Sunday, August 29, 2010

East - Edith Pattou

Title: East
Author: Edith Pattou
Publisher: Harcourt, 2005 (Paperback)
Length: 494 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale
Started: August 25, 2010
Finished: August 29, 2010

From the back of the book:
Rose has always been different. Since the day she was born, it was clear she had a special fate. Her superstitious mother keeps the unusual circumstances of Rose's birth a secret, hoping to prevent her adventurous daughter from leaving home...but she can't suppress Rose's true nature forever. So when an enormous white bear shows up one cold autumn evening and asks teenage Rose to come away with him-in exchange for health and prosperity for her ailing family-she readily agrees. Rose travels on the bear's broad back to a distant and empty castle, where she is nightly joined by a mysterious stranger. In discovering his identity, she loses her heart-and finds her purpose-and realizes her journey has only just begun.

I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings, and since I've read most of the Beauty and the Beast retellings out there, I thought I'd move to another favourite: East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The original fairy tale goes as such (my very rough version): girl meets bear, girl goes to castle with bear, girl discovers bear is really a man under an enchantment, girl goes on long journey to rescue bear-man from a troll princess/queen who put him under the enchantment to begin with. I always liked the story because the girl has to be ingenious to go about rescuing the prince rather than the other way around, and like Beauty and the Beast, there's a lot of material to work with as far as retellings go. I've already read Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, so I'll be comparing the two at certain points.

I loved East because of Rose, the narrative, and the plot. Rose was a wonderful heroine, strong, spunky, loyal etc. (all those good traits), so I cared about her and liked her right away. The author structures the story as a string of different first-person perspective entries: Rose, Rose's Father, Neddy (Rose's brother), The White Bear, and the Troll Queen. Most people probably would be apprehensive about this structure, but the author did an amazing job of keeping the voices of all the characters separate and unique so they didn't sound the same but flowed well together. She was also good at making sure you got just enough from each character at a time without overdoing it (except for Rose since she's the main character so she gets more screen time, as it were). I kind of wish we got to know the White Bear better, but more on that later. As for the plot, I'm not a big fan of the whole journey motif, they usually get insanely boring and I usually view them as a detriment to the plot rather than enhancing the plot. Luckily, East doesn't suffer from this; at all the stages of her journey, Rose meets her helper characters and they're all interesting and enhance the plot in their own way. I especially liked Thor and Tuki ^_^ The journey takes up a large portion of the book (about half), so I was pleased that I didn't even notice the book's length (almost 500 pages) while I was reading. Everything was so smooth and seamless, nothing dragged, which was the opposite of what I was expecting. The theme of the compass and cardinal directions was a nice touch too, it kept popping up with all the traveling references (and since it's 15th century Norway, a compass is all they've got) as well as the superstitions of Rose's birth.

The only thing I didn't like about East was what I felt to be a lack of development of the romance and the character of the White Bear himself. He gets the odd section to himself, but most of them are written in poetry rather than prose, so we get a very limited view of his personality and what he's thinking of. There was mention of his animalistic side warring with his human side, possibly winning over in the girls he tried to have break his curse before Rose...did he eat them or what? This is the character-building stuff I'd like to know. In traditional fairy tales you never question why the characters love each other, you go with the flow and what's stated is fact, mostly because the stories are so short. In a fairy tale retelling, I expect some good romantic development; I mean, c'mon, in 500 pages they couldn't delve a little more into why Rose and the White Bear love each other beyond keeping up their end of the bargain they entered into? Ice covered this area nicely, but suffered in other areas (namely the plot and character development in the second half). I'm convinced that if you took the background concept of Ice together with its romantic development and put it together with the plot of East, you'd have an awesome East of the Sun, West of the Moon retelling. I have some more of said retellings on the way, so I'll have some more to compare to in due time. Hopefully I'll find a version I really like that doesn't suffer from one glaring fault.

Excellent example of a well-done fairy tale retelling. If the romance had been handled better, that would've given it the extra push into extraordinary, but oh well, you can't have everything you want in a book.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's okay but not stunning. I do like the way the title font blends in with the cover image so you don't see a stark difference between the image and the font.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Keturah and Lord Death - Martine Leavitt

Title: Keturah and Lord Death
Author: Martine Leavitt
Publisher: Red Deer Press (Fitzhnenry & Whiteside), 2006 (Paperback)
Length: 200 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: August 25, 2010
Finished: August 26, 2010

From the publisher's website:
Keturah Reeve is a beautiful young woman of sixteen who lives with her grandmother in a cottage near the forest owned by Lord Temsland. Keturah is renowned in the village for her captivating storytelling, and this beautifully woven novel is a response to a request from Keturah's eager audience for yet another of her fascinating tales. She tells of her experience of being lost in the forest, her eventual meeting with a dark figure on horseback who is Lord Death and her bargaining with him for her life-and for the lives of the villagers who are threatened by an onset of the plague.

