more upbeat and lighter toned stories in The Sage of Elsewhere by Will Shetterly, a poignant tale of best friends in Crossings by Janni Lee Simner, an intriguing and surprising fantasy mystery in The Rowan Gentleman by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and the sad but sweet A Tangle of Green Men by Charles De Lint.

Among the others though, some interesting poems aside, I found most of the offerings to be lacking in vibrancy – flat and kind of dull. This was unexpected because I love YA fantasy and have become convinced that short stories can be awesome. This collection, however, just didn’t do it for me. I’ve only seen positive feedback everywhere else though, so make sure to read it for yourself if you are a fantasy lover – especially a fan of other Bordertown collections!

In the end I felt torn. I half liked it, half didn’t. Where I wanted creativity, entertainment and must-read status – I didn’t get it. Even in the stories I named that I liked, only a few of them would I have any real strong desire to reread. This is far away from the enthusiasm I’ve had for other YA paranormal/fantasy collections – such as Kiss Me Deadly and Corsets & Clockwork, both edited by Trisha Telep.

I can see, however, that Welcome to Bordertown has a wide fan base and there will be many readers absolutely ecstatic with this newest offering. So, please don’t be dissuaded to pick it up!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Where Wildflowers Bloom

Where Wildflowers Bloom is an inspirational historical romance by Ann Shorey.

Twenty-year-old Faith is haunted by the Civil War, which is only recently over in 1866. Her small Missouri town of Noble Springs only plagues her with memories of her father and brother, both of whom died in the war – and she’s desperate to leave.

Her grandfather, the only family Faith has left, has strong roots in the town though. His mercantile is a common shop among their neighbors, and he only recently turned over the reins to Faith to manage, causing rather a bit of scandal in Noble Springs for having a female manager, which is practically unheard of.

Despite her managing the store, she knows that only her grandfather can sell – and it’ll be necessary if her dream to travel west to Oregon with him to start a new life free of the constant reminders of their heavy loss will ever happen. But as she’s trying to work out how to broach the subject to him, Royal Baxter returns to town.

For years Faith has constantly checked for news on Royal Baxter, the man she wanted to marry. He was believed to probably have died in the war – but now he’s back alive, well, and handsome as ever. And, amazingly, he seems interested!

But is it love she feels for Royal Baxter? Or is it the strengthening of her desire to leave Noble Springs?

Does the Lord have entirely different plans for Faith?

With Faith’s young age of only twenty, Where Wildflowers Bloom is easily accessible to YA readers as well as adults. It has a firm foothold in a Missouri landscape, giving the impression that you are indeed in 1866 among the townsfolk.

This novel is, in a general sense, a historical romance – and a fun one at that. However, it also features issues like possible Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic-stress-disorder, and the struggle to be taken seriously as a women when those around you belittle that very fact. This gives a depth to the story that is helpful when you have a good idea where it’s going. Thing is, with good romances you enjoy the journey to the expected end – and that I did here!

There’s just enough of a puzzle to keep things intriguing in Where Wildflowers Bloom while we settle in to the vibrant mixture of characters that range from the charming and kind to the judgmental and cruel. What with the family drama and financial difficulties, I also found Faith and her grandfather to be very relatable and believe they will be to many readers as well.

And once you realize who the true romantic lead is, besides Faith of course, it’s really splendid. I loved the non-superficiality of it. I won’t tell you who – are you kidding? Read it for yourself! All I’ll say is that Ann Shorey managed to get me all tied up in knots dying for the inevitable moment that our meant-to-be-together-duo would finally be, well… together!

Very entertaining, satisfying novel that, though it wraps up a bit quicker than I’d prefer, was well worth the read. Check out Where Wildflowers Bloom!

*Available January 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

Friday, January 27, 2012

You Against Me

You Against Me is a YA contemporary novel by Jenny Downham, author of the bestselling Before I Die.

Eighteen-year-old Mikey is trying to hold everything together. His sister Karyn has been sexually assaulted by Tom Parker when she partied at his house. She’s become terrified of leaving their home, refuses to go back to school, and only just got the courage up to report what happened the day after. His mom is handling it by drinking more – so Mikey is juggling work, taking care of his little sister, and watching Karyn disintegrate. He needs to be a good brother and seek revenge – right?

Sixteen-year-old Ellie Parker is shaken by the crime her brother has been accused of. She’s being named the only witness and his best chance of getting off. Everyone is telling her what a liar and loser Karyn is – and she tries to agree. Her brother says he didn’t do it, after all. That would make Karyn a liar then… So she needs to be a good sister and defend him – right?

When Mikey and Ellie meet, Mikey’s trying to get at her brother – but he’s disarmed by her virtuousness, her intelligence, and the magnetism that seems to pulsate between them. They both feel like their betraying their siblings, and the ugliness is a heavy weight on them both – yet their feelings seem to grow…

This is the story of their worlds colliding.

You Against Me is a stark, bleak, genuine and sad take on a harrowing crime and how it effects those around the victim and the accused. I immediately believed Karyn’s story, yet when we switch viewpoints to Ellie – you almost wonder. The author paints a portrait of persuasion and denial that is convincing and unsettling. It’s uncomfortable.

I was struck by the psychological repercussions, reaction, and fallout of the Ellie and Mikey, siblings to those involved. How they deal with the pressure, the fear, and the expectations of those around them is hypnotic. It’s awful, disconcerting, frank, and raw. Yet there’s a optimism, inspiration, and fledgling love that feels like a spot of light in the night – though even that is marred by the situation. You as the reader dare to hope for something better, a happy resolution, but know that in the end – someone will be hurt.

You Against Me is poignant, painful, and complicated – just like life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Colonel's Lady

The Colonel’s Lady is a Christian-based historical romance from Laura Frantz.

Roxanna Rowan is determined to reach the remote Kentucky fort her father is serving at – now that her mother has died and her betrothal has ended in humiliation, she has nothing left in Virginia. She’s desperate to reunite with her father, whom she’s always been close to, and with whom she hasn’t seen in a long time – due to the war for America’s independence in the year we are following: 1779.

However, once the campaign returns to the fort Roxanna is told her father died in action. She has no options, no family, and no money. She’s in strange, wild land not quite civilized among the immense dangers of battle. To brave leaving the fort’s walls without her father by her side seems impossible.

