Monday, April 30, 2012

Belles

Belles is a YA contemporary fiction novel by Jen Calonita.

Isabelle “Izzie” Scott loves Harborside, even if most of the rest of North Carolina considers it the ghetto of their state. She knows better, having been born and raised there. She loves her lifeguard job and her surfing lessons from the cute and mysterious guy she’s gotten friendly with over the summer. She’s got friends here. This is where she lived with her Mom, before she died. This is where she’s been living with her Grandmother.

But her Grandmother’s failing health has gotten the attention of a social worker, and Izzie’s life is about to change. Overnight she’s informed her grandmother had made provisions for when she got worse for her to go to a nursing home and Izzie to go live with long-lost relatives that she only recently located.

Izzie’s in for a culture shock when she finds her broken heart transported to a politician’s home, apparently her uncle, where he lives with his wife and two kids. They have money – lots of it. And their location is in Emerald Cove, which feels extremely far away from Harborside. Izzie just wants to go home.

Mirabelle is sixteen, like Izzie. She’s trying to make her new cousin’s transition smooth but she’s frustrated with her gloominess. She’s got her own friends and boyfriend that she’s busy with without having to do a personality makeover on Izzie, too. She tries to be patient, but it’s difficult. Mirabelle didn’t know she was going to be sharing her home with a girl her age, either.

Behind Emerald Cove’s welcoming Southern smile, however, Izzie is not truly welcome. And the backstabbing, gossiping, and rumors that rumble beneath the surface are about to turn to wildfire.

Because there’s a secret no one knows yet. One that will change both Izzie and Mirabelle forever…

Belles started a little cookie-cutter, teen-movie-esque for me, but I was hopeful for more. It has a breezy, salt water air, summer feel to it, which I liked, but it was still coming across as cliché and predictable early on.

Good thing I didn’t give up!

Despite the rocky start (for me, personally), the frothy, easy read did begin to gain a bit more substance and – most importantly in a book like Belles – juiciness. Though perhaps not a unique concept, I found myself rooting for Izzie and beginning to really enjoy the story.

Once I let it take me on its rather unrealistic but heartily entertaining tale, I noticed and loved all the Harry Potter references and found Belles to be delightful and satisfying on so many levels.

Belles is a fun, romantic, good-natured book to soak up.

And now I really want the sequel – at least we don’t have to wait long. From what I’ve heard, it’ll be out later this year and called Winter White!

*I received a review copy of Belles from Hachette Book Group. Their generosity in no way influenced, nor sought to influence, my opinion of the novel.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Nightmare Garden

The Nightmare Garden is a YA fantasy novel by Caitlin Kittredge, and the sequel to The Iron Thorn

Oh my – The Iron Thorn was way too awesome to ruin with spoilers! So, if you haven’t yet read it don’t read the review of its sequel! It’ll inevitably give something away. Instead, read my review of The Iron Thorn here, and go get yourself a copy! Got it?

Now, for all of you who HAVE read The Iron Thorn, you probably don’t need much nudging to read The Nightmare Garden! I know I didn’t!

I’ll give you a general idea of the start of the book, but in my opinion if you loved the first book there’s no reason to spoil all the bombshells with the inside jacket flap. That’s why I didn’t (and often don’t) read it. Just a personal opinion there, but why you’ll find very few details in this review.

Aoife (pronounced EE-fah) has recently turned sixteen, found out she has Fae blood in her, abilities called a Weird, and was tricked into using said Weird to destroy Lovecraft Engine in order to break a curse on the queens of the Thorn Land (where Fae live).

Now everything’s falling apart. The city of Lovecraft was her home, even if it was ruled with a totalitarian set of rules and regulations all built on a lie that magic did not exist and all the unnatural creatures were simply the result of a necrovirus that someday might be cured. It was her home, and now it is crumbling to the ground all because of her. And her mother, one of the residents of a madhouse, was still there when it happened…

Aoife, her not-officially-boyfriend Dean, her longtime friend and recently revealed ghoul Cal, her father’s old maid Bethina, and her newly recovered brother Conrad all slipped in to the Mists, a world between worlds. It’s a place to escape the iron that poisons her half-Fae mind and puts her at risk of complete insanity. It also allows them some time to try and process what she’s done. Yet not much, as before long they’re found – though by who, I won’t say! You’ll have to read it to find out!