With its richly textured medieval setting, Keturah's story exposes the tensions and desires of the villagers, the dangers that loom in their future and how they place Keturah's life in jeopardy. Keturah's escalating bargains with Lord Death allow her to protect her friends and reveal to them their true talents and destinies. But even as she negotiates with Death, she becomes more isolated from the people she is seeking to protect and seems less and less likely to achieve the dreams of her own heart.

The startling resolution of the novel confirms Martine Leavitt's reputation as a treasure of a writer, a storyteller who can weave magnificent spells. Leavitt confronts readers with issues and revelations that, while they occur in a setting far from their own experience, bear the intimacy of next door.

This book confuses me somewhat, but I know I like it.

Keturah is the village storyteller in a medieval England setting and narrates the tale in the novel around the village campfire, sort of a story within a story. Keturah follows a stag into the forest near her home and gets lost. After three days she is aware she will die, and meets Lord Death. A brooding, lonely man on horseback, she finds Lord Death not all she expected him to be. He is enchanted by her and in exchange for a story, he gives her one more day to live and find her true love, and if she cannot she must finish the story and become his queen. This is complicated further by the fact that Lord Death tells Keturah that plague is coming to her village, so she becomes a Scheherazade of sorts, extending the story night by night, playing on Lord Death's love for her and asking to live one more day so as to save her village and find her true love at the same time. It's a wonderfully written tale with a lot of depth if you choose to read into it.

The writing feels like an old fashioned fairy tale, and the dialogue reads like out of one too, which was cool for me. Keturah is clever and admirable and isn't afraid to speak up, especially considering her life is on the line. Lord Death is an interesting character to say the least, flawed and vulnerable, and shows that he does actually love Keturah considering what he does for her. The secondary characters are nice additions to bulk up the story, they play on typical medieval characters and are likable too.

Here there be Spoilers!
The thing that confuses me is the ending combined with the beginning. In the end, Keturah realizes that only in the presence of Death did she truly love her life, and that she was meant to be his companion. I don't have a beef with who she chose, I quite liked that part of the story since it was the opposite of what I expected to happen and it still felt right. What confused me was that since the prologue has Keturah telling this whole story at the village campfire, it didn't really happen then, did it? So then, is the story supposed to be a metaphor of how Keturah accepts that she must eventually die by accepting Lord Death as a lover? I got so caught up in the story that I forgot that Keturah wasn't telling it as it happened, which is easy to do since all the names of the characters are the same as the people she's entertaining at the campfire, so you know these people can't be listening to the story while getting married to each other at the same time.

I loved this book, even the ending, which some readers might have issues with. It would be interesting to assign this for an English class and see how everyone interprets it.

Thoughts on the cover:

The paperback copy I read has a different cover than the original hardcover. In the paperback copy, the cover depicts Keturah in red off to the right, and you almost don't even see Lord Death in black off to the left because he blends into the trees between them, it's appropriate considering how he is there yet not there in the story. The hardcover copy has Keturah and Lord Death embracing and kissing. I like this one because Lord Death's face is obscured, versus the paperback where you see more of his face but still not enough to really see him.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Title: Mockingjay (Book 3 in The Hunger Games trilogy)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: August 24, 2010
Finished: August 24, 2010

From the inside cover:
Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss' family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans-except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss' willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay-no matter what the personal cost.

Okay, since this is Mockingjay, I'll approach this review in two parts: one without spoilers, and one with. I was going to initially do the review without any spoilers, but after reading to the last page, I couldn't let this post go by without expressing thoughts over how things turned out, this book has drawn out so many varied looking back on your life and realizing when you lost your innocence.

Okay, so this part is spoiler-free, nothing you wouldn't know from reading the above summary or the first chapter. I promise. I'll give you lots of obvious notice when the spoilers will come into play.