So, when Colonel Cassius McLinn, an Irish patriot highly respected by his soldiers, invites Roxana to stay on as scrivener, her father’s position, she feels she has no choice but to accept. He’s offering her wages and safety, after all, and once she earns enough she can try to get back to Virginia once the exacting winter turns to spring.

Yet as Roxanna gets used to the daily grind and begins to warm to Colonel McLinn’s magnetism and disarming attractiveness, intrigue and danger begin to take shape and turn a protected fort into a potentially enemy-infiltrated war zone. According to her father’s ledgers, he had been suspecting a spy among Colonel McLinn’s men before his death.

Secrets and falsehoods seem to abound – and though Colonel McLinn appears the most trustworthy as he becomes her friend, and sometimes she imagines maybe more, he may be the one hiding the most from her…

When I read Laura Frantz’s Courting Morrow Little I was carried away in a gorgeous Kentucky landscape, elegant prose, and a stunning story – and she has done it again!

The Colonel’s Lady is a lovely story rich in historical detail that spotlights war and soldiers in a respectful way. She doesn’t try to water it down, she doesn’t judge, she just writes it as it is. War isn’t pleasant but it’s oftentimes necessary – and in Colonel McLinn she has created a robust, caring, tough leader that is determined to keep his men in line, alive, and well. Plus, she fleshes him out by showing us his fears, his weaknesses, and of course letting us know the role he played in Roxanna’s father’s death (read it to find out!) which haunts him. He’s an excellent male lead!

And with Roxana we have a feminine, clever, vulnerable woman that has become insecure over her imperfections over the years, in no small part due to a demanding mother that was never contented. She’s now twenty-nine and husbandless, not the best situation in 1779. She was born with a physical imperfection that makes her hobble unless she’s wearing special shoes to hide it. Her previous fiancé was embarrassed by it, and then he ended up jilting her. You can see why she is less than sure of herself. Though sometimes I became frustrated with her continued doubting and distrusting of her own worth and beauty, I also felt Laura Frantz provided enough psychological reason for me to understand.

Now, the two together – ooh boy! Roxanna and Cass (the Colonel) has a chemistry that sizzles! Once again, I love that the author doesn’t hesitate to show legitimate attraction in a book that has Christian characters – it never goes too far, of course, but she provides realism and a romance that sometimes other inspirational romance writers seem to fear.

I really, really enjoyed it! The Colonel’s Lady had unforeseen twists related to the war and potential spy, killer moments of humanity dealing with guilt, forgiveness, grief, betrayal and compassion, and a love story that was built on a foundation of friendship. Beautiful!

The Colonel’s Lady has goose bump-inducing, lump-in-the-throat gratification and is truly a tender, sweeping novel. I look forward to more from Laura Frantz!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Project

The Project is YA thriller by Brian Falkner.

It all begins when trouble-making buds Luke and Tommy call The Last of the Mohicans the most boring book in the world in front of their principal. They’re given a goal: prove the book is indeed the most boring book in the world through an outside source, and not only will they be allowed to do their report on another novel, but they’ll also avoid punishment on their latest escapade.

During that particular research, Luke learns of a book called Leonardo’s River. There is only one remaining copy surviving, and it has been misplaced over the last one hundred years. Apparently, this is the most boring book in the world. And it’s so rare and so weird, that there are people offering two million dollars from it!

Before he’s able to continue his study to get Tommy and him out of trouble, a major flood is starting and they volunteer to help out at the library. There they assist in moving the books tucked away in the basement to higher ground – and that is when Luke sees it.

Leonardo’s River.

Tommy and Luke are determined to have it – and justify their stealing it by rationalizing that the library really never knew what it had in the first place! But after it’s in their possession, they begin to wish it wasn’t.

Other people are looking for the book – dangerous people. And it appears that Leonardo’s River might be hiding secrets inside its mind-numbing pages that Luke and Tommy can’t even begin to understand yet.

But they better figure it out soon, because whatever these people want to do with it – it doesn’t look good!

The Project started off relatively strong for me. Luke and Tommy’s antics were amusing and certainly made their characters vibrant from the get-go. However, once the actual plot kicked in, I felt the book started to fall flat.

Remember, this is just my opinion – and I’m always sad to give anything other than high-praise. But in this instance, the thriller aspect, running from bad guys, figuring out the mystery of the book, it all didn’t click for me. I pretty much couldn’t get in to it. I did like Luke and Tommy, like I said. And there were parts I was a big fan of – particularly when Luke tried to read Leonardo’s River to find clues. That was hilarious! So, believe me, this was in means a “bad” book – I just didn’t find the enjoyment or suspense that the book’s inside jacket cover promised me.

Yet – you may. I almost feel like The Project may be a more male-oriented book. I hate to say that because it sound so sexist, and I know there will be girls that will like it too! But with the tone and characters and overall plot, I think there are probably a ton of guys out there who would love The Project.

I liked good portions of it, but in the end I skimmed the last quarter. The Project simply wasn’t for me. I do, however, like how Brian Falkner slipped in a large amount of book-praising in a subtle manner. Any bibliophile couldn’t help but have their hearts warm from that!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tiffany's Table Manners

Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers is fiftieth-anniversary edition from Walter Hoving, a former chairman of Tiffany’s of New York.

This is a little book of manners – specifically targeted at teens. Walter Hoving went home and wrote this after having lunch with his grandson (according to the introduction).

You get the step-by-step instructions for everything you may have wondered about. Such as: what is that fork for? Or: what do I do if I drop my utensil on the floor? And a ton more!

All in all this is an illustrated, old-fashioned, fun book of manners. Half of the things talked about in Tiffany’s Table Manners I’ve never even heard of! I felt like I was a first-class passenger on the Titanic while I was reading it.

Jam-packed with interesting factoids and new questions (with the insistence of using your right hand all the time, I have no idea how a left-handed person could ever be polite!), I found Tiffany’s Table Manners to be entertaining, informative, and fascinating.

And, really, we could all do with more manners these days! I’m sure Walter Hoving would be more than pleased that his book is being re-released in a time when most of us really have no clue.

This would probably make a amusing gift – as well as an excellent hint! :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Dragonswood

Dragonswood is a YA fantasy novel by Janet Lee Carey.

Still reeling over the recent death of their king, Wilde Island’s already paranoid people become even more riled when a cold-hearted, dangerous witch hunter arrives.

Tess, a seventeen-year-old blacksmith’s daughter, is aware of the tensions – especially regarding the uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans. However, she still enters the forbidden Dragonswood – a mysterious, magical sanctuary set apart for the use of dragons and fairies. She’s drawn there, especially after each particularly bad beating from her malicious father, or after yet another death of a newborn sibling.

