On reading the Caster Chronicles

*Warning, this is a reaction to the series as a whole, so there may be SPOILERS*

I decided to read Beautiful Creatures after reading an author interview featuring Kami Garcia and being intrigued by the idea of the book being written as a way to engage students who wanted to read something different from what was being published. I really enjoyed that first novel in the series. I found the writing evocative and lyrical, and was drawn to the characters–especially some of the side characters. Family is a huge part of the Caster Chronicles, as is the idea of the South, and these are two elements that I loved and enjoyed reading throughout the series. Macon and Amma may very well be two of my favorite parental figures in young adult literature. That said, I found myself losing interest in the actual plot after Beautiful Darkness. Beautiful Chaos and Beautiful Redemption kept me reading because I wanted to know how it would come together in the end, but the action felt lacking to me and Abraham and Sarafine were more like caricatures than well-rounded, motivated villains. Just when it seemed like there was more to Sarafine that just being a big baddie, her redemption became lost in a whirl of “I’m going to get you my pretty”. Sarafine’s history, like Genevieve’s, was a deciding factor in many of the events that occur in Lena’s life, but those glimpses of the girl who was rejected by her family were overshadowed by her irrational desire to kill kill kill. The idea that Dark Casters are bad just because they’re Dark Casters didn’t work for me, in the same way that the reason behind Ethan’s decision didn’t work for me. His journey through death and his experience of the afterlife were interesting and had a mythic quality, but the part about Angelus’s involvement in Ethan’s sacrifice lessened it for me. Angelus just didn’t read like a villain to me. Don’t get me wrong, he was evil and full of hate, but it was stark evil without reason. Kind of a let down.

Beautiful Redemption ended well, but I found myself reading just to get to the end. The first part seemed to drag aimlessly until Lena’s book, but the last few chapters reached a satisfying conclusion.

And those are my 2 cents.

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Summer Reading, part 3

or old worlds made new…

I ignored everyone after a certain hour yesterday and read my way through the rest of Bitterblue and then I realized there was no more. Bitterblue, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Kristin Cashore‘s series, is part of the Graceling/Fire realms, and I say realms because each of these novels can be read as a standalone, though they all share some common elements, including characters and settings. Bitterblue brings these two realms together, but can be read on its own (though why would you do that to yourself? Read them all!).

*Warning! Slight spoilers for Graceling and Fire*

bitterblueIn the realm of Bitterblue, there are people with certain powers known as Graces, these are marked by their mismatched eyes. Some of these abilities are overt, like strength or fighting abilities, others are more subtle, like mind-reading and coercion. Not all the Graces are bad, and most are happy enough to shuffle along doing what they will. But there are those who use their powers to achieve their own ends and control others. Such is the case of Leck, whose influence leaves a stain in both the Kingdoms of Graceling and the Dells of Fire.

Bitterblue is Leck’s daughter, Queen of all Monsea, and heiress to a damaged kingdom. Leck’s Grace destroyed the idea of truth and reality in his Kingdom, so that no one can be certain what truly happened during his reign, or just how many atrocities were committed under his power. It is Bitterblue’s most desperate need to make these things right, but being a true Queen means uncovering truths that threaten the well-being of her closest allies, and learning things about her father that she never imagined.

*Spoilers done*

Phew! I try to keep those to a minimum, but some can’t be helped, especially when Leck’s doings are one of the elements that most closely binds these three novels. Bitterblue is a dark story, emotionally harrowing at times, almost in the same way that Robin McKinley’s Deerskin can just tear you apart. Leck is a nasty piece, but there is a method to his madness that is just as harrowing as Bitterblue’s wish to see her world made right because, in his own misguided way, that is what Leck also wanted–to see Monsea and its people turned into his notion of what they should be.

At the same time, there is a thread of hope that keeps Bitterblue from becoming unbearably sad. There are dreams and there is love–a sweet, companionate kind of love that Cashore always gets just right. There are also mysteries that keep you guessing, and a lot of to do about ciphers that are often beyond my ability to follow, but are fun to read about.