But all Aoife can think is: she has to make it right. And maybe, just maybe, there might be a way…

That’s just a tad of how The Nightmare Garden starts. I figure if you adored The Iron Thorn, you’ll jump in with no reservations.

Now, The Nightmare Garden began with a lot of recap and a gloomier outlook, but we also get a more assertive Aoife. I wasn’t as utterly entranced as I was when reading The Iron Thorn, but with a little time and patience the amazing steampunk, clockwork meets fairy-tale, fantasy feel began to increase.

We get to go to new worlds like the Mists, meet more Erlkin, and face many more dangers. It’s too spoilerific to say too much, but believe you me – it succeeds above and beyond what I was initially was fearing was a book two slump. It just took me a little longer to be convinced. But then I most definitely way.

The Nightmare Garden is still crackling with romantic tension and an awesome alternative 50s steampunk vibe. It is truly and undeniably appealing from the fantasy viewpoint and mixed with bits of dystopia, magic, friendship and a delicious love connection! It kinda has it all in a unique package!

Though sometimes I still got the sense that it was hobbled together, The Nightmare Garden was intense, unexpected and truly an electrifying, original fantasy clockwork adventure. It’s a steampunk, more girl-friendly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that becomes more and more thrilling as it continues, full of surprises and obstacles among cleverness and wit.

Whoo-boy, The Nightmare Garden is a worthy, intelligent, creepy sequel that had a SHOCKER of an end that left me wrung out, heartbroken, fascinated, hopeful, and ravenous for book three!

Who’s with me?!?!?!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Liar's Moon

Liar’s Moon is a YA Renaissance-era fantasy adventure, and the sequel to StarCrossed, by Elizabeth. C. Bunce.

If you haven’t read StarCrossed yet, I’d recommend you do NOT read this review. It will contain spoilers of the first book. Instead, read my review of StarCrossed by scrolling down on the home page - and read the book!

Final warning to anyone who doesn’t want spoilers on StarCrossed

Digger’s back in Gerse after a highly eventful time in Llyvraneth. She’s settling back in to being a pickpocket in the city, rooming with her friend Rat and finding jobs. Thing is, it’s harder finding jobs now that she stupidly revealed that she’s the sister of the Lord High Inquistor, leader of the Greenmen and persecutor of religious freedom.

When she suddenly is picked up and thrown in jail, she’s not necessarily surprised at the turn of events but confused as to what the charge is – she hadn’t actually been doing anything at the time. But then she sees that she has been put in the same cell as a familiar face – Durrel Decath – one of the young noblemen that helped get her out of Gerse when she desperately needed it.

She’s shocked to learn that he’s been imprisoned for killing his wife – and is very close to being executed.

Then she’s mysteriously bailed out without explanation. Clearly someone wants her involved in Durrel’s case.

Digger certainly doesn’t believe he’s capable of murder, but there’s some heavy duty setting up going on here. As she investigates, she finds information that she doesn’t like. Information that might mean her instincts about Durrel might be wrong. There’s evidence he purchased the poison and that his marriage was extremely unhappy. And with her special ability she finds out that there are traces of magic at their now cleared-out home.

Yet… Digger still inexplicably wants to trust him.

It may be that this thief might be falling for a murderer as a civil war is pushing its way to the city gates.

Maybe the truth isn’t worth it…

As I wrote on Monday, I really liked StarCrossed. So, I was happy to read the sequel! From the start I was pleased with the tone and I was glad that Bunce brought back Durrel, in a much more compromising position. Right away we are put in a mysterious situation, with Digger landed right in the thick of it (of course).

