Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Conspiracy of Kings - Megan Whalen Turner

Title: A Conspiracy of Kings (Book 4 in The Queen's Thief series)
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 316 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 25, 2010
Finished: July 31, 2010

Sophos, under the guidance of yet another tutor, practices his swordplay and strategizes escape scenarios should his father's villa come under attack. How would he save his mother? His sisters? Himself? Could he reach the horses in time? Where would he go? But nothing prepares him for the day armed men, silent as thieves, swarm the villa courtyard ready to kill, to capture, to kidnap. Sophos, the heir to the throne of Sounis, disappears without a trace.

In Attolia, Eugenides, the new and unlikely king, has never stopped wondering what happened to Sophos. Nor has the Queen of Eddis. They send spies. They pay informants. They appeal to the gods. But as time goes by, it becomes less and less certain that they will ever see their friend alive again.

Across the small peninsula battles are fought, bribes are offered, and conspiracies are set in motion. Darkening the horizon, the Mede Empire threatens, always, from across the sea. And Sophos, anonymous and alone, bides his time. Sophos, drawing on his memories of Gen, Pol, the magus—and Eddis—sets out on an adventure that will change all of their lives forever.

I read the first three books in The Queen's Thief series back in January, and it's quite a unique set of books. Full of political intrigue, themes of appearance versus reality, and a really charming main character named Eugenides ("Gen"), these books really draw the reader in for a satisfying story. However, there were certain sections in each book that I just ended up skipping because they didn't have any impact on the overall plot in my opinion, and didn't detract from my appreciation of the story by skipping them (except in the third book, The King of Attolia, that whole book was just many kinds of awesome from cover to cover). A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. It has the same elements of the previous books and concludes the political story set up over the past three books, except this time it's told from Sophos' point of view, who readers haven't seen since the first book, The Thief. Eddis and Attolia are now allied through the marriage of Eugenides and the Queen of Attolia, but there is still the kingdom of Sounis to consider, as well as the constant threat from the Mede. Sophos, heir to the throne of Sounis, is thrown into chaos when his uncle, the king of Sounis, dies and he becomes the King. He doesn't get a chance to reign however, because he gets captured and held prisoner in his own land. He escapes to Attolia and asks for aid from Eugenides. Thinking of Gen still as his old friend from before either of them were royalty, he is shocked to find that Gen is cold and calculating...or is he?

The narration alternates between Sophos personally and an omnipresent third person, and the part I ended up skipping was the later half of the first section where Sophos describes his imprisonment. It could be that I knew the political climate of the story and thought that part was to the point of overkill...could also be because I just wanted to get to Eugenides, but either way, things picked up when Sophos was in Attolia learning about what it means to be a ruler and reflecting on if he can afford to be true to himself and be a kind ruler or be ruthless and save his kingdom from invasion and civil war. It's that old question of whether it's better to be feared or respected, and it's illustrated quite well here. I think Eddis said it best: "We are not philosophers, we are sovereigns. The rules that govern our behaviour are not the rules for other men, and our honour, I think, is a different thing entirely, difficult for anyone but the historians and the gods to judge." (pg. 295).

If you're looking for a well-written, politically focused high fantasy, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
I think my favourite part of these covers is how you can't see the character's whole face, that and the fancy bordering around the title. And yay for good continuation across all 4 covers.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Numbers - Rachel Ward

Title: Numbers
Author: Rachel Ward
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 20, 2010
Finished: July 25, 2010

From the author's website:
Since her mother’s death, fifteen-year-old Jem has kept a secret. When her eyes meet someone else’s, a number pops into her head – the date on which they will die. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, Jem avoids relationships, but when she meets a boy called Spider, and they plan a day out together, her life takes a new twist and turn. Waiting for the London Eye, she sees everyone in the queue has the same number – something terrible is going to happen.

Numbers is a fast-paced thriller that I would've read in one sitting if I had that much time strung together without life and school getting in the way. The concept was different but intriguing: Jem can see the date of a person's death when she looks them in the eye. As a result of this, she's got a difficult personality and hides behind her hair and inside her hoodie so she doesn't have to look at people. Having a drug addict mother who she found dead from an overdose doesn't help her situation either. Sent from foster homes to schools for troubled kids, Jem is probably one of the most pessimistic and damn prickly characters I've encountered in a long time. I like my characters prickly though, don't ask me why, perhaps it's because I usually encounter the troubled characters in a first person narrative, so you really get to the depth of the character without being overwhelmed by their personality. Granted, I'd probably have some issues if I knew when everyone I loved was going to die. If I knew when my husband or my friends were going to die right from the get-go, I probably wouldn't have gotten married or bothered to befriend people, I'd probably figure "what's the point?". The book raises some interesting points about people being overwhelmed by the thought of dying that they forget to celebrate life, enjoying the friendships and relationships you have with people while they're in the realm of the living, because when you are preoccupied with death, you never truly live.