This is a young adult novel, but it’s one of those young adult novels that doesn’t pander to teenage daydreams about perfect happy endings. Bitterblue doesn’t expect a perfect happy ending, there’s no marriage and a happily ever after to this fairy tale, but there is an ever after.

tomorrow is another day

The Book of Tomorrow by Cecilia Ahern

A sort of meta-diary, The Book of Tomorrow is the story of Tamara, a teenaged girl who finds herself at a loss after her father’s suicide and bankruptcy brings her life of privilege to a halt. The sort of girl who grew up on a steady stream of lavish parties and Louis Vuitton bags, Tamara is spoiled rotten and superficial, but her father’s death forces her to see past her need for instant gratification. With her mother in a near catatonic state, a silent uncle, and an aunt who tries to fix everything with food, Tamara waits listlessly for her life to return to normal until she finds a very special book–a diary tucked away among the motley collection of novels and biographies that make up the region’s traveling library. What Tamara finds inside the diary is her own story… one day ahead of schedule. What do you do when you have the future in your hands?

The first thing I noticed about The Book of Tomorrow was that it reminded me of Liz Berry’s The China Garden, one of my favorite books. Not only is Tamara a snarky, smart protagonist, she is infinitely curious and more than willing to try to get to the source of a problem, even if it means putting herself in danger. Family secrets, personal turmoil, and a touch of magic instantly drew me into the story. The idea of the diary seemed odd at first, but it worked. Tamara grows as she learns that what will happen tomorrow is not set in stone, and that her actions have very real consequences. The spoiled girl who whined about presents and weekend trips becomes someone who looks beyond money and objects to find her own worth.

This is the sort of novel that can appeal to readers of YA and chick lit alike. A fast pace and good character development add depth to the plot, and the mystery elements turn it into something more than a story about death and redemption.

I received my copy from William Morrow. No payment was received for this review.

creatures of myth and wonder

Prophecy of the Most Beautiful by Diantha Jones

YA Fantasy novels are often inspired by myth and folklore, but it’s not often that one takes on a modern characterization of the Greek gods and their cohorts. Diantha Jones’s Prophecy (part of the new Oracle of Delphi series) does just that, with a side of adventure for good measure. 

Top student Chloe Clever used to be on the right path to graduation, until she started experiencing visions and violent episodes. Already labeled a screw up by her classmates and school administrators, Chloe just wants to get through school without another incident, but the fates just won’t allow it. Beating the vice principal’s son to a pulp Chloe is ready to say goodbye to her final chance and hello to a psych ward, when she finds herself under attack. Facing down a foe straight from one of her nightmarish visions, Chloe’s life suddenly becomes a lot more complicated… just the way the gods like it.

Not only are Chloe’s visions real, she’s the new Oracle of Delphi! Discovering her new role, Chloe teams up with a band of demigods that have vowed to protect her, including the impossible sexy Strafford Law, disgraced Sun Prince. Not only must Chloe learn to use her new-found knowledge of myth, she must decipher the Prophecy of the Most Beautiful she gets herself and her new friends killed. Deadly encounters, vengeful gods, and hot immortals abound.

I found the novel was a bit slow to start, but when Chloe’s power become evident, the action really picked up. Overall, I enjoyed the novel. The action sequences were well-written and fast-paced, and Chloe’s journey into the Billows (a sort of stairway to heaven that takes you wherever it wills) was one of my favorite parts. The Olympians were also well-portrayed in a way that drew on their mythical traits while setting them up as modern rock stars, megalomaniacs, and club owners. Other than a few typos (insignificant enough that they can be overlooked unless you’re a grammar geek), my issues with the narrative are really just pet peeves. For one, I don’t care for descriptions of fashion that are too label-oriented and time-specific. I find that it dates a novel in the long-run. Also, there were several instances when interactions between male characters were described as “queer,” or the males were labeled as “pansies”. Not something I cared for, but might go unnoticed by other readers.

It’s a fun, original YA read that can appeal to fans of urban fantasy similar to Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series or readers who just love mythology. With myth, romance, action, and fashion, there’s a lot for YA readers to love.

You can learn more about the series on Diantha Jones’s homepage: http://www.diantha-jones.com/p/oracle-of-delphi-series.html

Disclaimer: I received my e-copy from Diantha Jones. No payment was received or requested for this review.