Liar’s Moon is swift, clever, and a bit more on the ball pace-wise than StarCrossed – not to mention adding a little touch of romance! There’s hardly a time that isn’t a plus! ;)

In Liar's Moon we’re given a long slew of clues, red herrings, and deep conspiracies among the humor, spice and trickery we were introduced to in StarCrossed. There’s still great political uproar and danger and a fantastically measured, intelligent tone that help to blur the sometimes slow and stuffy narrative. It might’ve used a bit more oomph, but overall I was contented! The likable, memorable characters are of assistance in this.

But then – WHOA!!!

A HUGE shocker of a cliffhanger ending left me stunned! It blindsided me, truly.

And now, more than ever, I’m wondering: When’s the next book????

Monday, April 23, 2012

StarCrossed

StarCrossed is a YA Renaissance-era fantasy adventure by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

Sixteen-year-old Digger’s past is a closely guarded secret. For years now she has been a thief, working with her more-than-partner Tegen on many jobs inside the city of Gerse.

But her way of life has finally caught up with her. One of the Greenmen, officers and bullies of the secret guard of the king – executers of the staunch law against practicing religion for any god other than Celys – were about to catch her and Tegen as they celebrated over a just-completed job.

Now she’s bloody, on the run, and mourning a surely dead partner.

While trying to get out of the city, Digger comes across a boat full of young nobility and plays along as they invite her aboard. Before she knows it she is in the snowy, cold mountains of Llyvraneth in a castle full of some of the top family’s in the country.

Not exactly low-profile.

Yet she’s far away from immediate danger. Or so she thinks.

Digger is lady-in-waiting to sweet Merista Nemair – until reality crashes when a man named Lord Daul arrives at the castle and insinuates knowing all her secrets, and threatening to air them all out for her new masters to see.

He blackmails her to make her skills of lock picking, sneaking, stealing, and forging to his own ends. But as she does, Digger realizes that the safe refuge of the castle may be brimming with far more inflammatory activites…

She might’ve been better to stay in Gerse.

StarCrossed invokes a picture of religious tyranny that is extremely vivid and harsh as we enter Digger’s world. Bunce details this fantasy world in a way that you really need to pay attention as you read – which I love – but I did wish it’d pick up the pace just a tad.

Honestly, I thought Digger as a character was great. She really is the centerpiece of this adventure, which is far more about politics, secrets, deception, and intrigue than fantasy – but the hint of magic has such a sense of danger (from the religious tyranny and prosecution) that it is nerve-wracking.

StarCrossed has a definite flavor of Tamora Pierce – building a complicated, intricate, and extremely well thought out plot that gets increasingly suspenseful as the lies, deceit, spying, blackmailing, suspicious gatherings and conspiracies begin to be revealed and pile up around Digger, who starts to feel suffocated by it all and trapped by the surrounding snow.

I really enjoyed it, but always felt like I could like it more if there was maybe more dialogue and less description. I don’t know. Because I actually liked the description. So color me a fickle bibliophile.

Something kept me from loving it, which is too bad. But I really, really liked it. And there’s a BIG surprise late in the book that adds to all the smaller ones throughout StarCrossed that in the end left me with a smart, clever, very good book!

I would recommend StarCrossed very much; I’m just not jumping up and down about it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise is a middlegrade fiction Newberry Honor Book by Jennifer L. Holm.

Eleven year old Turtle knows life isn’t like the movies, and she most certainly is nothing like Shirley Temple. It’s 1935 and only people like Turtle’s mom continue to dream. Turtle’s grown to know the truth, and worries about her mom when she has to leave her for a while. Her mom has a new job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, so Turtle moves in with her aunt and cousins in Key West, Florida.

She’s never met them before and her life is certainly different when surrounded by so many people – especially boys! It’s hot there – and full of family secrets, buried treasure, and innovating babysitting business plans.

Unlike ever before, Turtle finds her new environment opening her up a bit and letting go of her hard shell, which gave her her nickname, for the first time.

Turtle’s life is about to change…

Now, this is a quality fiction middlegrade book! Every once in a while I wonder if I’ve grown out of the genre (I am twenty-four after all!), but then a book like Turtle in Paradise reminds me that middlegrade doesn’t have to be condescending or illogical. It can be captivating, transcendent, and nostalgic.