Jem and Spider are really great characters, I loved it that I never really knew that Spider was black until halfway through the book, not like it mattered, but I liked how the author could describe him without making that an issue. They're both punk streetwise kids, but they have amazing moments of clarity, they surprise me sometimes. The other characters are also surprisingly good. Simon, the young priest at the rectory, was my particular favourite; purely because I love the unabashedly pure and naive characters that so rarely pop up in books anymore because few people can relate such a character in today's cynical world. Originally written in Britain, Numbers already has a sequel released in the UK...I'm actually tempted to order this before they release it out here, simply because the book ended on a really important point and I want to continue with the series.

One of the best Young Adult thrillers I've read in a while. If you're looking for a fast-paced, introspective read, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Usually going for the creepy angle goes for me, but not this one. The huge red eye is just annoying, not to mention not really related to the plot at all, though the fact that the eye is angled so that it stares at the scattered numbers is a nice touch. Compared to the original UK version, for once I prefer what the Brits have.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shiver - Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Shiver (Book 1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic, 2009 (Hardcover)
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Young Adult: Fantasy
Started: July 11, 2010
Finished: July 18, 2010

From the author's website:
For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human... until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

This is one of those books that I avoided reading up to now because it was another supernatural book, werewolves specifically. I'm glad I took the plunge and read it though, this is actually a really well-written story with an intriguing plot. In Mercy Falls, Minnesota, Grace watches the wolves in the woods outside her backyard. One wolf is her wolf, the one with the yellow eyes, the one that saved her from an attack by the other wolves when she was 10. After a local boy is attacked, hunters go after the wolves and Grace's wolf is shot. She finds him injured in her backyard and watches him transform from a wolf to a human with the same yellow eyes. She and Sam instantly connect and she finds out that all the wolves in the woods behind her house were once human. The cold changes them into a wolf and the heat makes them human, but they only have a limited number of years of changing back and forth until they stay a wolf forever. Grace and Sam work together to keep Sam human, to keep Sam Sam.

This book genuinely surprised me. The werewolf plot is executed differently: the idea that temperature makes them change and that they have a finite time of changing before they stay a wolf. The unique take on werewolves alone made me like this book, but the thing that really stands out is Sam. As a character, Grace is nothing really special; but Sam, who is struggling with who he is (human, wolf, or something else), expresses this angst in really poetic ways. He writes songs for Grace, he reads German poetry, he's a literary man-wolf, and he is appealing that way. Sometimes the writing is corny, but most of the time it comes across very nicely. The romance between Grace and Sam is just too darn cute, it's not overly sappy but has the urgency of a "young-love-but-surely-meant-to-be-due-to-cosmic-circumstances" kinda way. One good thing is that the book ends in a way that it could remain a one-shot even though it continues into a series. The second book in the series, Linger, is out this month, so I'll be picking that up to see where the story goes.

If you're looking for a unique, well-written take on the usual supernatural romances, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Love it times infinity. There's something about this particular shade of metallic blue that I love, and the way the vines are arranged and overlap is very attention-grabbing. I also like how you don't immediately notice the wolf in the bottom-right corner at first glance.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2007
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 15, 2010
Finished: July 15, 2010

Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character's art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live.

14-year-old Arnold Spirit (aka Junior), isn't the luckiest person in the world, let alone the Spokane Reservation. Born with hydrocephaly and a host of other medical problems, he's at the bottom of the totem pole at his reservation school (excuse the really bad pun). After realizing that his current situation won't allow him a better life than his family or the rest of the people living on the reservation, he decides to go to school off the reservation and risks alienating himself even more. But he's determined to grow up with hope for something better, and you can't help but cheer for the little guy.

The book is colloquial but extremely poetic, the language of this book is certainly the high point in addition to the illustrations. I didn't even realize there were little doodles and cartoons interspersed until I got a few pages in, which immediately made me think of a sophisticated version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I was so immersed in it I read it in one day in various sittings (I had a lot going on that day). You feel so much for Junior/Arnold, I laughed my head off when he handled his family's poverty and alcoholism with a sense of humour, and I cried for him when the same alcoholism led to tragedy. When you think about it, he perseveres through so much, you forget that the kid's only 14 but has an amazing outlook on things.

