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.  

more than a pretty face

rillaI did it! After putting it off for years, I finally finished all the Anne books. I have to admit, the books about Anne’s children just do not interest me as much as the books about Anne herself, but I really wanted to get through the whole series. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down and started reading Rilla of Ingleside, and while it wasn’t the most interesting volume in the series, it was alright.

Unlike Anne, Rilla has no ambition to speak of and does not feel ashamed to admit it. She just wants to be pretty and have fun. A little vain and a little proud, Rilla is nonetheless a very loyal sister and friend. At 15, Rilla has nothing on her mind but enjoying herself at her first dance, and that pesky war is not going to ruin her evening.

But when the war truly breaks out and Canada is called upon to send her troops, Rilla finds that there’s more to life than worrying about your lisp when a handsome boy takes you for a moonlit walk.

Like Anne, Rilla is a full of heart and makes the best of any situation. When her brothers leave for Europe to fight, Rilla is left to wait and comfort her mother, but she does not do so with her hands crossed. Though she wants nothing more than to be the wife of Kenneth Ford when he returns from the battlefront, Rilla grows and matures into a capable young woman.

Like many of L.M. Montgomery’s stories, the book is a bit preachy in parts, but the anxiety and terror brought on by the war serves to balance the many references to the divine. Rilla’s story is interesting as an account of the lives of women left at home during WWI. She experiences loss and grief but stands firm to support those she loves, even when the other girls call her cold.

Overall, I liked the book, but I could have done without some of the passages about the Glen St. Mary crowd.

hedgeAfter I finished Rilla, I told myself that I would also finish Robin McKinley’s The Door in the Hedge.

I started this four story collection of fairy tale retellings a few months ago, but didn’t get around to reading the final story until yesterday.

McKinley’s second published book, the collection includes “The Stolen Princess,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Hunting of the Hind,” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”. The characters in the stories are often unnamed, identified by their descriptions and titles and representing the sort of archetypal personalities often featured in traditional fairy tales.

Of the four stories, I enjoyed “The Hunting of the Hind” most of all, but though I like fairy tales, I prefer McKinley’s novels. The stories almost feel incomplete, which might explain why McKinley often notes that her stories have a tendency to turn into full-length novels when she starts to work on a short story collection. The descriptions are lush and airy, almost dreamlike, but I prefer a bit more depth.

That said, I still want to check out Water, and McKinley’s latest addition to the elementals story series, Fire.

Leviathan cometh

Scott Westerfield is going to be reading from Leviathan at Books & Books this Sunday at 6 pm. I so want to go! I’ve never read Westerfield’s novels, but this book has really sparked my interest. Steampunk and a girl a disguised as a boy, this is definitely a book to add to my “to read” list.

If I get to go to the event, I’ll post pictures and such :).

the duchess and the tower

On a quest for strong female characters in fantasy fiction – Part Deux

college of magicsI love a good bildungsroman and if it  breaks the mold of male coming-of-age stories, even better. Caroline Stevermer’s A College of Magics is most assuredly not your typical coming-of-age novel.

Set in an alternate Belle-Époque Europe  where elemental magic can be harnessed by a select few, the novel follows the adventures of Faris Nallaneen, Duchess of Galazon as she  learns the meaning of duty, responsibility, and love.

Shipped off to Greenlaw College until she reaches her majority, Faris is certain that her Uncle Brinker, steward of Galazon, is intent on keeping her out of the way so he can perform his own devious end. A college for the magical education of young women, Greenlaw is protected by powerful wardens that deny the practice of magic on school grounds. In Faris’s opinion, the place is just another finishing school.

Desperate for Galazon, Faris finds an affinity with the prim and anything-but-proper Jane Brailsford, whose friendship keeps Faris from becoming too homesick and forces her to view her duty to Galazon and the magic of Greenlaw in a new light. But there is more to Galazon than skipping class for a pot of tea and three-volume novels in Jane’s study, as Faris soon learns. Making an enemy of Menary Paganell, Faris begins to see that some magic is deadly and there are those who would use it for their advantage.

A dangerous trip across Europe, a magical quest, mysterious characters, and political plots make Faris’s coming-of-age quite an adventure.

death by chocolate

n6955While on my quest for that elusive element in fantasy fiction–the strong female protagonist (or girls who do things)–I was introduced to Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot a magical romance set in Regency era England. Caught up in the magical machinations of their country neighbor, Sir Hilary,  and his sometime co-conspirator, the power-hungry Miranda, cousins Kate and Cecilia find that their entry into society is about to become a lot more interesting.

Forced to stay home in Rushton Manor while Kate has her first Season in London, Cecilia begins a correspondence, keeping Kate abreast of all the happenings in Essex–like the arrival of Miss Dorothea and the appearance of the rude Mr. Tarleton. Meanwhile, Kate finds that there is more to London than balls and dancing when she runs into the vengeful Miranda, who mistakes her for someone named Thomas, and her enchanted chocolate pot. Finding themselves in the middle of an intrigue, Kate and Cecilia learn that sometimes the rules of decorum must be broken… especially if one does not wish to be turned into a tree.

As someone who loves Regency, I found Sorcery & Cecilia to be a delightful read, it’s fun and quirky and makes the idea of sorcery seem entirely plausible. The epistolary form allows for two very distinct voices to come through as Kate and Cecilia recount their adventures (Wrede and Stevermer wrote the novel as a Letter Game that turned into something more), making the novel seem like a  real glimpse of the past.

The novel is followed by two sequels, The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician, also co-authored by Wrede and Stevermer.