The book opens with Katniss walking around the ruins of District 12 after being rescued by the rebels and District 13. She describes the treatments she underwent to recover from her injuries in the Quarter Quell and the state of things: Her family and Gale's are safe, Peeta is in the hands of the Capitol, and the officials of District 13 want her to officially embrace the role of the Mockingjay and incite the rebellion in the remaining districts where they have not yet overthrown Capitol forces. Katniss is mentally unbalanced and feeling betrayed, I don't blame her, so she initially resists what they want her to do. But when she realizes that she has a chance of bringing Peeta back alive if she assists the rebellion, she agrees. She becomes the poster girl of the rebellion, just like she was a pawn in the Hunger Games, so the similarities are funny but sad at the same time. I can't give away too much more without going into spoiler territory, but I can name some things that came to mind as I was reading: deceit, lies, cruelty, soul-crushing decisions, and despair.

This final installment is, to say the least, an experience to read. It has a completely different tone from the first two books, and simply because of that I'm going to say it is the best volume. I didn't think it was possible to top the previous volumes in terms of content and voice, but the author does it, and man, she is not afraid to pull the hard punches. I'm really going to miss this series now that it's officially done, but I'm going to go a step further and say that the whole trilogy should be required reading for high school English classes, simply because of the themes and lessons it the fact that it's one of the best YA titles to come along in years doesn't hurt either.

Okay, so now on to the spoiler part, so please don't read what's below unless you've already read all three books or you just want to have everything spoiled for you.


Okay, on to the spoiler part of the review. Good lord, my first impression was that this book was so, oh so bleak and depressing. Katniss spends most of it in a morphine-induced, nightmare-filled existence, there are so many deaths, and the rebellion turns out to be no better than the Capitol they're trying to displace. Once you get past the first two parts you realize this book isn't going to have a clean ending so to speak, and I kept waiting for the hopeful part that I myself hoped was there somewhere, and I didn't feel any hope at all until the last twenty pages or so.

Very bleak.

I felt angry, not to mention sad at this kind of portrayal, even though this series has dealt with children killing children, horrible governments and the like, there was always some hope....Katniss and Peeta survive their first Hunger Games, the rebellion rescues them from the arena the second time, their families were safe...Mockingjay pulls out all the safeties you thought you had.

Gale turns into a really cruel bastard (I did not see that coming), Peeta gets brainwashed and turns insanely mean, Katniss herself votes to allow captured Capitol children to participate in one final Hunger Games, Prim is killed at the hands of the rebels, and Katniss' own mother essentially abandons her eternally damaged daughter. And that's not even scratching the surface of the cruel crap that goes on, there really are no words for it.

But then I realized what the author was trying to write about: the true effects of war and exactly what it does to people. War is bleak: people die, the survivors have nightmares that they can't escape, and the things you witness are truly ghastly. There is no perfect government, everyone is capable of committing horrendous acts no matter what they claim to want for the good of their people, and Katniss realizes this when she clues into the fact that District 13 and President Coin killed that group of children, including Prim. But what Katniss does realize is, I think, what allows most of us to live with ourselves: that the world will never be perfect and it can be falling down around you, but you need to be able to make peace with yourself and what you've done. That you can obsess over all the bad things, but if you take stock of all the good things, it keeps your hope alive and prevents you from turning into a walking ball of darkness. Katniss has this with Peeta, he represented hope for her, and the fact that she bears his children is proof of that, because everyone knows she didn't want to bring children into a world of the Games.

okay, off my deep-thought sentimental train, cause that train's put me through the ringer tonight, on to random stuff:

- She ended up with Peeta! Ha! I was right ^__^
- I loved the analogy that Katniss used to describe Gale and Peeta and why she made the decision she did (dandelion versus flame)
- loved Castor and Pollux purely for the myth reference...this is from a family that named their dog "Freya" and their computers "Castor" and "Pollux"
- I actually cried once I realized Cinna was actually dead and had no chance of coming back, it was actually hard to read the references to his costumes knowing that that's the only time his name would be mentioned
- loved the hanging tree song, I could actually sing the melody in my head and it came together rather well, unlike Rue's song which I couldn't sing off the top of my head cause the words didn't flow in any melody I could piece together
- the scene with Katniss and Pollux and the mockingjays singing the hanging tree song is one I cannot wait to see filmed well...truly beautiful
- Crazy Cat game = laughs
- loved the "Real or Not Real" game Peeta plays with the others, especially the question he asks Katniss at the end of the book, probably one of the only "awww!" moments of the book
- we finally are why President Snow smells of blood and roses, and it just reinforces that he is one sick bastard
- by the end, Katniss literally is the "girl on fire"
- liked that Prim actually got some character development before she was killed off
- wished Katniss and Peeta's kids had names...
- really really wanted a map of Panem, but looks like we'll never get one -_-
- we finally find out what the heck District 2 does!

