Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Court of Mist and Fury - Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury (sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 626 pages
Genre: Adult/Young Adult, Fantasy
Started: June 15, 2016
Finished: June 29, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court - but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms - and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future - and the future of a world torn apart.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah J. Maas expands Feyre's world beyond even her wildest imagination in this seductive and stunning sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Review:
Oh. My. Stars.

Abso-freaking-lutely phenomenal.

 I thought A Court of Thorns and Roses was good, but this is probably one of the only times in recent memory where I thought a sequel blew the original away, and whooo baby did it ever.

Warning, spoilers likely to follow...

Feyre has been resurrected by the High Lords and is now Fae, complete with powers from each court. About to marry Tamlin, he wants her kept safe after almost losing her to Amarantha, but Feyre is quickly getting cabin fever from not being allowed to hone her new-found abilities or being able to help Tamlin in court. Desperate and unable to be confined to Tamlin's home any longer, Feyre is rescued in a way by her contract with Rhysand, forced to spend a week at a time at the Night Court with him. He offers to help her hone her powers and to teach her how to read and write, which Feyre accepts. When Rhys tells Feyre of the war brewing across the seas which will surely reach them and the mortal realms, Feyre must decide whether she will forsake Tamlin and the Spring Court to align with Rhysand and the Night Court in their efforts to defend against Hybern.

First off, I will forever thank the author for pairing Feyre with Rhys, I love the two of them together, and this book is either fraught with sexual tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, or incredibly steamy sex scenes that will make you blush (so obviously this is not the kind of young adult novel you'd give to a thirteen year old). The interactions between the two of them are amazing due to the witty, biting banter back and forth.

I also appreciate that the beginning of this novel was mostly about Feyre evaluating her situation and trying to figure out what exactly she wants given her new circumstances. She really examines things and comes to the right decision that is truly right for her.

Amren, Cassian, Mor, and Azriel are freaking awesome, the four of them with Rhys and Feyre make an amazing team (Cassian is my personal favourite).

Recommendation:
You must read this, go plow through A Court of Thorns and Roses just so you can read A Court of Mist and Fury.

Thoughts on the cover:
Continuity from the previous cover with a glimpse of Feyre from the side, this time in a blue and black colour scheme, notice the detail of the tattoos on her hand.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Exit, Pursued By A Bear - E.K. Johnston

Title: Exit, Pursued By A Bear
Author: E. K. Johnston
Publisher: Dutton Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 243 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: June 9, 2016
Finished: June 14, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Hermione Winters has been a flyer. She's been captain of her cheerleading team. The envied girlfriend and the undisputed queen of her school. Now it's her last year and those labels are fading fast. In a few months she'll be a different person. She thinks she's ready for whatever comes next.

But then someone puts something in her drink at a party, and in an instant she finds herself wearing new labels, ones she never imagined:

Victim. Survivor. That raped girl.

Even though this was never the future she imagined, one essential thing remains unchanged: Hermione can still call herself Polly Olivier's best friend, and that may be the truest label of all.

Heartbreaking and empowering, Exit, Pursued By a Bear is the story of transcendent friendship in the face of trauma.

Review:
I saw the title and was immediately drawn to this book, then I read the summary and knew I had to read it. Then upon reading it, I discovered the author is Canadian and the story takes place in Southern Ontario where I live, and love the book just that much more.

Hermione is the captain of her well-renowned cheerleading team in her small town. When she and her team arrive at the same cheerleading camp they have attended for the past few years in late summer north of Barrie, they are expecting the usual things: friendly competition between cabins, pep talks, and grueling training. They didn't expect for Hermione to be slipped date rape drugs and raped. In the aftermath of the rape, Hermione is faced with returning to school, how to function after a trauma she doesn't remember experiencing, and how outsiders view the incident as her fault rather than her rapist's.

I loved how the author approached a really difficult subject. Hermione has a lot of support both in the immediate aftermath of the incident and up to a year later: her coach, her friends, her parents, her teachers, her therapist, the police officer in charge of her case, and the hospital and clinic staff. It was a really overall positive portrayal of the aftermath of an experience that most victims do not always have. Polly is a friend that most readers would kill to have, and I think that is the key element in the outcome of Hermione's story, that she has such a fierce advocate in her best friend that can help her weather the rumours and breakups and panic attacks. I particularly enjoyed that the author did make Hermione and Polly have a confrontation with a reporter who makes a comment about "things she could've done to prevent this," and the girls immediately address the inherent sexism in the comment, replying "if I was a boy would you be asking me that?"

The fact that the story takes place locally made me smile. The camp the cheerleading team goes to is in an area I've personally visited, and all the Ontario universities (including both the ones I attended) are mentioned when the characters are deciding which schools to attend after graduation. The local aspect of the story is just an added bonus to an excellent book.