But someone has spotted her on her excursions to Dragonswood. Now, Tess finds herself in the midst of an accusation that could take her life: witchery.

She manages to escape, with the unanticipated help of a dragon, and flees with her two best friends. If they’re caught, they will die.

Her guilt weighs on her as she sees how she’s ruined her friends’ lives. And the secret of her fire-sight, in which she sees glimpses of the future, doesn’t help at all. Their journey appears doomed – if they don’t die at the hands of the witch hunter, then starvation and harsh outdoor conditions will do it.

Yet when they cross paths with an enigmatic man, a man she’s seen visions of, things begin to change. If for the better or worse, Tess isn’t sure. But her attraction to him unsettles her.

As an ancient prophecy begins to take its first steps toward coming true, how can Tess know who to trust and where her loyalties must lie?

Dragonswood is a sequel of sorts to Janet Lee Carey’s Dragon’s Keep. Though you could read them as stand-alone novels, I recommend reading Dragon’s Keep first because of the extra knowledge it brings to the table, as well as making some revelations even more meaningful.

The stunning prologue of Dragonswood gives us the impression of a forbidding, distrustful world and a girl who eludes it whenever possible through spending time with the magical elements, which are portrayed in an ethereal, dreamy way right off the bat. Carey sets a fantasy tone, with her characteristically mature, melancholy backdrop.

Almost instantly the novel is effectively frightening and suspenseful with an alarming glimpse of mob mentality as the witch hunt begins in all its irrational fury. Carey uses historical detail of the time period and real witch trials to bring a raw, convincing, chilling feel to this situation. I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Janet Lee Carey!

It’s hard not to just rattle off adjectives! I loved Dragonswood. This is an epic fantasy but with roots. I always, always admire roots. If you are a fan of books that are intense, heart-wrenching, and nerve-wracking before fifty pages are even through, then here you go!

My goodness, Tess is a phenomenal main character. She’s relatable, sympathetic, and brave. There is such a loneliness and wounded core to her that I attached myself to her very, very fast. That is the mark of a great author, making you care that quickly! Just as in Dragon’s Keep, this is a novel just about personal growth and finding a place in a world you feel distanced from as much as it is an epic fantasy tale. I’m always captivated by that.

Dragonswood has non-stop movement and plot developments, a true page-turner of the fantasy sort. It’s sad, stark, hopeful, lovely, emotional yet strong. I was entranced and hypnotized by the intricacies and subtleties of the world, as well as by the character development, unique plot, and simmering-beneath-the-surface potential romance.

There’s a feeling of uncertainty in the character and the reader – keeping us involved, interested, and fully invested with shockers that kept me on my toes. This is a new, mesmerizing take on fey – I devoured and soaked it in all at once.

Plus, there are wonderful touches that follow up on Dragon’s Keep – creating a feel of a continuing story. I cannot wait until there’s a third book in Wilde Island!

I hope I’ve convinced you to pick up a copy of Dragonswood, because it is more than worth your time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chasing Mona Lisa

Chasing Mona Lisa is a historical fiction novel by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey.

In August 1944 change is on the brink in Nazi-occupied Paris. Civilians have become liberators, military men have become heroes, and their liberation draws nigh. But the Third Reich is still a strong, determined opponent and they have need of a bargaining chip.

Reichmarschall Hermann Goring, Hitler’s right hand man, has been collecting art – or, rather, stealing art – from those whom they’ve imprisoned, as well as Paris’s own Louvre. But the Parisians have been careful to keep the location of their national treasure the Mona Lisa a closely guarded secret and constantly on the move.

Yet there may be an informant inside the rebellion, and Goring is making it his number one priority to find and leverage the priceless painting.

Swiss OSS agents Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler have been sent to Paris to aid in its liberation – and now they have a new goal: get to the Mona Lisa before Goring. It may very well be a deciding point of the war…

I’ve said it before – historical fiction can be awesome, or it can lean toward the dry and boring. Happily, Chasing Mona Lisa was far closer to the former!

Action-packed, intense, and extremely suspenseful, the historical detail and seamless writing seem to place the reader as an observer on the ground in Nazi-occupied, war-torn France. I truly felt like I was there – and it was scary.

There’s a constant paranoia, smartly so. You can practically hear the Germans turn a corner, the gun shots, the screams and the gasps. Add that with intelligently drawn characters, including a strong yet feminine female lead in Gabi, you get an excellent overall package!

With the budding relationship between Gabi and Eric, as well as a struggling Parisian couple, Chasing Mona Lisa also manages to be romantic at times. Primarily, though, this is a page-turner. A page-turner that is sometimes gruesome and disturbing, which is why it feels so real. This isn’t war watered down.

The viewpoints switch regularly between the characters, even to the enemy, keeping things fresh and fast-paced. I’ll be honest with you – when it came to some of the more detailed war-talk, I wasn’t always entirely sure of what was going on, but I did get the general idea. And it was fascinating, breathless, and nerve-wracking.

Chasing Mona Lisa was brutal in an honest way and very effective as a slice of WWII. Apparently there is a prequel in which we originally met Gabi and Eric in the authors’ The Swiss Courier. After reading Chasing Mona Lisa, I am tempted to go pick up the first book – though this was fine to read as a stand-alone.

I can’t help but hope a third book will help round it out and show us the last dredges of WWII!

*Available January 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

First Day on Earth

First Day on Earth is a YA contemporary novel by Cecil Castellucci.

Mal is on the outside and doesn’t care much about looking in. School doesn’t matter – why should it? He doesn’t care about grades, about friends, about what people think – about anything. Why should he? After all, he was abducted by aliens’ years ago – and he plans on returning with them the first chance he gets.

Of course, no one else believes him. They tell him that disappearing for three days and having no memory of the time period was just a breakdown, something explainable, something real. But he knows the truth. He has to believe it was more.

Otherwise he might have to stay in this world where his dad left his mom a broken shell, a woman who drinks the days away and is scorned by others. Otherwise he might have to live this life.

He needs to know for sure. He wants proof that he was abducted. He needs that hope.

Then one day at his abductee support group he meets Hopper. Hopper tells him something that might finally bring him close to the truth. Hopper might just turn Mal’s world upside down.

And Mal’s ready for it.