Spoiler section complete!

Just read the whole series if you haven't already, trust me, this is mindset-changing, thought provoking material. Keep in mind, this does get very bleak towards the end, so I'd probably not give this to kids younger than high school age unless you want them to become cynical very fast and lose their innocence via book series.

Thoughts on the cover:
All the covers flow in terms of colours and elements, the mockingjay evolves from a pin to an actual bird breaking free of its constraints. Mockingjay is done in a nice shade of blue, and is shiny like Catching Fire's cover was. I also liked how texture was used on the mockingjay image, I kept running my fingers over it.

Mockingjay Midnight Release Party!

All the gear-up for Monday night was well worth it, the Mockingjay midnight release party was well done and uber fun to boot ^_^ First off, I have to say that the staff at Chapters Burlington (my local store) did an amazing job in organizing and executing this event. Everyone was enthusiastic and in costume (they'd get props from me just for going in costume), and everything was handled wonderfully, my nephew and I were out within minutes of midnight, yay for efficiency!

After arriving at 10pm, we were greeted by staff in costume and directed to the central table to pick up our survival passport to sign and take to each of the stations to get stamped. All the completed passports were eligible for a draw to win the first copy of Mockingjay, complete with a signed bookplate by the author! This is significant because the author (Suzanne Collins) has a hand injury and doesn't autograph her books normally (she uses a pre-made signature stamp), but as a special promo for Mockingjay, she personally hand signed numerous book plates (stickers) and one was sent with every event kit that the bookstores having a midnight release party received. Of course neither me or my nephew won it, a lucky girl did, I just hope she realizes the significance of how lucky she was to win that ^^;

Anywhoo, so we went from station to station, starting with Peeta's Bakery where we got to decorate cupcakes. My nephew was looking forward to this the most, so we went there first. Sadly, there was no stamp credit for doing this, but they were darn tasty so we didn't care, we need no incentive to eat cupcakes. We did the trivia stations afterward (Food and Matches) to get our first stamps, and thankfully I reread the books earlier this week, or else I would've been screwed. We went to the Medicine station next, where we had to match the descriptions of the medicinal uses of plants to the physical plants in front of us. Then came the Weapons station where we made knots out of pieces of licorice, that was fun, we ended up helping other people in line cause we clued into the knots pretty fast. Lastly came the Water station, which was a ring toss over full bottles of water. Thankfully we didn't have to actually get a ring over a bottle to get our stamp, or else we would've been there for quite a while, we both admitted we suck at the ring toss ^^;

Here's my completed passport:

After we finished the stations and were entered into the draw, we browsed around since we had lots of time before we had to line up. We went to the tribute preparation station where my nephew got his hair spray painted purple to match his shirt. We went to see Liz, a local artisan who made Hunger Games inspired jewelry! She had Mockingjay pins and necklaces (I bought one of the pins), plus Katniss and Peeta bread/pita keychains (they were squishy ^_^), as well as Rue's necklace, "Peeta's Pearl" necklace, and a "Girl on Fire" necklace. She made such wonderful stuff, I wish I wore more jewelry, but she had plenty of girls buying her pieces. Go see her website if you want to see examples of her wonderful work: Meister Artisan Jewellery

Here's Liz's booth and her awesome Cinna reference:

After buying a book I've been trying to find for a while, as well as The Ask and The Answer finally in paperback (reviewed back in January), we looked at the wall of Hunger Games merchandise including stickers, buttons, mockingjay brooches, magnets, tote bags, bookmarks, bracelets, and the Training Games card game (which we kinda balked at for a while). After that, it was time to line up, so my nephew and I waited for a little while and talked to the other people in line. Right at midnight they started letting people up to cash where they had the books behind the counter. It was all amazingly quick and my nephew an I were out of the store with our copies mere minutes after midnight, so we were happy.

Here's the "stuff shot" from the night: the red bookmarks from Scholastic that they handed out to us in line, the book itself (it matches the shiny look from the other two books, hence the shine on camera), the mockingjay temporary tattoos from the costume station, plus Liz's mockingjay pin from her jewelry booth.