From the very first paragraph, Turtle in Paradise gives an impression of a tough, opinionated eleven year old in the 30s – it’s an instant connection with readers, no matter your age. Turtle’s first-person narration is colorful, funny, and poignant. Jennifer L. Holm displays tremendous writing skills in this short but remarkable novel!

It was truly excellent to see a book use fast-paced, realistic dialogue to tell a large portion of the story instead of relying on heavy descriptions. And then to have it stocked full of charming, disarmingly cute and hilarious young boy cousins that are like baby whisperers – my, my!

Turtle in Paradise is an extremely easy, smooth read – sweet, lovely, and genuine. This is a slice of life. Very enjoyable. I read it in one sitting and was delighted every second!

It’s worth reading through the lesser middlegrade novels to find gems like Turtle in Paradise!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Princess Plot

The Princess Plot is a YA/middlegrade contemporary novel by German author Kirsten Boie.

Fourteen year old Jenna has always felt she paled in comparison to her thinner, prettier best friend Bea. But when movie producers hand out flyers for an audition, they all seem to think that SHE is perfect for the role of a princess!

Before she knows it, the movie people have convinced her domineering Mom to let her give it a shot, and whisk her away to a small country she’s never heard of, Scandia, to start prepping for the role.

Yet, when she arrives, things start to smell fishy. The real-life princess of Scandia apparently wants to take a break from public life after the sudden death of her father the King, according to what Jenna’s told. So, they tell Jenna – who looks remarkably like the true princess after some make-up, colored contacts, and a blonde wig – to step in to her shoes for actual royal outings, as a sort of final audition.

It doesn’t take long, however, for Jenna to realize Scandia is a country in turmoil, right on the brink of a civil war – and she might be, unwittingly, part of a rebel plot!

The Princess Plot is a mixture of royalty in a foreign country and a modern city girl trying to break free of her mother’s overprotectiveness. Definitely a mix that a lot of middlegrade girls would find appealing!

Despite a tone that is difficult to gel with (possibly due to a translation from the original German into English), the mystery that weaves itself into these two girls lives is intriguing and pretty fast-paced. I was interested to know what was going on.

I had a couple problems, though. Jenna’s aversion to clues and lack of noticing the suspicious circumstances surrounding her sudden discovery as an actress is a bit hard to stomach. I tried to tell myself that she was just being naïve and blinded by her self-esteem issues, but we all know that excuse only goes so far. So this issue led to a disconnect between me and the characters, and eventually had me way ahead of Jenna, plot-wise. I was guessing plot reveals correctly before I was supposed to.

The Princess Plot was always interesting, but the way the book presents itself with switching viewpoints, often cutting away right when someone’s about to reveal some info, actually seemed to drag the action out unnecessarily.

Though I think there might be some fun in here for middlegrade girls who like a little thrill and politics with their princess fantasies, I wasn’t all that impressed unfortunately. It just didn’t have enough humor, logic, or zippy delight that really propels a book like The Princess Plot to true enjoyment, in my opinion.

Since the sequel, The Princess Trap, is already scheduled to be on its way to me, I’ll be reading it. And I certainly didn’t hate The Princess Plot – it was easy to read in many ways – so I’ll hope that The Princess Trap improves on these issues I had.

Either way, think The Princess Plot sounds like the perfect book for you? Read it for yourself and see if you agree or disagree with me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Pure

Pure is a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian novel and the first in planned trilogy by Julianna Baggott.

Since the Detonations life has been different. Pressia, sixteen, barely remembers the Before. Her reality is the harsh world of rubble, ash, and annihilation. There are new species that have been born out of the chemicals and nuclear waste – new fusions of animals and humans – more ways to die.

She lives with her grandfather, her only surviving relative, in an old barbershop and sleeps in a cabinet. He helps the many with lost limbs fuse with something. That’s how Pressia’s lost hand became her favorite doll’s head.

But now that she’s sixteen, a brand new danger is beckoning. It’s the age that the militia, the group that semi took over in the bitterness and chaos that soon became the norm, takes the young to be trained to be soldiers. Or, if you can’t be a soldier because of a deformity, say having a doll’s head for a hand, become target practice for those who can.