Summer of YA – Part 5 (and probably the last)

Pegasus by Robin McKinley

*Waaaah!* Where has my summer gone? I never got to finish going through my self-appointed summer reading list :(. Now the remaining books are just part of the ol’ TBR stack. I sure miss the days when summer reading meant  lying around all summer doing nothing but reading. Enjoy it while you can, kids, because adulthood will destroy your summertime dreams.

So I’m wrapping up this segment with a quick review of Robin McKinley’s Pegasus or, as I like to think of it, the first half of a great story waiting to be revealed.

In its simplest form, Pegasus tells the tale of the special bond between Sylvi, princess of Balsinland, and Ebon, her pegasi soul-mate. But there is always more to McKinley’s narratives than a simple tale of friendship. There are obstacles! Mysteries! Dangerous magics! And so much world-building that the story almost falls flat when you get to the end and realize you’ve been building up to the worst cliff-hanging, middle-of the-story, what-happens-next?! conclusion. I know there must be a perfectly logical reason the publishers decided this novel needed to be split into two parts, but I cannot imagine what this can be. After learning all about the history of the treaty between the pegasi and human kingdoms, their bonds, the difficulties arising from their inability to communicate effectively, and the unique magic of the pegasi’s memory caves, I was finally starting to get into the story, the action was building, and then it just ends. I almost wish I had waited for the second part before reading Pegasus, then I might be able to respond to it as a complete work.

Yes, this is a great story if you enjoy reading about extremely detailed fantasy realms that feature languages all their own. If you’re not into that kind of narrative, or are not already a McKinley fan, I would not recommend starting with this one (at least, not until the second part is published). Try The Hero and the Crown instead. I love McKinley’s novels but this was a hard one for me to get through.

Summer of YA – Part 4

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

With all the fuss involving my non-existent dsl connection and ATT tech support, I completely forgot to post my response to Wildwood Dancing. A fault that I will not rectify 🙂

After reading Daughter of the Forest, I became hooked on Marillier’s works. Her prose and lore is wonderfully original and absorbing, and Wildwood Dancing does not disappoint in this regard.

Based on a number of fairy tales and legends, most notably the Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Frog Prince, and the Romanian legend of the Night People, Wildwood Dancing plays on the traditional coming-of-age theme, so prevalent in young adult novels, while establishing a lore of its own.

Five sisters, Tati, Jena, Paula, Iulia, and Stela are left in the care of their aunt and uncle when their merchant father’s failing health forces him to seek a more temperate clime for the winter. Jena, the cleverest, is left in charge of the estate and family business, but soon finds her position challenged by her cousin Cezar, who thinks it unseemly that Jena and her sisters are granted such freedom and encouraged in their educational endeavors. It doesn’t help that Cezar also abhors all mention of magic, while the girls revel in secret moonlight gatherings with the local faerie court. Adding to the tension, Jena suspects that there is more to Cezar’s attention than mere cousinly concern. Life at Piscu Dracului soon becomes complicated when the past comes back to haunt Cezar and the possibility of a future marked by their cousin’s domineering presence puts the girls’ safety at odds with their beliefs and desires. With her faithful frog, Gogu, in tow, Jena sets out to make things right, even if it means facing the unseen dangers of the forest and its magical denizen. Magic, love, and courage make this a must read fairy tale.

Wildwood Dancing is a slim volume that leaves you wanting more and wondering what Marillier more could have done if the novel had been written for an adult audience. Jena and her sisters are highly individual and, though the action focuses on Jena and Tati, none of the girls become lost in the background. Each of the sisters could have a story of their own, given their unique traits and wants. The threat of Cezar’s bitterness and fear-induced hatred of all things related to the Other Kingdom threatens each girl in her own way, and adds to the sense of desperation and isolation felt by the girls as they are cut off from society as a result of their cousin’s effort to control their lives.

Several subplots are combined to produce a story that is more than its parts. This is not merely a retelling of a single fairy tale, but an entirely new one. The elements of the Frog Prince are no more significant than those of the vampire legend, each supports and develops the plot as a whole. The novel also plays on the notion that desire can have a profound effect on life, no matter how off-handedly a wish might be made. Much of the relationship between Jena and Cezar [and Gogu] is based on a single moment when she and her cousin[s] were asked to request their heart’s desire. While the power of choice is linked to magic in the novel, the consequences of envy, anger, and desire are intensely human.