This is the second book I’ve read by Cecil Castellucci – the first being Boy Proof, which was surprisingly good. Again, she’s penned a beyond-the-ordinary contemporary novel that is one-of-a-kind and a little bizarre, but in a shockingly relatable way.

Mal is at times painfully bitter and self-pitying, but he also has this sense of compassion and desperate hope that makes you feel for him. And Castellucci is excellent at presenting the whole alien abduction thing in an objective way – you aren’t quite sure if you believe Mal, or if he did have a mental breakdown and continues this fantasy because of the dismal state of his life. It’s fascinating.

Without giving away any more plot points, I will say that I found First Day on Earth to be absorbing, inspiring, distinctive, offbeat, and charming in a minimalist, quiet way. It’s a very short book at only 150 pages but packed inside its words is a stunning, remarkable story very much worth reading.

And, oh my, the end? The end is incredible – and if you’re anything like me, bibliophile – it will leave you wondering for days later.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reaching Through Time

Reaching Through Time is a YA contemporary fantasy book containing three novellas written by Lurlene McDaniel.

In What’s Happened to Me? we meet Sarah. She wakes up in a gorgeous estate with no memory of who she is, where she came from – nothing. But a young, handsome man named Heath de Charon tends to her every need, attentively taking care of her as he explains he found her, unconscious, on his property. Her attraction to him is strong, but she begins to hear voices – voices urging her to “come back”. In her confusion, Sarah knows one thing: she needs to find out where she belongs.

When the Clock Chimes is the second novella in Reaching Through Time and features Drake, a teen boy who is happy to find a summer job that won’t require he be up and about too much, as showing off his imperfection and hobbling walk is not his favorite thing to do. His wish is granted when he is hired on with a professor needing help cataloging his artifacts – but isn’t as pleased when he realizes he has to do it all by hand since no electricity works in this area of the mountains. Yet nothing could be tough enough to keep him from the job, especially since the best part is being around Gina, the professor’s daughter, who is pretty and nice. However, Drake is sure that something else is going on the house and is determined to figure out what it is…

Finally we have The Mysteries of Chance where we’re introduced to Maura, a teen girl that let her curiosity get away with her and ends up in a place (and time) that’s far away from home. Dylan, a boy who lives near where she “appeared” is friendly and helpful as she tells him a story about running away from home. As their friendship blooms, as well as possibly more, Maura struggles with continuing to lie to him. But when she realizes that Dylan has secrets of his own, she sees that their budding relationship may be doomed from the start.

I read Telling Christina Goodbye by Lurlene McDaniel when I was younger and despite almost all the review being raves, I just couldn’t gel with it. Unfortunately, I find that again my personal reading tastes don’t seem to match up with McDaniel’s writing style.

Now, don’t get me wrong! Reaching Through Time was an enjoyable, fast, easy read and had some sweet, surprising moments – but overall it just came across as lightweight supernatural fare for me, especially compared to some of the intricate, amazing YA novels that have been coming out lately.

To individualize my opinion, What’s Happened to Me? was a tad cliché for me, though diverting to follow along with. When the Clock Chimes was more interesting and effective, though I still had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Meanwhile, The Mysteries of Chance was the best in my opinion, had the most depth and darkness, as well as the most obvious paranormal plotting – but I didn’t care for the end.

I think part of my lack of enthusiasm for Reaching Through Time might be that Lurlene McDaniel might write for a younger audience? I’m not sure – I just can’t connect with her writing, it seems. Maybe it’s a little cheesy for me, too. And sometimes the word choice is just awkward for me. I don’t know. But don’t let that stop you!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again! If you’re a fan of Lurlene McDaniel, if you’re a fan of supernatural fiction and like the sound of Reaching Through Time – read it!!! Who cares what I say? I’m just one person’s point of view! I encourage you to find out what YOU think!!! :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Scorpio Races


The Scorpio Races is a YA fantasy novel by Maggie Stiefvater.

Whoa.

What can I say here? I went into The Scorpio Races with little to no knowledge about what it was about, trusting in the author to deliver an excellent story, as she’s done with the Shiver trilogy. Now that I’ve read it, devoured it, and been absolutely dumbfounded by it – well, how can I give a synopsis? If I do, I know that you won’t have the same experience I did – but if I don’t, what if you don’t read it?

Here’s what I’ll do – I will give a slight summary of the basic plot for those of you who want/need it. I’ll make identifying marks “---“ to indicate where the description is. Then, those of you who want to have the no-previous-knowledge experience can just look for the ending “---“ to read some adjectives I would use to explain my flabbergasted response to The Scorpio Races. Sound good? Alright, here goes:

-------

Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick has been involved in the Scorpio races since he was very young. In fact, he’s a multiple winner and seems to have an almost supernatural effect on the wild, lethal, massive, flesh-eating water horses than emerge from sea, the water horses that are used as the means of racing.

Puck Connelly has lived on the same island as Sean her entire life but has never has aspirations to race. People died, it was bloody – and really, she’d rather ride on her beloved horse and stay away from the competition that always turned vicious. But now her parents are dead and she and her brothers are in serious trouble financially – she feels she has no choice but to join the Scorpio races in the ambition of winning and saving her family.

But Puck is the first girl ever to ride and there are many who aren’t happy with that changing. Both Sean and Puck have reasons to desperately want to win - and will find that this race, this time, their lives may be entirely different when the race is over.

That is, if they still have their lives at all…

------

Okay. Maggie Stiefvater has really outdone herself this time. I really, really liked the Shiver trilogy. In fact, you could say I loved it – but that pales in comparison to the masterpiece that she has created in The Scorpio Races!

I’m not even kidding. For me, The Scorpio Races was just flat-out brilliant. She takes a myth, a legend, which I’ve never heard of and presents a terrifying, gory, deadly race with horses that are more like monsters than pets and creates one of the most stirring, unique books I’ve ever read!

Her characters have grace, maturity, and depth as they struggle with relatable issues of loss, fear, family, worry, jealousy, vindictive cruelty of others and love. She manages to make this ruthless race seem almost ordinary – not necessarily without its fantasy elements, but more that she weaves an environment of people who are used to, if not always pleased with, these races and these water horses that arise from the ocean to kill and race.

It’s hard even to describe it, really.

The Scorpio Races is a heartbreaker for animal lovers like me, and probably for almost anyone – as Maggie Stiefvater so eloquently, masterfully writes with raw emotion.

This is literature at its best. You absolutely must read this. At least give it a chance, because this one floored me.