The artwork adds a wonderful dimension to the novel, the writing is amazing, the plot is engaging, the characters are lovable, this is book that defies description, you just gotta read it.

This book is a gem, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
Considering that there's not many things that you could really put on the cover of a book like this, they did it really well. The little cowboy and indian figurines remind us of the whole racial dichotomy that runs throughout the book.

Monday, July 12, 2010

By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead - Julie Anne Peters

Title: By The Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Publisher: Hyperion Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 200 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 12, 2010
Finished: July 12, 2010

From the inside cover:
Daelyn Rice is broken beyond repair, and after a string of botched suicide attempts, she's determined to get her death right. She starts visiting a website for "completers"-

While she's on the site, Daelyn blogs about her life, uncovering a history of bullying that goes back to kindergarten. When she's not on the Web, Daelyn's at her private school, where she's known as the freak who doesn't talk.

Then, a boy named Santana begins to sit with her after school while she's waiting to for her parents to pick her up. Even though she's made it clear that she wants to be left alone, Santana won't give up. And it's too late for Daelyn to be letting people into her life. Isn't it?

Like Wintergirls, After, If I Stay, Twisted, and Thirteen Reasons Why, this is one of those books that deals with extremely difficult subject matter; and because of that, it must be read. Daelyn is 15 and bullied to the point where she wants to end her life. She's been contemplating suicide since age 10 and has attempted it numerous times. Her most recent attempt has left her unable to speak, on 24 hour suicide watch, and unable to eat solids. She's decided to make a final attempt, and finds a new website and forum to do research and vent her memories. A boy named Santana shows up at Daelyn's school and genuinely tries to be friends with her, but Daelyn is so mistrusting she ends up ignoring him most of the time, not allowing herself to open up because she honestly thinks everyone is going to be cruel to her. Daelyn's got 23 days until her Day of Determination, the day she will decide whether she wants to go through with it or not. As she counts down the days, she reveals her history of bullying (and sexual assault), some of the recounts were so cruel I almost had to stop reading.

Daelyn reminded me so much of myself at the age of thirteen it was almost eerie (except for the repeated suicide attempts, I wasn't quite that bad). When I was in grade 8, I was at the point where I actually stopped speaking to my classmates because I felt that if I didn't acknowledge them, they wouldn't speak to me, and in turn wouldn't say things to hurt me. Hey, I was thirteen, all teenagers have super-twisted logic. I didn't even begin to open up to new people until grade 9 or 10, mainly because I experienced some of the same kind of bullying as Daelyn and didn't trust other people as far as I could throw them. I loved Daelyn because she reminded me so much of a younger me, but at the same time I wanted to slap her and tell her that there were people that cared about her and to just wait out the hell that is school for some kids until she could find more of those people. You can tell by her attitude that she honestly does want to be happy, but has just given up hope.

This book, like the others I listed above, is so honest and real...and that'll scare people. Some people don't want their teenagers reading books like these because they say it gives them ideas, but I think literature on these types of subjects are just what some kids need, I wish this book was around when I was 12. Granted, there is a lot of disturbing content, Daelyn reads posts on the website she visits that gives explicit details on the different ways to off oneself, but I'm sure it's nothing kids couldn't find on the internet anyway. I loved how the author made the point that the adults involved put the blame on Daelyn for some of the incidents rather than taking it out on the kids at fault, because that happens too, sad and messed up at it may seem. This book is beautiful and terrifying at the same time, but it's one of those books that needs to be read, especially by kids in the middle-school grades where bullying tends to intensify. The book denounces typical anti-bullying measures like peer mediation and zero-tolerance policies, it proves that there's no easy answer to a problem like this. There's also a guide at the back of the book that discusses the warning signs for bullying, suicide etc., and a list of discussion questions as well.

Read it, whether you were bullied or not, whether you have kids or not (but especially if you have kids). Be warned that there is a lot of graphic information on how to kill yourself, so if you think anyone reading this might be on the verge of hurting themselves, please use the book as a teachable moment and discuss that, yes, Daelyn is hurting, but that there are people like Santana that are nice, and those are the people that make your life worth living. If you have a kid that is a bully, use this book to teach them empathy, that their actions have an effect on others, and that they should be kind and civil towards other people whether they're your friend or not.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the rose petals and the bathtub (since that's the method Daelyn wants to use), and Daelyn's pose on the cover is vulnerable yet pensive. Not the best cover they could use, but it does the job.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Awakening - Kelley Armstrong

Title: The Awakening (Book 2 in the Darkest Powers series)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, 2009 (Paperback)
Length: 357 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 2, 2010
Finished: July 11, 2010

From the author's website:
If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I’m as far away from normal as it gets. I'm a living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I can raise the dead without even trying. Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever. I’m running for my life with three of my supernatural friends and we have to find someone who can help us gain our freedom back before the Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying.