Pressia realizes she must run to escape this inevitable horror…

The Dome is an enclosed habitat that preserved a select group of people that luckily were in there when the Detonations took place. They promised to help those that are outside the Dome one day, but people are still waiting.

Inside they are healthy, safe, and increasingly superior as their DNA undergoes coding to become faster, stronger, and more obedient. Outside of the Dome they are calles Pures.

Partridge is the son of one of top leaders inside the Dome, and instead of fortunate he feels suffocated. He and his father have never gelled, his brother committed suicide, and his mother never made it inside the Dome before the Detonations.

But when something happens to make him question one of those basic truths, he becomes determined to escape the Dome.

And when Partridge and Pressia cross paths both of those lives change forever…

Pure was quite something. It’s a freaky, creepy post-apocalyptic world outside the dome with various fusings that are incredibly disturbing and new, grotesque creatures that have emerged from the destruction and are more than deadly. It’s a wholly unfriendly world. It’s vivid and nightmarish.

Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell (a character that you’ll meet early on in Pure) are adventurers, survivors, rebellious, and desperate – a ragtag team looking for answers. This story is very dark and interesting. It switches viewpoints often and provides depth and additional detail as it goes along. The mystery is deep and involving and I think Julianna Baggott did an exceptional job of mapping out an powerfully unsettling world for the imagination, while also creating characters you grow to care for.

Pure is a suspenseful, nerve-wracking, dystopian tale of control and disorder, lies and deceit, and ever faint, but always strong, hope of freedom and happiness. It’s memorably weird and disquieting, concocted from the highly creative mind of the author – almost dreamlike, surreal. I was along for the ride as it constantly twisted and turned – what a unique, forceful, rousing, exciting, unforgettable novel!

I would recommend everyone read Pure, but I see it as an excellent choice especially for fans of books like Lois Lowry’s The Giver , Caragh M. O'Brien's Birthmarked, Mary E. Pearson's Jenna Fox Chronicles, and Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games.

I want to read the next books in the trilogy for sure – no question about it! Wowza!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster is a non-fiction novel targeted at YA and middle grade readers by Deborah Hopkinson.

This Sunday, April 15th 2012, will be the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. To honor this, I wanted to post a review of this book, which is an first-rate reference of all the details concerning the famous, doomed ocean liner.

Most of you will have heard of the Titanic, and if you’re from my generation or older probably have seen the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio movie as well, which is being re-released in 3D.

What we glean from Titanic: Voices from the Disaster are facts and tidbits about the launch, journey, and sinking of the Titanic.

But what is really cool about it, and makes it more unique than others, are the quotes from real-life survivors. She takes their stories and creates a narrative storytelling technique that allows you to imagine their experience on the Titanic.

At times you can tell it’s targeted toward a younger audience (an occasionally excessive use of exclamation points is one indicator), but the knowledge and information is accessible and mesmerizing to any age. The pictures, illustrations, diagrams, telegrams, letters, and personal accounts bring about a personal feel to what is a well-known story.

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster is definitely a fantastic remembrance of a major moment of 20th century history – its equal parts haunting, educational, and respectful to all of those who lost their lives one hundred years ago Sunday.

I really enjoyed it, and y’all know I’m not much of a non-fiction reader!

Check it out!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution is an adult historical fiction title by Michelle Moran.

Marie Tussaud has learned the art of wax sculpting from her uncle, whom she works alongside at the Salon de Cire, their wax museum. She has an impeccable eye for it, and their patrons often are amazed at how lifelike their models of popular heroes from the American Revolution like Thomas Jefferson are. Many also come to see the royal family in different moments of their luxe lives.

Yet, the Salon is also a place of gossip and news – so Marie soon begins to realize just how much people’s opinions of the royal family are changing. She knew already, of course, that there are many starving and having much financial difficulty – mostly due to famine and a heavy tax burden the lower classes must bear for the higher ones – but in December of 1788 she is starting to see the anger…

Still determined to keep the Salon open and active, creating new sculptures that reflect the days, news and desires, Marie is given a front view seat of the budding French Revolution all the way through the Reign of Terror.