The Scorpio Races is a superb, brilliant, powerful, beautiful, spectacular, breathtaking, matchless, nerve-wrackingly suspenseful, poignant, phenomenal, exquisite, passionate masterpiece of a book!!!!!

Wow.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ingenue


Ingénue is the second novel in the YA Flappers series by Jillian Larkin.

If you haven’t read Vixen, the first novel in this series, you are looking at some major, inevitable spoilers in this review of Ingénue if you persist in reading it! I strongly recommend that you don’t – enjoy the series in order and go pick up a copy of Vixen!

For those of you who have read Vixen, we’ll begin the synopsis now…

Last we left our main characters we were in 1923 Chicago. Lorraine Dyer had recently exposed the innocent-appearing Clara Knowles as phony with a scandalous past – only to lose her lifelong best friend Gloria Carmody in the process.

Gloria, in the meantime, had begun to live a secret, speakeasy life as a nightclub singer – and fell for the handsome black pianist Jerome Johnson. Her taboo love affair caused ripple effects that sent the two of them running from the ever-present mob.

Then there was Clara Knowles, the revealed former flapper queen, who feared her relationship with the charming, gorgeous Marcus Eastman would be immediately over once he found out the truth about her. She was happily surprised to be wrong.

But now some time has passed – where have our gals gone?

All three are in New York, though not to each other’s knowledge.

Lorraine is working hard before going to school in the fall – and one of her main pursuits is a little friendly revenge. Gloria can’t get away with what she did to Lorraine. The only thing to distract from her goal is a very attractive bartender… is it too much to hope that Lorraine might finally find true love?

Gloria and Jerome are barely surviving – having a hard time trying to find work, as well as keep their relationship hidden since almost nobody would understand or appreciate it. Their dreams of marriage are hampered by impossibility and a continued fear of being found.

Clara is continuing in her progress of leaving her partying life behind her – but now that she’s back in New York she finds the glitz and glamour of old friends and locales harder to resist than she thought they’d be. Is Marcus enough to keep her going in the right direction?

Ooooh boy! Ingénue is just one of those books that are too much fun to deny!

Immediately you’re presented with 20s garb, slang, and diversion. We’ve got murder, gangsters, and liars, forbidden love on the run, payback, gossip, and speakeasy’s! I am so there.

When I read Vixen last year, I was torn. I had wanted more from it – maybe a bit more depth or investment in the characters. But this time around, with Ingénue, I found it be flawless just the way it is. The characters are really coming into their own, and there is just something comforting and gratifying about sitting back and reading something as dishy, glittery, starry-eyed, cinematic, and twisty as Ingénue.

I actually did find myself more invested in Clara, Lorraine, Gloria, Jerome, and Vera (Jerome’s sister) than the first time around, too. But primarily, the whip-fast, swiftly paced dialogue and switching viewpoints kept me in its Roaring Twenties grips!

The cliffhanger end was pitch-perfect, and I am very much looking forward to the third book – Diva – when it comes out. I can’t help hoping that this is not the final book in what is turning out to be a lively, wild, romantic, opulent series!

Want to sit back, relax, and be flat-out entertained? Grab Ingénue! That is, after reading Vixen! :)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Flyaway


Flyaway is a YA/middle-grade contemporary novel by Lucy Christopher.

It’s a long held tradition that thirteen-year-old Isla and her dad go out to watch the swans fly in to winter at the lake. But this time, something goes wrong. As they’re running across the fields to get a good view, her dad falls. And when she gets to him, she can tell something is seriously wrong.

Time blurs and distorts as an ambulance is called, and Isla tries her hardest at being strong – not shedding a tear. But at the hospital it all begins to sink in – her dad is not well. And instead of watching the fear and worry reflected in her mother and brother’s faces, Isla wanders in her shock and sees a head of brilliantly red hair.

The hair is on a boy named Harry’s head. He stays in the children’s ward – one of the oldest, at thirteen. Harry, unlike the kids at school, finds the swans just as fascinating as Isla and her dad. It’s comforting and helpful to have someone to look forward to seeing when she goes to the hospital to see her dad. He seems healthy and full of life – why is he in the hospital?

During their visits, Isla and Harry become entranced by a lone swan that has somehow lost her way from her flock and has been outside the hospital in view of Harry’s window. Isla believes she recognizes her from one of the times she was out with her dad.

Unable to help out in any other way, Isla becomes determined to help this swan. It seems to be having difficulty flying, which is keeping her from her flock - a fate very dangerous for a bird.

Deep down inside, against all reason, Isla hopes that by making things okay with this lost swan, she’ll be making things okay with her dad. Is magic possible?

As a major animal lover, I’m a bit of a sucker when it comes to stories with animals. It also can be hard to be a devout, addicted reader and sensitive to the love of our furry friends as so many books out there tend to use the loss of pets/animals as a coming-of-age plotline. So often it’s done so well – but rips my heart apart! So, I approached Flyaway with caution.

Yet the very thing that made me cautious also gave me an enhanced understanding and investment in these characters as I sunk happily into what was quickly a subdued but incredibly dynamic story.

Lucy Christopher portrays the medical issues of Isla’s father in such a lifelike, frank way that you feel the way his loss would threaten the balance of their family – the heartbreak, fear, and shock permeates the pages vividly. We get an amazingly three-dimensional family – one with disagreements and pain, but also love.

Flyaway stunningly contrasts the ordinary, personal, quiet of life with the disquiet of worry and sadness. I was absolutely riveted as we follow Isla in her handling of the crisis – rapt as she first gets face-to-face with the solitary swan. This is a poetic, gentle, emotionally effective novel that envelopes the reader (namely, me) in powerful, majestic, almost dream-like encounters with this mysterious, beautiful swan.

I can’t begin to emphasize how Flyaway hit all the right notes for me. This was a book that feels magical, yet possible – hopeful, yet realistic – and overwhelmingly inspiring and touching. I was truly wowed by this soaring, elegant piece of literature.

Flyaway deserves to be savored. As both an animal lover and a bibliophile, I was more than pleased!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You Don't Know About Me


You Don’t Know About Me is a YA contemporary reimagining of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Brian Meehl.

Billy Allbright has spent the entire sixteen years of his life on the move with his mother. They’ve never stayed in one place very long as she is constantly either on the run from authorities who aren’t too pleased she’s defaced a store (or replace with another establishment) in the name of removing the Devil or running towards a new destination that she believes needs their services of cleansing.