Upon reading the second book of the series, I've decided I like these books, if for nothing else than scenes with Chloe and Derek together, I find them irresistible as a couple and I can't really explain why. This book continues with the events at the end of book 1: Chloe captured while the boys are still on the run, but she and Tori manage to escape and meet up with the boys and agree to travel to New York to find a family friend that might help them. I liked this book purely because Chloe and Derek are traveling alone for a good portion of it, I admit the only thing holding my interest is the relationship aspect, I'm not going to deny it. There's also further explanation and development of Chloe and Derek's powers, and with that their character development also. This is a fun little series so far, it's not the best out there but it still manages to peak my interest, so I'll pick up the third book and see yet again where this is going.

If you're a fan of this series, you've read this already. If you haven't read the first book yet, give it a go and follow up with this one.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again with the focus on Chloe's necklace...they even accpunted for the changing colour, nice touch.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Things are going to be a little slow this month...

Hello everyone,

Just a heads up that updates to the blog are going to be a little sparse this month. I'm taking a course for teachers on reading and literacy and I am up to my eyeballs in homework and assignments. I'm still reading my regular books on the side, but my school work has to take priority in this matter. So expect around one review a week until my course finishes at the end of July, after which I'll resume the 2-4 reviews per week that I usually do. This is so hard right now since there are books in my reading pile that I'm literally dying to get at and it's taking so much willpower not to crack them open until I get my quota of homework done each night.

Be sure to enter the contest, it closes on July 10th. Get the details here: Contest!

No one has entered under any of the categories yet, so unless I get a ton of entries real soon, there's a good chance you'll get your pick of books if you enter. C'mon people, free books, enter the contest!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Birthmarked - Caragh M. O'Brien

Title: Birthmarked
Author: Caragh M. O'Brien
Publisher: Roaring Book Press, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 361 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: June 29, 2010
Finished: July 2, 2010

From the author's website:
After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear.
As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.
Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, BIRTHMARKED explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.

Spoilers abound, so tread carefully...
This book has been on my radar since January, mostly because the plot about babies and eugenics is one that I haven't seen yet in a dystopian novel (at least a YA dystopian novel). The only beef I had with this novel was that there were a lot of unanswered questions and plot threads that didn't get resolved by the end of the book, but then I found out this is the first book of a planned trilogy, so with that in mind I have no complaints. Now on to the good stuff. Gaia was trained as a midwife alongside her mother in Wharfton, the town outside the wall, where its citizens must surrender the first 3 babies born each month to the Enclave. After Gaia's first delivery by herself, she returns home to find her parents arrested and a guard that tells her to cooperate with the Enclave when they eventually question her. They are looking for a record of births that Gaia's mother supposedly kept, and it isn't until later on that Gaia realizes why they need it. Apparently the families that settled the Enclave lived inside the wall and made everyone else live outside it. After a lot of inbreeding, the Enclave's children are dying off from hemophilia, and their scientists have discovered that some of the children adopted from outside the wall (the 3 babies a month Gaia and her mother deliver) carry a gene resistant to hemophilia. Thus, the authorities of the Enclave want to track down the real parents of these babies and essentially make them do nothing but keep reproducing and take their babies to be adopted by parents in the Enclave. Gaia is conflicted by this because although the babies taken to live in the Enclave are rescued from the poverty of Wharfton, their real parents are heart-wrenched to give up their babies. That and the whole issue of reproductive slavery is just wrong. The book poses a lot of thought-provoking questions, especially relating to eugenics and reproduction.

The novel is nicely written, and it drew me right in to the point where I couldn't stop reading because I had to find out how things ended. The romantic element was handled well, and I hope the author revisits Gaia trying to track down her older brothers that were adopted into the Enclave because it wasn't touched on that much. Again, things were left open-ended at the end, but there's two more books to resolve everything, so that pacifies me. I'll definitely be picking up the subsequent installments, the story has me hooked.

If you're interested in dystopian fiction with a unique storyline, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it. The blue and gray colour scheme is nice, and the little coloured ribbons at the top resemble a strand of DNA, so it all works well into the story. I also like how you can't see Gaia's left side of her face where her scar is, whereas one of the previous covers kind of ruined the mystery by showing what her scar looked like.