Was also pleased to find out (via bookmarks inserted in copies of Mockingjay) that the same Chapters is hosting another teen preview night like the one I attended back in late April, this time from Simon & Schuster (last time was Harper Teen), so you can bet I'll be going to that one in a couple weeks.

All in all, it was a wonderful night. I only got about 6 chapters into Mockingjay and succumbed to sleep at 3am, but I'll continue reading today, so expect a review either later today or tomorrow.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Title: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest (Book 3 in the Millennium trilogy)
Author: Stieg Larsson
Publisher: Viking Canada, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 563 pages
Genre: Adult; Mystery, True Crime
Started: August 20, 2010
Finished: August 22, 2010

As The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest opens, Lisbeth Salander—the heart and soul of Larsson's two previous novels—is under close supervision in the intensive care unit of a provincial Swedish city hospital. And she's fighting for her life in more ways than one: when she's well enough, she'll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for a triple murder. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will have to prove her innocence, and identify and denounce the corrupt politicians who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to become victims of abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot her revenge—against the man who tried to kill her, and the government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life.

Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now, Lisbeth Salander is ready to fight back.

After reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire back in January, it felt like forever waiting for this last installment to come out domestically, and then after releasing in May, I bought it and it sat on the shelf till now...and that was only because I urgently needed a book to keep my mind off Mockingjay ^^; Not that I don't desperately love these books, I do, but I was bad and let it sit unread for three months, and I will beg the gods of printed material to forgive this injustice.

I loved The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (1st book) and wasn't as nuts about The Girl Who Played With Fire (2nd book), but still enjoyed it. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest essentially combined the elements I loved from the first book with the focus on Salander, which more than makes up for any shortcomings the second book had. I didn't adore The Girl Who Played With Fire simply because I knew the outcome of the plot before it even started...well, not exactly, but I knew Lisbeth didn't commit the murders; so the author goes on for 500 pages explaining exactly how she didn't do it, and I had already lost interest long ago and was only paying attention looking for tidbits of Salander's past. But now in The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest, Salander lies horribly injured in a hospital and only Blomkvist knows exactly what went on with the murders and Zalachenko, so he spends the first chunk of the novel convincing the powers that be that Lisbeth is innocent and that she's the victim of an insanely huge cover-up initiated by corrupt government officials. The government officials don't care about Zalachenko by this point and only want to save face, so there's a lot of stalking, spying, stealing of documents, and the like to try and cover their asses, so you're not quite sure if Salander's going to be the victim of this cover-up again or if Blomkvist is going to put the whole thing to a halt once and for all. Berger's got a nice little backstory with her move from Millennium to the newspaper and the development of a sexual harassment stalker. You can tell the author was gung-ho for feminism and women's rights, 'cause he just hammers that point home with the combination of Salander and Berger's plotlines.

Salander gets a nice chunk of the focus in this book, but not quite as much as with the previous installment, but what time she was featured was good and worth it. Blomkvist is forever the male whore, he sleeps with practically very woman in the series, but he's still lovable and oh so chivalric towards the women he sleeps with, so I'll forgive him. One thing I wish these books included is a glossary of all the characters broken down by what sector they're in (which ones are cops, which ones are SIS etc.) Ironically The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo included a Vanger family tree to keep track of all those characters, but that's the one novel out of the three that I had no problem keeping track of everyone -_- Also, this author was brilliant in how he manages to keep everything woven together without losing momentum and drive, but dangit, he has a habit of exploring every single person's backstory even it if has no bearing on the plot whatsoever....I mean, the man went on for 4 pages on toilets...yes toilets. Not that the toilets didn't factor into some small part of the plot, but it's not like he couldn't have conveyed the same idea in a few sentences as opposed to a few pages.

With a wonderful, creative plot; good pacing (with a tendency however towards verbal diarrhea), amazing characters, and wonderful exploration of the theme of violence and crimes against women, this is one series I'm sad to see finish, especially since the author has passed away, so there won't be any chance of continuation in the future. This is really unfortunate since Lisbeth Salander is probably one of the most brilliant characters I've encountered in a long time, I feel like I actually know her as a person and not just on paper.

If you're like me and loved the first installment but wasn't nuts about the second, be sure to finish up by reading this third and final installment, it makes up for the let-down you get from book 2.