Wildwood Dancing is an incredibly thought-provoking novel that touches on issues of choice, self, feminism, magic, and more, and I feel this is a highly inadequate representation of it. Seriously, my summary does not even scratch the surface. As a young adult novel, it remains young in its treatment of these issues, but does not disappoint for all that. It’s just the sort of strong girl fairy tale that I love.

According to my searching, there is a sequel that I will soon be seeking.

Summer of YA – Part 3

The list goes on… a couple of quick reactions before I fly off for the weekend.

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

Tallulah is off to live a life of art! Performance art, that is. On the wild and windy moors, she and her friends get up to all manner of antics and boy-watching. It’s a fabulous summer, in spite of Tallulah’s knees.
There isn’t much to say about Withering Heights. It’s a fun read, not as funny as the Georgia Nicolson series, but no one could top Georgia and her disco dancing viking mates. This was a spot of sunshine between two dark books.

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

Just when I thought I had finished one book about an abused princess, I dive into another book about an abused princess. Hush plays on a scene in an Icelandic tale, the Saga of the People of Laxardal, creating a back story for the slave Melkorka, an Irish princess who is taken captive, along with her young sister, by a band of marauders and sold into slavery. The novel reads like a fragment in a larger story, but provides just enough depth and character development to intrigue readers. When Mel and her sister are taken hostage, Mel finds a bit salvation when the master of the slave ship discovers three stork feathers and a gold teething ring in a pouch she carried. The items serve as an amulet against much of the brutality that she would otherwise face. Believing Mel is an “aist”–a stork that shapeshifts into the form of a woman–the slaver comes to regard her with fear and awe. When Mel takes on the “hush,” keeping her silence to maintain her otherworldly appearance and try to save her sister and herself, she finds herself becoming Aist. However, the hush cannot protect her from those who would abuse her, and it is a cruel world that she finds herself in. The brutal realities of being a slave, especially a female slave, are presented in a way that maintains the essence of a slave’s dangerous life, while keeping the details light enough for younger readers.

Summer of YA – Part 2

Deerskin by Robin McKinley

This post will probably contain spoilers, but there is no way to write a reaction/review/discussion on Deerskin without mentioning a few key points. Readers have been warned.

I love Robin McKinley and read every one of her books with a voracious appetite the moment I get them into my hands. That said, I was wary about Deerskin. Not because I doubted that it would be a wonderful bit of storytelling, but because of the subject matter. Deerskin opens with an author’s note:

There is a story by Charles Perrault called Donkeyskin which, because of its subject matter, is often not included in collections of Perrault’s fairy tales. Or, if it does appear, it does so in a bowdlerized state. The original Donkeyskin is where Deerskin began.

Donkeyskin is a troubling fairy tale (read a copy of it here or a synopsis on the wikis) involving a princess’s despair as she tries to save herself from her father’s unnatural desire to marry her. With the aid of a fairy godmother, the princess runs away and conceals herself in a donkeyskin before finding her happy ever after. McKinley’s retelling, as always, adds depth and narrative to a straightforward, if complicated tale.

That’s part of what I was afraid of… to create a fully realized narrative, McKinley explores themes, such as child neglect, incest, rape, violence against women and animals, and deadly despair, that make for a dark, often disturbing tale. The threat of incest in Donkeyskin is fully realized in Deerskin in a scene that is surreal and dreamlike, but no less horrifying for this. Violence and rape are two elements that I often avoid in my reading selections–not because I want to censor my reading experience, but because I find these all too real and hate the idea of anyone being victimized in such a manner, even a fictional character.

Deerskin tells the tale of Princess Lissla Lissar, whose mother is the most beautiful woman in seven kingdoms and whose father won the hand of this woman by accomplishing the most magnificent, impossible feats. Lissar grows up on stories about her extraordinary mother and father, but is rarely tolerated in their presence for more than a few minutes at royal events. Alone with her nursemaid, the princess does not know how to name the relationship she has with her parents, but knows it is not entirely right. As she grows, the Princess fails to fit in among her courtiers, her untrained manner disappointing those who would wish to curry favor with her father and mother. When her mother’s health begins to falter under a mystery ailment, the princess does not know what to feel. Instead, she waits. When the queen orders a portrait to be made of her as she was in her former glory, the king gives in to her wish but begins to go mad with the idea of her dying. When the queen orders the king to remarry after her death, but only to one as magnificent as she, Lissar’s fate is sealed by the curse of her mother’s final request.