Her skills may be her survival among the chaos – but how many others will perish?

Madame Tussaud spans five years and covers a ton of historical ground. Michelle Moran effortlessly weaves in numerous notable names like Robespierre, Lafayette, the Marquis de Sade (*shudder*), and the royal family. She manages to bring them all through the novel in an elegant, believable manner – mixing history and fact impeccably with a story that feels real and alive. Excellent!

I’ve always been fascinated by the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, etc. It’s such a terrifying piece of history, full of so much tragedy and madness. Michelle Moran gave us a unique perspective from Madame Tussaud’s point of view. I was truly floored.

First we have a prologue that is full of unspoken memories and a haunted past during one of history’s darkest periods. I was intrigued immediately. We are given an upfront look at the makings of a vengeful, violent revolution while following an ambitious, business-focused career woman in the successful Marie Tussaud.

Madame Tussaud is a riveting novel of the heartbreaking, horrifying fall of a monarchy from an achingly personal view, felt on a personal level. It’s suspenseful and frightening as tyranny rules, utterly disturbing, bloody, and chilling with few (but momentous) moments of hope, happiness, and love for Marie.

What we have here is a magnificent page turner that is, yes, oftentimes so nightmarish and horrifying it turns the stomach, with few happy endings. See, you feel like you are living it with Marie - which is not exactly fun, but truly absorbing and utterly memorable. Incredibly written. It highlights the ridiculousness, madness and danger of mob-rule and leaves you speechless.

As someone who usually reads YA, I do sometimes venture out – especially for historical fiction. I must say that I think readers of YA need to pick up Madame Tussaud. Though it is disquieting and sometimes graphic with the violence, so are many YA novels. This, however, also gives you history and an insanely good read – both of which any bibliophile can agree is an excellent combination.

No matter what you’re regular genre of choice is, Madame Tussaud is phenomenal, stunning, and absolutely unforgettable.

I will be more than ready to read Michelle Moran’s next novel, The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court, when it comes out!!!

In fact – I wish it was available right now! If she writes all her books with such passion, detail, and complete attention-grabbing anxiety, I want to read everything she’s written! How about you?

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Gathering Storm

The Gathering Storm is a YA historical fantasy novel, and the first in the new Katerina Trilogy.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888 Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, is attending balls and dinners among other royal society.

Yet she is hiding a secret.

She has a power so dark and wrong that she tries desperately to forget that she ever found out about it when she was a young child. But when a member of the Imperial Family is threatened right in front of her, she uses her ability for the first time in many years, almost instinctively, to protect him.

This event sweeps her into a web of intrigue as there are some among society that recognized her power – and knows it came from her.

Among the bloodlines of Europe there are ties to light and dark magic – and suddenly the dark side is getting much stronger. Her abilities are now in demand by the kingdom of Montenegro. Meanwhile, she must deal with George Alexandrovich, the middle son of the tsar, who seems disgusted with abilities – but how can she blame him? She is too.

A name is given to what she is: necromancer.

Apparently the time has come to stop ignoring it. But will she be able to use it for the side of good, or will the inherent darkness of the power pull her to evil?

The Gathering Storm features a unique girl in Katerina. She has aspirations for medical school and longs to be a doctor, though in 1888 Russia doesn’t allow girls to attend such a school. Also, her dark powers of necromancy do feel disturbing. Hiding all of this among Russian aristocracy is a fun twist.

With sleighs, muffs, and wool cloaks you feel as though you’ll be seeing your breath as you breathe and seeing the frost on the windows. It’s definitely vivid and creates a lovely scene in the imagination. It’s interesting to have the paranormal activity taking place at these balls, among royalty, and the fascination of supernatural power plays, mysterious motives, and attempted murder are certainly enough to create a thrilling tale.

I found it all very intriguing, but I was not entranced by it. I loved being submerged in the all-girls Smolny Institute (finishing school) and having this dark magic at war among polite, noble society – but it kept feeling like something was missing.

But as Katerina’s involuntary abilities accelerated I found the plot was getting juicier and I began to like her better. I was still not utterly wowed and entrenched, but once the fantasy began to reach its peaks, I was finally fully involved.