Thoughts on the cover:
This is probably the one I liked best out of the three, possibly because it's shiny, possibly because it incorporates the title in a way that's actually well done.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In Preparation for Mockingjay...

Like everyone else who's knee deep in the world of YA literature, the release of Mockingjay on Tuesday is big news; not quite Harry Potter big, but almost. Well, I can't say that for sure, this is certainly a bigger deal for me than any of the Harry Potter books ever were, but that's just me.

For anyone who's been living under a rock, Mockingjay is the conclusion to Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games released in 2008, Catching Fire in 2009, and finally, Mockingjay). I read the first two books for the first time last year (and back-to-back to boot), to read my reviews on them, see the following links: The Hunger Games Catching Fire

The books are amazing to say the least: I have not encountered a single person who's read them and not fallen in love with them, I have teacher colleagues who are using them in their English classes (for good reasons), and even though the books are YA there are a ton of adults that read them (just like all good YA).

I was giggling with squee-like intensity when I found out my local bookstore was offering a midnight release party, so of course, I am going...and if I see teeny-boppers screaming "Team Gale/Team Peeta!", I will have to seriously fight the urge to smack them, since comparing a decent novel series like this to Twilight is just sacrilege. My local bookstore always puts on really awesome events, so I know myself and my Hunger Games fan of a nephew will have fun, plus I cleared my schedule for Tuesday so I can plow through the thing and get the review posted ASAP (sans spoilers of course).

In preparation for Mockingjay, I did something I have never done...I reread a book (two in this case). I make it a policy of mine not to reread something I've read fairy recently, since I could be reading and discovering something new, and usually I stick to it. However, since reading The Hunger Games and Catching Fire last September, I'd since forgotten basically all the small details...including most of the latter half of Catching Fire, I'm ashamed to admit. So, to ensure I wouldn't be reading Mockingjay with a gobsmacked look on my face because I couldn't remember the events that lead up to it, I reread both books this week, and oh, what an experience it was to repeat.

Some quick thoughts:
(please don't read unless you've read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, cause here there be spoilers)

- it's amazing how many small details you miss when you read first for plot/story. It's probably obvious for most people, but rereading the books made me realize how many nuances I missed a year ago when I first read them.

- I love Cinna, he's my favourite character in the whole series....and I really hope he's not dead, cause that would actually make me cry.

- I really really hope there's an included map of Panem or at least a better description of where all the districts are in relation to the Capitol, 'cause I was racking my brain trying to figure out how much land mass Panem occupies and how people could walk from one district to another in just a few days time....this was mostly brought on by wondering what body of water District 4 bordered on in order for everyone there to become proficient swimmers. I also love how all the existing fan-made maps in the world of the internet are all concentrated strictly in the US even though the author says Panem occupies the ruins of North America...if it occupied strictly the US, she would have said so.

- I'm willing to consider the whole conspiracy theory that Katniss was chosen on purpose as the symbol for the rebellion (the whole scene where Madge gives her the Mockingjay pin just smacks of pre-planning); though there are people out there in the world of the internet that claim that Katniss was groomed for this role since birth and that all the daddies of District 12 were in on it and they specifically groomed their children as tributes in order to subvert the Capitol and all that as is described in the books. I find it hard to believe that any of the fathers would purposely want their children to participate in the games on the off chance that they would win. If anything, I think the whole thing might have started as soon as Katniss volunteered to take Prim's place and people realized she had a chance at winning, hence the Mockingjay pin and Cinna requesting to be stylist for District 12 and so on. And for those people who say that the reaping was rigged in the first place to select Prim so that Katniss would volunteer for her, I would consider that the reapings could be rigged....but then why have the system of tesserae in the first place and give people food in exchange for more entries if you're just going to essentially choose your tributes anyway? It makes no logical sense...