Having always been home-schooled and involved in this lifestyle, Billy is sheltered and knows very little about the way others live. But when Billy receives a fancy Bible in the mail it contains more than the story of Christ’s resurrection – it also contains knowledge that his mother has been lying about his father, whom he never met, being dead.

Finding out about his mother’s deception throws Billy into a tailspin, and he makes the decision to ditch the Bible camp he’s supposed to be going to in favor of his own, unscheduled road trip to find his dad. But his road trip is far from point A to point B as he meets a runaway baseball star, nudists, a girl with neon body parts, and unnaturally zealous group of aspiring movie makers.

Suddenly Billy’s trip to find his dad has mutated into a journey of self-discovery – though it’d be nice if he could get to his dad eventually…

You Don’t Know About Me is an ambitious coming-of-age retelling but, sadly, it fell flat for me. It was overly wordy and self-important, I felt, and lacked insightfulness and cohesive plotting. I really stress that this is only one gal’s opinion – I’m sure there are numerous people who will love/like You Don’t Know About Me.

For my own personal tastes, the novel’s theology and philosophy dialogue was excessive, uninteresting, and oftentimes hypocritical, blasphemous, heavy-handed, and offensive. I very much appreciate the author’s intent – it’s clear that he meant well in You Don’t Know About Me. He was trying to tell a story of tolerance in a humorous, meaningful way. It just happened to rub me the wrong way and overall not be my kind of book – that happens!

I think You Don’t Know About Me is a bit of a polarizing novel – and I encourage you to read it. I believe it’ll arouse a passionate response one way or another, and I’d love to hear it!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Icefall


Icefall is a YA adventure thriller set in ancient Nordic times by Matthew J. Kirby.

Solveig was no happier than anyone else when her father the king sent her, her brother the crown prince, her beautiful older sister, members of the household staff and an army of soldiers to a concealed fortress tucked between mountains and ice. It’s a cold, lonely, and unpleasantly long winter.

Yet the king set them there for their safety, as a sudden war was upon them. But their safety may or may not be what they’ll find in the fortress. Solveig’s sister has been quiet and guarded since they’d arrived, and when suddenly an act of betrayal leaves them shocked in its wake – the conclusion is that there is a traitor in their midst.

It could be that instead of hiding the royal children from the kingdom’s enemies, they might be tucked in close with them – sitting ducks in an increasingly claustrophobic environment. Suddenly the many ways that they can be killed seem numerous – and there is no escape from the ice that closes them in. Their protection may be their grave.

Solveig has never been considered much as the middle child of the king – not beautiful like her sister or the heir like her brother oftentimes she was simply overlooked. But she is determined to find the traitor among them and help those she loves survive the winter months.

Though her greatest fear gnaws at her: what if the conspirator is among one of those she loves?

Icefall was unlike any other book I’ve read – a sweeping, vivid, icy Nordic tale. It was far more intimate than I initially expected, a heart wrenching coming-of-age story of learning who you are and where you might fit in a world that doesn’t seem to care you exist - in the epicenter of war, treachery, and assassination.

Solveig’s personal journey and the gripping, nail-biting sense of suspicion and secrets create a unique historical novel that is powerful and impressive for any age. Icefall is very effective and extraordinarily different – and (*minor plot spoiler alert*) certainly a killer for animal lovers!

Icefall is a compelling, moody, atmospheric tale of loyalty, heroism and courage that lingers in your mind.

I hope it will soon linger in yours!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sass and Serendipity


Sass and Serendipity is a YA contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, by Jennifer Ziegler.

Daphne and Gabby Rivera are sisters but are nothing alike.

Daphne, fifteen, is a romantic soul – she dreams of proms and marriage and love. She’s on the cheerleading squad and tends to be a peppy, cheerful girl without a care in the world. She’s always ready and waiting for that epic love to be right around the corner. And when the new guy, Luke, moves to town she’s sure she’s found the One.

Gabby, seventeen, is a practical soul – she works, studies, and looks at life as it is. She helps pay the bills and if she does any dreaming it’s only about leaving their small town far behind her. Love and romance couldn’t be further from her priorities. In fact, human interaction in general has never been Gabby’s strong suit. The only person she can really put up with is her loyal, longtime best friend Mule – he’s always been there for her and puts up with her perpetual grumpiness like no other.

Their parents’ divorce has affected both of the sisters, though in different ways. For Daphne, her heart is broken to be away from a loving father that she feels was pushed out by an unfeeling, passionless mother who cares too much about bills and money. For Gabby, she sees those bills and blames her father’s lack of responsibility and tries her best to help out her mom, whom she feels was left high and dry by her dad. She has no desire to spend any time with him.

It ends up being their financial woes that shake things up. Unable to continue to afford the rent any longer, an offer by a wealthy neighbor to live as a renter on a nice little house on their property is taken up – despite Gabby’s horror. The move, however, provides a couple of unlikely suitors for the sisters and a lesson in how complicated and multi-layered love can actually be…

I love Jane Austen and I love Sense and Sensibility, so I didn’t know if that would take away from Sass and Serendipity or take away from it. In the end, though, it really didn’t influence my opinion one way or another!

Gabby and Daphne are indeed our 21st century Elinor and Marianne, though Gabby’s a bit more pessimistic and angry than I ever remember Elinor being and Daphne is perkier than I recall poetry-inclined Marianne. But that’s just the thing. Jennifer Ziegler proves a wonderful basis of similarity while also creating an entirely new story.

Sass and Serendipity presents strongly written characters. Sometimes I wanted to shake Daphne just as much as Gabby did, and sometimes I was put off by just how mean Gabby could be – but one thing always stayed the same: Ziegler shows us their pain. Not all of it right away, but slowly and deliberately we get to really know these two sisters and very much root for them to let go of their dissimilarities and be there for each other.

I felt the romantic side of the novel was a bit more restrained than it needed to be – I could have used a bit more oomph on that side. Yet, it was still very well done. The character development, healing, and learning these two girls do is transfixing and causes a fast-paced read. There are time the novel hurts to read as see raw, real heartache, but it is an overall lovable and wistful story.

Sass and Serendipity is an exceptional, relatable tribute to Jane Austen – and though it might not be replacing Sense and Sensibility’s spot on my bookshelf anytime soon - I really, really liked it.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Wonderstuck


Wonderstruck is a new novel by Brian Selznick.

Ben and Rose both feel lost.