Around a third into The Gathering Storm the suspense and creepy factor intensified, as did potential romance. In the end, I found the novel to be altogether original, mixing imperial Russia with vampires and various otherworldly creatures, creating a gothic mix that felt very different.

It took me a while to really warm to it, and I still don’t really know why (who knows, maybe I was just in a weird mood), and I certainly wouldn’t call it perfect – but by the conclusion I was a fan of The Gathering Storm. It’s definitely worth following up on with the sequel, which I believe is coming out later this year.

There was something sneakily cool and unsuspectingly alluring about The Gathering Storm that I simply can’t ignore.

Neither should you, in this bibliophile's opinion!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Inheritance Cycle





The Inheritance Cycle is a fantasy epic for all ages by Christopher Paolini.

Recently the fourth and final novel in the Cycle, Inheritance, was released and I was fortunate enough to receive a copy. The last one I’ve read is Eragon.

I’m probably a bit behind most of you – or all – when it comes to these novels. I’m assuming most of you know that this is a high fantasy journey taking place in another world where we follow Eragon, a Dragon Rider, and his dragon Saphira in their adventures and battles and quests.

Thing is, when I read Eragon quite a long time ago, I really liked it. I especially loved all the times with Saphira as a baby. I can’t help it; I love baby animals (if we can classify dragons as animals) and their relationship with their human. That was sweet. When it got into the higher fantasy stuff, though, I still really enjoyed it but got a bit more confused. I ended up having mixed feelings, but I knew I wanted to continue with series when I got the chance.

From what I’ve heard this saga is a great read. It’s a bestseller and has great reviews. Also, of course, there are some poorer reviews and some cynical comparisons to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Thing is, I can’t add my opinion to the mix. Why?

Because the books are just TOO long!!!

I’d love to be able to catch up by reading Eldest, Brisingr and then finally Inheritance and give you an in-depth personal review (that is, after all, what this blog is all about) – but I have dozens of books to read right now (I’m not even kidding – if I suddenly stop posting reviews, you can pretty much assume I’ve died of suffocation after all of the stacks of books waiting to be reviewed have finally fallen on me) and I can’t justify taking what would be FAR too long to read all three! Each book is between 700 to 900 pages.

So, I am going to have set the Inheritance Cycle aside for now and hope to rejoin the series later on when I have more time and fewer obligations. But I encourage all of you bibliophiles to read the quartet and let me know what you think! Or if you’ve already read them, feel free to start up a conversation about your thoughts in the comments section.

Sadly, I just can’t risk death by book suffocation (though that may be a bibliophile’s preferred way to go in old age) just yet.

See ya on Monday!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Brave New Love: 15 Dystopian Tales of Desire

Today's post is in honor of Ritchie - a cat nearly incomparable in fluffiness, sweetness, and bravery right up to the very end. We had fourteen years with him, and he will be missed with an aching heart for all our lives.

Brave New Love: 15 Dystopian Tales of Desire
is a YA anthology edited by Paula Guran, featuring many authors including Carrie Ryan, Diana Peterfreund, and Jeanne DuPrau.

This book is pretty much summed up in its title. We’ve got fifteen short stories featuring a dystopian world (just in time for The Hunger Games movie) that also give a shot of romance. I don’t want to ruin the fun by giving away any details of the individual stories, as they are short and a little gives away a lot!

What I will say is that Brave New Love is published by the same people that provided us with phenomenal anthologies like Corsets and Clockwork and Kiss Me Deadly, both of which I ADORED. So, even though it’s a different editor this time around, I definitely had high expectations.

Sadly, they weren’t met.

Some of the tales had a magnetic, eerie, interesting core and great start (to name a few I’d mention Berserker Eyes, Now Purple With Love’s Wound, In the Clearing, and The Salt and the Sky) but were either far too short or for some reason weren’t written in a way to feel fulfilled at the end. Some had so many conversations off page, seemingly to make the story shorter, that it was nearly impossible to feel anything for the characters or romances. This, sadly, made for a rather dry read most of the time.