- people who read way too much into books really amuse me (see discussion point on semi-conspiracy theories above). The site where I found most of these is from here: Hogwarts Professor where they discuss everything from their "Pearl Plot" to the alchemical formula employed by the author in constructing the book. If there's one thing I learned from being a literature major and a teacher is that anybody can read and interpret anything from any book. If a person's intelligent enough they can make links to anything from the simplest sentence, so I tend to not pay too much attention to them. Reading between the lines to make sense of themes is one thing (like comparing the Capitol to the United States and the Districts to the rest of the world in terms of wealth and distribution of resources), but when people start referring to Peeta as a Christ-like figure and Katniss as a hermaphroditic entity because Gale (Nature) and Peeta (Spirit) fuel her, I start to turn off. These speculations are very interesting, and are great if you're trying to write some kind of in-depth research paper on symbols and character archetypes of dystopic YA literature, but I'm reading this for pleasure, and perhaps a teeny bit of enlightenment, not to revisit the Christ-like character (I should know, I wrote a few papers on Christ-like characters in university). Over-analyzing something is the best way to kill the enjoyment it brings you...which is the very reason why I can't read simple fairy tales ever again (thank you Children's Lit class for making me equate Little Red Riding Hood with sex-crazed rapist wolves). Plus, Mockingjay isn't even out yet....the author is probably reading posts like these and laughing her ass off at us for trying to interpret something that's completely off base.

- I'm so excited for Mockingjay that I'll actually be happy when it's all over because then I can regain my reading life, which has been on hold because I can't seem to get into any book due to my insane excitement.

- I really, really want a Mockingjay pin like in the books, if for nothing else than to just wear it or put it on a bag and see who knows what it is.

- seeing all these thoughts outside of my head really reinforce how much of my life these books have overtaken this week!

So yes, Mockingjay will be quite the event. Expect a report on the midnight release party I'll be attending Monday night, as well as a review of Mockingjay itself within a day or so of its release.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Iron Daughter - Julie Kagawa

Title: The Iron Daughter (Book 2 in The Iron Fey series)
Author: Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 359 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: August 15, 2010
Finished: August 16, 2010

From the author's website:
Half Summer faery princess, half human, Meghan has never fit in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her. Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.

I liked The Iron King when I read it back in April, I had some issues with the pacing, but I did like it. In early summer, the author also released the free novella, Winter's Passage, that chronicles Meghan and Ash's return to the Winter Court. If you didn't get your hands on Winter's Passage, don't worry, The Iron Daughter recaps a few main ideas in the beginning, so you're not missing anything critical by not reading it. Apparently everyone who's read this second installment loved it more compared to the first...well, I must be weird or something because though it was better in some areas compared to the first, I certainly wasn't overflowing with love for The Iron Daughter.

I'll start with what I liked. Whereas the plot dragged in some areas in The Iron King, The Iron Daughter didn't suffer from that. The plot was constantly changing and evolving, so I had no qualms with that. Plus, the addition of the "in-between" land where they meet Leanansidhe and the musicians and half-breeds was really entertaining. Meghan figuring out how to work the iron glamour was quite clever, and it makes sense that she's not affected by iron the same way the other fey are since she's half human. The secondary characters really make this book: Grim, Puck, Leanansidhe, Ironhorse, etc. steal the show and really make up for what the main characters lack, mainly Meghan and Ash.

I honestly don't get what Meghan sees in Ash. I understand why he's broody and everything, he has a good reason, but he's just soooo emo and compared to Puck, he falls flat half the time. Puck is funny, charming, determined, protective; Meghan is ten kinds of dumb for wanting his royal iciness when Puck is practically throwing himself at her. Also, Meghan turned from a relatively decent heroine into a whiny love-starved moron at some points. She gets so depressed when Ash ignores her at the Winter Court even when he TOLD HER exactly why he had to do it, I wanted to smack her upside the head. Later on Meghan gets better in terms of being less smack worthy, but she still goes on about Ash even though he essentially told her that he has to kill her and can't be with her (regular Romeo and Juliet situation etc.). I don't know if the author just didn't do enough romantic development for Meghan and Ash, but I went through the whole book thinking she went with the wrong guy, which is probably why I didn't feel the love for this installment like all the Ash fangirls out there probably did.

If you liked The Iron King and are on "Team Ash", then you'll probably have all kinds of squeeful love for The Iron Daughter. I still enjoyed it as much as the first one despite my issues with the romance. The final book, The Iron Queen, is out in February 2011, and I will be checking it out to see how things end.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it, very ethereal and floaty and such. I think zooming out a bit on Meghan's face here would've been nice, but altogether very well done (I like the purple colour scheme).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lies - Michael Grant

Title: Lies (Book 3 in the Gone series)
Author: Michael Grant
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 447 pages
Genre: Young Adult: Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Started: August 9, 2010
Finished: August 13, 2010

From the publisher's website:
It's been seven months since all the adults disappeared. Gone.

It happens in one night. A girl who died now walks among the living; Zil and the Human Crew set fire to Perdido Beach; and amid the flames and smoke, Sam sees the figure of the boy he fears the most: Drake. But Drake is dead. Sam and Caine defeated him along with the Darkness—or so they thought.