Recommendation:
An excellent book on a delicate subject that's actually explored thoughtfully and positively.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very fitting and dynamic cover.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge

Title: The Lie Tree
Author: Frances Hardinge
Publisher: Amulet Books, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 377 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction, Thriller
Started: June 1, 2016
Finished: June 8, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is modest and well-mannered - a proper young lady who knows her place. But inside, Faith is burning with questions and curiosity. She keeps sharp watch of her surroundings and, therefore, knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing - like the real reason her family fled Kent to the close-knit island of Vane. And that her father's death was no accident.

In pursuit of revenge and justice for the father she idolizes, Faith hunts through his possessions, where she discovers a strange tree. A tree that bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit, in turn, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father's murder. Or, it might lure the murderer directly to Faith herself, for lies - like fires, wild and crackling - quickly take on a life of their own.

Review:
I read the summary for this and knew it was right up my alley, plus the award winner aspect really intrigued me. Thankfully my instincts were right and this little gem of a book really impressed me.

Faith's father is a Reverend and also a budding scientist who's traveled all over Europe and Asia in search of specimens. Faith takes after her father in terms of intellect and natural curiosity, but in Victorian era England, girls are not permitted to engage in scientific pursuits if they want to be thought of as proper young ladies. Faith feels constrained by society's expectations towards her, but has more pressing matters to attend to, like her family's relocation due to scandal, and eventually her father's death. As Faith reads her father's journals and learns about the lie tree, she realizes she may be able to gain proof of her suspicion that her father's death was murder rather than suicide.

First off, I loved all the biblical allusions and allegories in this book. The main protagonist's name is Faith, she has a pet snake, she tends a tree that feeds on lies and produces fruit that when eaten will bestow a truth in the form of a vision. The author includes some great themes of gender expectations and individual versus society as well. This is a great book for discussion and would be a wonderful choice for a classroom across subjects (English, Religion, Philosophy, etc.)

Recommendation:
A great story with an intriguing plot, a likeable heroine, great themes and allusions, in addition to being well-written.

Thoughts on the cover:
Very appropriate and catches your interest.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury, 2012 (Hardcover)
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 17, 2016
Finished: May 30 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King's Champion and be released from prison.

Her name is Celaena Sardothien.

The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her.

And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she'd have again: a friend.

But something evil dwells in the castle - and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival - and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.

Review:
This has been recommended to me so many times (including by other teacher coworkers) so I finally got around to reading this. It isn't as impressive as I anticipated, and I think I'm more of a fan of the author's newest work, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Celaena Sardothien, known as Adarlan's Assassin, is serving a prison sentence in the mines of Endovier when the Crown Prince comes to visit her with news that she has the choice to compete in a series of tests to determine the King's Champion, his own personal assassin, and that if she serves a number of years in this role, she will obtain her freedom. Celaena accepts and travels with the prince, Damian, and the Captain of the Guard, Chaol, to Rifthold, where Damian's father rules Adarlan.

Once the twenty-four contestants have all gathered in Rifthold, the competition begins; however, competitors soon turn up dead, mutilated in the most horrible ways. Celaena realizes that something sinister is at work, and since she is a competitor and also a target, she decides to investigate.

The premise is interesting, and Celaena is a pretty kick-ass heroine, but there were a couple of things that irked me. Celaena is described as being this amazing assassin, but I felt she was too flightly: obsessed with her appearance and lets her guard down easily. Plus, I felt the romance between Celaena and Damian was a little too into insta-love territory, it wasn't really believable, at least in my opinion. Granted, I do like the fact that Celaena is a massive bookworm and spends all her time in the castle's library, so that redeemed her quite a bit, and I do really like Chaol's character.

Recommendation:
I like the author's new series better, but this one is still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I loathe this cover, it makes Celaena look like a beauty queen rather than an assassin. Granted, this is an old cover, and the new cover looks more appropriate (see below).

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Last Dragon - Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay

Title: The Last Dragon
Author: Jane Yolen and Rebecca Guay
Publisher: Dark Horse, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 142 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Started: May 16, 2016
Finished: May 16, 2016

Summary: 
From the back cover:

Two hundred years ago, humans vanquished the dragons of the islands of May. Now, the last of the dragons rises to wreak havoc anew - with only a healer's daughter and a kite-flying would-be hero standing in its way.

Master storyteller Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, Sword of the Rightful King) and celebrated fantasy artist Rebecca Guay (Swamp Thing, Magic: The Gathering) weave a textured and lyrical tale of adventure, homelands, and heroism the hard way.

Review:
Again I'm on a graphic novel kick, plus it's hard to find decent one-shots in this area, so I decided to give this a go.

The story is quite concise and gets right to the point: dragons were once extinct from the islands, but one dragon egg slumbering deep in the ground hatches and the last dragon grows and begins to feed in the neighbouring area, which arouses suspicion from the townspeople. When they finally realize what has been abducting animals and people, the townspeople try to come up with a way to destroy the dragon. They find an impostor hero named Lancot on a neighbouring island and bring him over. When Tansy, the healer's daughter, realizes he isn't really a hero worthy of being their dragon slayer, they formulate a plan to kill the dragon using some ingenuity and healer's knowledge.

