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.

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Summer Reading, part 2…

or getting my YA on

Finished Beautiful Creatures last night and can’t wait to get my hands on Beautiful Darkness. I was really surprised that I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I’d been getting away from YA during the last year… I’d had a hard time finding books that I could connect with and was starting to worry that I was losing my youthful whimsy. I haven’t lost it :). Beautiful Creatures drew me in from the start. It’s not perfect—there are some scenes that turned me off, especially the party scene, and it’s YA, so there is bound to be the near insta-love element that is so common in this kind of fiction, but it worked for me.

What I find especially engaging is the way that the Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl evoke the unique character of the South. The individual voices are wonderful–especially among the adults in the book. Who doesn’t love Ethan’s kooky aunts and the magical Amma?–and the settings are nicely rendered and imagined. There is a great atmospheric quality to the narrative that almost reminds me of Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series (without all the minute details).

I was afraid this would be one of those in-the-shadow of Twilight books, but it is most definitely not. The romance between Ethan and Lena is easy and develops naturally, though you know it’s bound to happen the moment they meet and there’s that shock of attraction (and I do mean shock). There’s love and sacrifice, but it’s not a toxic love, and that’s one of the best things I can say about any YA depiction of romance.

Even as I write this, I find myself thinking of The China Garden by Liz Berry, another great YA read about a family curse and one of my favorite books. I’m sure fans of Beautiful Creatures would love it too!

Summer Reading, part 1

or book geek problems…

I love my library, but sometimes I am overwhelmed by the number of holds that I receive at the same time. Like the ones I received this week. I started Clockwork Princess, only to receive Beautiful Creatures a couple of days later… so I had to put CP on hold because BC is a no-renewals, high demand copy. Must read it now, or else! And it is awesome! I’m totally engrossed in the story and so glad I decided to give it a shot. I’m falling in love with YA again this summer.

Now, I’m almost through the book… my reading has slowed to a few stolen moments now that I’m so focused on writing… but now another of my long-time hold requests just came in! Must finish BC and start Bitterblue before I can get back to CP. ZOMG! It’s like a race to finish before my check out period is up.

And let’s not even talk about my getting back to GofT. A Storm of Swords is mocking me with its secrets.

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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.