Also, I was rather surprised to find that the vast majority of Brave New Love read more like a GLBT novel than I expected. That’s fine, but it’s not marketed that way – and I personally don’t read much of that genre. It would have been nice, maybe, to know beforehand. Doesn’t really make a big difference to what my main complaints are, but I thought you might like to know.

However, there were a couple of stories that came across stronger, such as Seekers in the City by Jeanne DuPrau and The Up by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Seekers in the City still was a bit lackluster on really giving an intense feeling of dystopia or creativity, but I felt it was successful in giving a general idea of the society and more focus on the characters and longing. I felt more for them than most. Whereas The Up gave a haunting and distressing look at a dystopian future that had a surprise end. Both were far more enjoyable than the others. By far.

There were TWO stories I thought were really fantastic. And, go figure, they are from the authors I am most familiar with in this anthology. Foundlings by Diana Peterfreund had a good, solid, tense start that continued through the end. It gave an attention-grabbing twin dynamic and an original, frightening overall story that I found very satisfying. The Death Eater by Carrie Ryan was just as creepy as the title with a dark, seductive, confusing, but utterly hypnotic tale that was rather open-ended but quite memorable and extremely well-written.

So, out of fifteen stories only four of them I truly found to be enjoyable. I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed. Yet, this is only my opinion. You should always read it for yourself – maybe this will be your favorite anthology!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Illuminate

Illuminate is the first book in a YA contemporary paranormal fantasy series called Gilded Wings by Aimee Agresti.

Haven Terra has always been the shy, smart girl. She has just one friend, the out-and-proud, equally educationally ambitious Dante who also knows what it’s like to be on the outskirts of high school society. So when they both, along with fellow high school student Lance, get a special internship at Chicago’s ritzy Lexington Hotel that’ll look great on their college apps and take the place of school, their companionship helps Haven feel more comfortable leaving home.

When she arrives, though, Haven is stunned to find every single employee is model-worthy attractive. And somehow, Haven’s the super-successful, beautiful, powerful young owner Aurelia Brown’s protégé and the insanely good-looking second-in-command to Aurelia, Lucian Grove, seems to be interested in her. It’s as if she went from ordinary and slightly invisible to a shining star overnight.

Yet even as all the attention is exciting, Haven can’t help but notice that a lot of the other gorgeous employees are oddly blank in their expressions. They’re almost zombies, except pretty. Plus, the hotel’s obsession with being dark and focusing on the Lexington Hotel’s mob-and-murder past is becoming a little disturbing.

However, all of this is easy enough to explain away until Haven begins to discover that these people are not what they claim to be – and they most certainly have very bad plans for not only their unsuspecting guests, but Haven, Dante, and Lance as well.

But will Haven be able to break free of her reluctant, quiet persona long enough to find out exactly what is going on – and stop them before she and her friends might find themselves as well, soulless, as the workers at the Lexington Hotel?

Illuminate had an intriguing start as we are introduced to our soft-spoken, kind-hearted main character Haven. The internship is instantly mysterious and enigmatic, as is (we soon find out) Haven’s origins. But I’ll admit, initially I was having a hard time with Illuminate. I was surprised it seemed to be going a bit slow for me.

There was an interesting tone though – something hypnotizing, if sluggish, about the story and vibe. This helped to keep me patient as a book that reveals much to Haven is brought into the picture – a book that came across as a tad, well, cheesy to me. There are spots that just feel clichéd – yet the ambiance, eerie atmosphere, and potential romance with someone other than stunning but suspicious Lucian (won’t tell you who!) kept me reading.

About halfway through (with it kicking in at around the 150 – 200 page mark) the spooky/weird factor got stronger and the slow burn started to become a smoother, easier read for me. It became much more entertaining and exciting with developments around every corner and some real progression in character and story.

Overall, I ended up really liking Illuminate. It was hard to get into, personally, but with time the creepy turn of events, solid friendships, great good vs. evil stuff, and dashes of romance and destiny made this paranormal journey quite a bit of fun.

I’ll be keeping my open for the next book in the Gilded Wing saga.