Ben, in 1977, has only recently lost his mother. Then when tragedy strikes again in his life, he finds himself yearning to find the father he’s never known – desperately unraveling small clues to try and find him.

Rose, in 1927, spends her time scrapbooking pictures and articles about a beautiful, mysterious actress. She rejects the teacher that arrives at her house to teach her lessons – his lessons are too hard for her to accept. So, when she reads a certain headline in the newspaper she sets out to find a piece of her life she’s missing.

Ben’s story is told all in words, like a traditional novel, whereas Rose’s story is told in pictures only – almost like a silent movie. Both of these children are setting off alone in a world that doesn’t seem to have room to fit them and despite being fifty years apart, their stories mirror and complement each other in striking ways.

Brian Selznick is, of course, the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret in which he told a story in words and pictures. This time he uses that idea in a different way, and manages to create yet another unique method of weaving a tale. He has 460 pages of original artwork – can you imagine how long that took?

Again he is more that successful at providing a poignant, beautiful, grandiose novel that crosses age limits and genre preferences. Wonderstruck is a powerful gem that has an astonishing amount of surprises and twists! I am so tempted to say a little bit about what’s going on with Ben and Rose, but to spoil the stream of revelations and quiet, careful, charming way Selznick presents them would be terrible.

Wonderstuck causes a roll of adjectives: touching, stunning, subtle, understated, deeply moving, and very effective. It’s hard not to be captivated by the intricate, delicate ways in which Selznick begins to interlace the two children together through gorgeous illustrations and lyrical prose. The merging of their individual stories is a wonder.

Anybody who has read The Invention of Hugo Cabret will already want to read Wonderstruck, I’m sure. I was in that boat! If you haven’t though, this is a fantastic way to start! I cannot stress how lovely and special Wonderstuck is – it’s a cinematic experience in book form.

And I hope for many more from Brian Selznick!!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Summer I Learned to Fly


The Summer I Learned to Fly is a YA coming-of-age novel by Dana Reinhardt.

Drew is thirteen-years-old in 1986 as this story takes off. We get the sense that an older Drew is telling the story.

She’s a loner and an obedient daughter to her single Mom, working diligently at their cheese shop. Drew carts around her best friend, her rat, everywhere with her in her backpack – against the rules - and has been reading her deceased dad’s Book of Lists without her Mom’s knowledge. She found the Lists by accident, but savors every second of getting to know a father that died before she had any memory of him.

As she spends her days in routine, happy to spend her days with her crush, Nick, who is older and works behind the counter in-between surfing – one night at closing, things change. Drew meets Emmett Crane.

He’s eating the cheese shop’s castoffs because he apparently likes their food, has a cut on his cheek, and is very friendly with Drew’s rat – not to mention oddly knowledgeable about rats in general. He intrigues Drew.

This new kindling of friendship is so unfamiliar for Drew, but also exciting. She may have found her first real friend – that is, if he’ll ever tell her what he’s hiding.

The Summer I Learned to Fly is the epitome of a coming-of-age story, and the summer setting only increases the tender nostalgia of it. I found Drew to likable and believable in her young teen years, realistically portrayed as a cautious loner. The fact that the story is told in past-tense, from an older perspective, brings a level of maturity and depth to it as well.

Dana Reinhardt definitely makes the novel emotionally magnetic. It’s a slice-of-life, lessons-learned type of book done very well. There’s a raw simplicity to her portrayal of the ordinary tragedies of life in motion. Without giving away the various plot developments, I will say that The Summer I Learned to Fly was at times very painful to read, sad, and touching as are the real-life growing pains of learning to make decisions that hurt and moments you’ll always remember.

It was enough to make you cry, sob, and look back on your own childhood – or maybe remind you of your current one. I don’t always love these kinds of books, because sometimes I feel like they purposefully pull on your heartstrings, and I didn't adore the end of this one – but it’s impossible to deny the excellent storytelling of this author and worth of this slim but memorable little novel.

Bring a box of Kleenex.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

iBoy


iBoy is a YA sci-fi novel by Kevin Brooks.

Tom was just a normal, teenage guy walking home from school – thinking about Lucy and how she had asked him to come over to talk about something. He was hoping it’d be about more than helping to straighten out her brother’s recent inclination toward unsavory friends and wondering how early he could come by without seeming too eager.

Then his whole life changed. An iPhone, thrown from a high balcony, collides with his skull at such speed that shattered fragments of it imbed themselves in his brain. Next thing he knows, Tom wakes up in a hospital alive, but different.

Somehow he is now a walking App. As the doctors talk about organs and muscles in the body that ordinarily he would never know a single thing about, his iBrain rattles off dictionary-like explanations. It doesn’t take Tom long to find out that his way of thinking and his way of life may be forever altered.

Before he gets the chance to adjust to his new way of life, though, he finds out that Lucy and her brother were viciously attacked at the same time he was hit in the head with the iPhone.

His new powers allow Tom to try and avenge the horrible crime and rid all of South London of the sickos who did it – but will Tom succeed? And if he does, will he be the same person once it’s over?

iBoy is much darker than I expected it to be. And much better!

The slums of London seep into your nerves as Kevin Brooks portrays the setting vividly. The gang life and lack of any hope of police help is frightening and feels sadly convincing. It was easy to begin rooting for Tom and for his new iAbilities to help turn things around.

Kevin Brooks makes Tom, his gran, and Lucy all very likable characters. So you become invested very early. And as Tom starts to experiment with his new powers it almost felt like the beginning of a new superhero for a modern age – a story with humor, hints of romance, and tons of grim realism.

iBoy is riveting and fast-paced. I was sucked into the psychological aspects and deeper criminal aspects of the novel, which were shocking and unsettling (especially for a book with a title like iBoy). I, of course, don’t want to give anything away – you want to enjoy this rollercoaster ride without knowing anything, believe me – but I will say that iBoy has truly scary developments and is very, very suspenseful.

Though I felt the end was bit abrupt (but good), I was wowed. iBoy is quite the inventive sci-fi thriller for older teen readers! I’ll now be on the lookout for more Kevin Brooks novels, an author I was unfamiliar with before iBoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ship Breaker


Ship Breaker is an award-winning YA sci-fi/dystopia novel by Paolo Bacigalupi.

Nailer is a teenage boy working as a ship breaker in America’s Gulf Coast region. His small size is prized as he can go into the smaller, tighter areas that others cannot in order to scavenge valuable metals and other materials out of the old, grounded, rusted oil tankers they find.