The king becomes a madman and vows to marry his daughter, who refuses but does not know how to escape his will. The rest is a violent, bloody encounter that nearly destroys Lissar, who is only saved by her love for Ash, the dog she received as a gift from a foreign prince.

The experience of rape and Lissar’s subsequent quest to save herself, if only for Ash’s sake, are imbued with a sense of urgency and dignity. No time is spent dwelling on the details of Lissar’s victimization, but the idea off its horror is clear. Lissar’s bravery in fighting for Ash’s safety and trying to stop her father from killing her dog and hurting her reveal a side to her character that was not present during her time as a sheltered princess. It lays the foundation for the strong, if haunted woman she becomes in years that follow her escape.

Despite the darkness that marks much of Lissar’s inward narrative, there is a sense of hope and magic behind the story. Adapting the idea of the fairy godmother, McKinley introduces a moon goddess figure, a protector of the weak that intercedes on Lissar’s behalf just when she is about to falter and saves her, offering her salvation by granting her the time she needs to come to terms with the terrible things that happened to her and Ash.

Lissar becomes Deerskin, a goddess-like figure herself, and finds a place where she can thrive among people who accept her without asking questions. There is love and friendship and peace, and Lissar finds herself in a way that is not always idyllic but which earns her respect and acceptance and her own happy ever after, on her terms and no one else’s.

It is a beautiful novel that explores salvation and liberation even as it presents the more troubling elements of rape and violence. These are treated with care and dignity, just as Lissar is treated with respect and honor by her would-be lover upon learning of her past.

Summer of YA, Part 1 – reviews and reactions

And so my summer of YA reading continues…

Matched by Ally Condie

While I enjoyed the character development, I felt that the motivation behind Cassia’s sudden awakening was somewhat lacking. It seemed like a drastic change in a character that was content to be part of the status quo. Though choice is a major element in the story, I found that Cassia’s choice in choosing not to toe the Society’s line was not as believable as Ky’s choice. Overall, I enjoyed the second half of the novel, but not enough to want to read the rest of the series.

 

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare

I read City of Bones when it was first published, mostly because I used to love Cassandra Clare’s HP fanfiction (oh, how I miss the amount of free time I had before college/work/life got in the way). My first reading was a disappointment. The similarities between the novel and CC’s Draco series were too similar and left me feeling cheated.

However, while buying books for a young someone, I kept coming across the series and my curiosity was sparked. Time (and lots of books in between) did plenty to clear my mind and help me overcome the feeling that I was reading something I had read before. City of Bones still felt somewhat familiar, but I found myself engaged in the story and liking the characters. I also found that the plot of the series improved in the sequels, as did the character development, so the story no longer felt like a modified version of an HP fanfic. The urban fantasy elements were integrated in a way that made Clare’s magical version of New York seem almost believable. Folklore, aspects of angel and demonology, myth, and fantasy come together to produce something that could be the lovechild of Buffy, Charmed, and Being Human (the BBC one, not the copycat Syfy one).

I am currently finishing up City of Fallen Angels, which presents a new arc in the series and brings many of the supporting characters to the fore. Because Clare’s supporting characters are often more memorable than her main characters, this has become one of my favorites in the series.

Now, to wait for my library to acquire a copy of City of Lost Souls.  

A summer of YA reading

I’ve been in a YA sort of mood this month… actually, it’s been a while since I’ve been interested in reading YA fiction. I was starting to think I had become a boring grown-up sort of reader, but no such thing after all.

Therefore, in the best tradition of what I do best, I’ve made a list of books culled from my TBR pile and prepared my very own YA Summer Reading List. Best of all, it’s not teacher-assigned 🙂 . No deadlines or book reports for this summer reading list.

  • Matched by Ally Condie
  • Deerskin by Robin McKinley
  • Chime by Franny Billingsley
  • A Song for Summer by Eva Ibhotsen
  • Bachelor Girl by Roger Lea McBride
  • Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
  • Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl 
  •  Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marrilier
  • Runemarks by Joanne Harris
  • Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
  • and the rest of the Mortal Instruments series to be checked out from the library