The art style is truly gorgeous, which almost makes up for the rushed pace of the story and lack of character development. I get that this is barely 150 pages so some things aren't going to be as developed, but it would be interesting to see this fleshed out so as to make the characters really shine, for example I liked Rosemary, Sage, and Tansy for the little while we did get to see them.


Recommendation:
Rushed plot and the character development is lacking due to the length of the work, but the art is breathtakingly gorgeous so it almost balances out.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not the best indicator of the artist's overall style, but if you do like the cover, the inside art is much better.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories - Moto Hagio

Title: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Author: Moto Hagio
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: May 13, 2016
Finished: May 13, 2016

Summary:
From the back cover:

Forty years ago, the legendary manga artist Moto Hagio reinvented the shoji (girls' comics) genre with an ongoing series of whip smart, psychologically complex, and tenderly poetic stories. Here now, in English for the very first time, as the debut release in Fantagraphics Books' ambitious manga line of graphic novels, are ten of the very best of these tales.

The work in A Drunken Dream and Other Stories spans Hagio's entire career, from 1970's "Bianca" to 2007's "The Willow Tree," and includes the mind-bending, full-colour title story; the famously heartbreaking "Iguana Girl"; and the haunting "The Child Who Comes Home" - as well as "Autumn Journey," "Girl on Porch with Puppy," the eerie conjoined-twins shocker "Hanshin: Half-God," "Angel Mimic," and one of the saddest of all romance stories, "Marie, Ten Years Later."

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is supplemented with a feature-length interview with Hagio, where she discusses her art, her career, and her life with the same combination of wit, candour, and warmth that radiates from every panel of her comics.

Review:
I'm a manga enthusiast, and I'm especially interested in the titles that were big game changers to the genre historically, many of which belong to this particular artist. I have a copy of "The Heart of Thomas" on my shelf (one of her best-known longer works) and have read a few of her shorter pieces before, which I was happy to see here. Her art style is gorgeous, and her stories are exactly as described in the summary: more mature, complex, and not afraid to tackle serious subject matter.

I have my favourites obviously: Angel Mimic and Iguana Girl deal with subject matter you don't often see in comics period, Girl on Porch with Puppy is a bit of a mind-screw, and A Drunken Dream is just stunning, partly because this story is included in full colour.



Recommendation:
If you're interested in shojo manga and want to see pieces from one of the artists that revolutionized the genre, this is a must-read.

Thoughts on the cover:
Freaking gorgeous. The combination of the yellow, white, and gold is stunning; plus the title has that embossed gold leaf that shimmers and creates a nice effect.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Siren - Kiera Cass

Title: The Siren
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: HarperTeen, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 327 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 1, 2016
Finished: May 9, 2016

Summary:
From the inside cover:

Years ago, Kahlen was rescued from drowning by the Ocean. To repay her debt, she has served as a Siren ever since, using her voice to lure countless strangers to their deaths. Though a single word from Kahlen can kill, she can't resist spending her days on land, watching ordinary people and longing for the day when she will be able to speak and laugh and live freely among them again.

Kahlen is resigned to finishing her sentence in solitude...until she meets Akinli. Handsome, caring, and kind, Akinli is everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. And though she can't talk to him, they soon forge a connection neither of them can deny...and Kahlen doesn't want to.

Falling in love with a human breaks all of the Ocean's rules, and if the Ocean discovers Kahlen's feelings, she'll be forced to leave Akinli for good. But for the first time in a lifetime of following the rules, Kahlen is determined to follow her heart.

Review:
This is the same author who wrote the Selection series, which I adore. This is the first book she ever wrote, but wasn't traditionally published until now (obviously because The Selection series was so popular). Thankfully for me that I read the Selection books first, because this one was not as impressive as those.

Kahlen and her family are the victims of a shipwreck in the early twentieth century, inferring from details that the book opens begins during the Depression era. When Kahlen begs to be saved, the Ocean listens and makes her a Siren like those that caused the shipwreck that killed her family. Kahlen and her sisters (fellow Sirens) are beautiful girls (the Ocean doesn't take wives or mothers as Sirens) with voices that lead people to their deaths by drowning, just like the myths. They must orchestrate shipwrecks that give many lives to the Ocean every year or so, which wrack Kahlen with guilt, causing her to make scrapbooks about her many victims. She looks forward to the end of her one hundred year "sentence" when she can return to being human, but the memories of her life as a Siren will fade. When she meets Akinli, a boy at the college in Miami where Kahlen and her sisters are staying, she finally understands why some of her sisters pursue relationships with humans during their service. But when Kahlen actually falls in love with Akinli, she knows she has to forget him or else be destined to see him age while she remains unchanged.

This book had much of the appeal the Selection books had, but wasn't as impressive overall. I liked Kahlen as a character, as well as her sisters (especially Padma), but Akinli fell a little flat. The romance angle felt rushed (hellooooo insta-love), but if you're willing to overlook that then perhaps you'll enjoy this more than I did.

Recommendation:
If you're a fan of the author's Selection series, you might be a bit disappointed with The Siren, but still worth the read in my opinion.

Thoughts on the cover:
Quite pretty and fitting.