Making quota is extremely important – because if you’re fired… well, you’re probably not going to last long. The climate and culture leaves very little wiggle room for a non-useful person. So, Nailer does what he needs to do to survive. Only problem? He won’t stay small for much longer. Natural growth will soon leave him without value. Then what will he do?

But then he finds a new, gorgeous clipper ship beached from a recent storm. At first his mind races with trying to figure out how he could possibly claim this wreckage as his (and coming up empty), but then when he and Pima, one of the only fellow crew members he trusts, board it they find that there is one survivor onboard – a young, beautiful, obviously wealthy girl. Pima and Nailer have never even imagined so much wealth as she wears decorated on her fingers and clothes, let alone the food stored in the clipper.

And she may be their ticket out of this hopeless, futureless life of ship breaking…

At first I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a more male-oriented novel, but no – this well-written, taut sci-fi novel is a bleak glimpse into an unhappy future, scary, and thrilling for either male or female, in my opinion!

Ship Breaker surprised me. I’ll admit, sometimes when a book wins awards and gets heaped with praise – I am a little leery. The reason why is that in the past I have read books that I’m told by all the critics blurbs and award-givers is fantastic, only to find it stale and tedious. Or maybe a little self-important.

But then you also sometimes totally agree. This time, with Ship Breaker, I am in the latter category!

We have a sympathetic, yet edgy, main character that has an abysmal way of life – both at home and at work. In this absorbing, original adventure we see Nailer war with his instincts of protecting himself and his conscience. Almost no one can be trusted, as everyone is just looking at for themselves at any cost – which we are introduced to from the get-go in an adrenaline-thumping first couple of chapters.

Ship Breaker is an extremely well though-out and excellently plotted novel that comes off as a unique coming-of-age story in a frighteningly different world.

One thing that was strange to me, though, was that I felt like the last fifty pages or so were erratic and rushed. However, I was still satisfied and happy with the novel, which in the end I found quite exceptional and readable for any age.

I will be keeping my eyes open for a sequel!

*I received a copy of Ship Breaker from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity did not influence, nor seek to influence, my opinion of this novel.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Death Sentence


Death Sentence is the third book in Alexander Gordon Smith’s YA horror series Escape from Furnace.

If you haven’t been keeping up with the series, this review will have inevitable spoilers for the first two books - Lockdown and Solitary. You’ve been warned!

Alex has now tried to break out of the terrifying, underground prison Furnace Penitentiary twice. He almost made it this time. Almost.

But he was caught. And now he is being punished.

This punishment is even worse than going in solitary, where he was sure he was losing his mind. This punishment assures him he will lose his mind – literally. He’s being turned into a minion of Furnace, a muscled twin of the other blacksuits.

The shadowy, treacherous warden is determined to have Alex forget himself – but the only way to survive is to try and remember.

This time it’ll be a lot harder to escape… since the prison is his mind.

I have read each of the Escape from Furnace books and have found them to be creatively disturbing, grisly thrillers. Death Sentence certainly puts itself on that same caliber. However, I also am beginning to feel like the overall concept is starting to get a tad old, a bit repetitive and maybe a little frustratingly monotonous.

Though there was some great plot development and answers given to long held questions, the revelations weren’t as satisfying as I wanted. It could most certainly just be me – so don’t stop yourself from reading Death Sentence because of what I’m saying!

Here’s the thing, a good portion of the last quarter of Death Sentence was quite interesting and exhilarating – it’s just that I’m not super into the series anymore. Now, if I was told that the next book (Fugitives, apparently coming out in winter 2012) was the last in the series, then I might be more involved. Because, in my opinion, the story is being stretched out farther than it really needs to be. I don’t think I would be rushing out to read/buy more books in the series if I don’t know when the end date was, and that it was soon.

Yet I know that I may be in the minority in this opinion – so please read Death Sentence for yourself and enjoy it! It could be that the series has run its course for me, but is just kicking in gear for you!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dragon's Keep


Welcome to the first post of 2012! Let us begin another fantastic year of reading here at the Bibliophile Support Group! Without further ado:

Dragon’s Keep
is a YA fantasy novel by Janet Lee Carey.

Rosalind is a beautiful princess, an ancestress of Evaine, of the forgotten Pendragon royal lineage, and the prophesied 21st queen, the one Merlin said would end wars and bring honor back to their banished throne on Wilde Island.

Yet only her mother, the current Queen, knows the truth of her “loveliness”. On her ring finger she has not a finger but a dragon’s talon – ugly and sharp. She wears gloves at all times and not one person outside the queen knows of her disfigurement – of her flaw.

Constant streams of healers are brought to Rosie, but no one cures her ailment – or is even allowed to know of it before they begin trying to heal her. It seems impossible that a six-hundred-year-old prophecy could be about her.

But when a lethal dragon seems to target her directly and takes her to his cave, Rosie begins to realize that her hated claw may be inextricably intertwined with her fate – and that there are many secrets she needs to unveil to meet her destiny…

I previously read The Dragons of Noor by Janet Lee Carey and was hypnotized and impressed – here I am again.

Janet weaves a graceful, melancholy prose that places us right in 1145 medieval times, a time of royalty and treacherous dragons. The flaw Rosie is afflicted with is mysterious and fascinating, as well as being heartbreaking on the personal, shame-ridden point of view. We see a girl that from birth has been told to hide a part of her that she had no control over – it is very sad.

I was entrenched in the plot and characters before fifty pages were over. Dragon’s Keep is horrifying, affecting, and twisty! There is a gravity, a depth that sinks in, an anguish and sorrow, and a compassion and intrigue to this new fairy-tale. It is most assuredly entertaining, but also solemn. This is a journey of sprawling fantasy proportions – full of kingdom conspiracy, a longing for friendship and love, and the agony of loss and betrayal. You hope for a happier, lighter future – but you don’t know if one is coming.

You know that I refuse to give out spoilers, so all I can say is that if you are a fantasy lover, you need to read Dragon’s Keep! The suspense is taut and the realistic human nature of the characters brings believability to the story that is not always available in these plot-heavy books. There is a raw, natural fear, deep feeling, and unexpected plot turns that keep Dragon’s Keep fresh from start to finish.

Dragon’s Keep gave me a lump in my throat! It is a lovely, striking, eloquent novel – and I am so very happy to know that a companion will be available this month. I’m ready to return to Wilde Island!

Are you?