As Perdido Beach burns, battles rage: Astrid against the Town Council; the Human Crew versus the mutants; and Sam against Drake, who is back from the dead and ready to finish where he and Sam left off. And all the while deadly rumors are raging like the fire itself, spread by the prophetess Orsay and her companion, Nerezza. They say that death is a way to escape the FAYZ. Conditions are worse than ever and kids are desperate to get out. But are they desperate enough to believe that death will set them free?

After reading Gone and Hunger back in May, I knew this series was golden and thanked the gods of printed material that there were 6 planned novels, so thankfully the series wouldn't be over too soon. I was also surprised that the series didn't suffer from the "crappy middle novel" syndrome that so many series have, where the first novel is completely awesome and then you get to the second one (if the series is a trilogy) or whichever installments fall in the middle if it's longer than 3 books, only to find that they suck fro various reasons. I've run into very few series that don't suffer from that, and it's always pleasant to look forward to the next release knowing that it will rock my world as much as the previous ones.

Lies is wonderfully woven, with a bunch of simultaneous events happening all at once, with equal plot lines that all come together in the last hundred pages. Sam is getting tired of the red tape of the town council, where he's asked to take care of things but isn't allowed to take steps to prevent Zil and the Human Crew from wreaking havoc. Astrid is obsessed with doing things according to the book and having rules set up in a place that doesn't really abide by any rules. Brittney seemingly returns from the dead, as does Drake, which makes everyone more than slightly paranoid. Lana is trying to keep the gaiaphage out of her mind; while Orsay is telling kids that their parents are waiting for them beyond the FAYZ wall, and that the only way to escape to the other side is by giving in to the "poof" on their 15th birthday, or through suicide.

The narration is third person, and manages to address each character's perspective so you actually get to the heart of each kid while reading...which is no easy task since there are a lot of characters to keep track of already, and more get added with every book. Just like Hunger, the title expresses the main issue of the book: someone is lying, and you need to figure out who's telling the truth before the FAYZ becomes even more chaotic than it already is. Lies takes on an atmosphere of biblical proportions, to the point where you kind of get uncomfortable reading it because you don't expect religious attitudes like that coming from 14 and 15 year olds. Astrid is disturbed by Orsay telling kids their parents are waiting for them on the other side and the only way to get there is to give into the poof or to die and they reappear on the other side. Since Astrid is uber Christian she is appalled by the idea of suicide, so she instructs the council to spread the word that Orsay is full of it in order to prevent everyone from jumping off a cliff. The town council is uncomfortable with lying, mostly because they understand the FAYZ doesn't comply with normal rules and it's possible that giving into the poof or suicide might actually be the sole way to escape. Brittney being told by her dead brother that she" is an angel of the Lord and must kill the Demon" is freaky, but is explained once you get to the end of the book. A couple characters pop out of nowhere, like Nerezza, Taylor, Sanjit, Virtue, Peace, Pixie, and Bowie. The issue of Nerezza is dealt with, but I'm assuming the others will pop up again.

The end of the book raises more questions than it gives answers, so I can't wait for book 4 (Plague) to come out next year. You finally get some kind of idea of what happened to all the adults, although you're not quite sure if it's true or not, so I figure there are going to be a lot more issues going on in future books now that the kids have a focus other than simply surviving.

If you've read Gone and Hunger, you've already read this by now. If not, read Gone and Hunger and then read Lies!

Thoughts on the cover:
This cover puzzled me, mostly because it wasn't obvious who the kids on the front and back covers were. The boy on the left of the front cover is Sam for sure, cause it's the same kid from the Gone cover. The girl is another story. My first thought was Astrid, but the model doesn't really look like her, so I'm not sure. The back cover is a little easier. The boy and the girl are dirty and gritty, which makes me think the girl is Brittney and the boy is Drake, since they are described as being really dirty when they climb out of the ground after rising from the dead.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wildwood Dancing - Juliet Marillier

Title: Wildwood Dancing
Author: Juliet Marillier
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), 2007 (Hardcover)
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: August 5, 2010
Finished: August 8, 2010

From the author's website:
There are many mysteries within the wildwood. Jena and her sisters share the biggest of all, a fantastic secret that enables them to escape the confines of their everyday life in rural Transylvania. They have kept it hidden for nine long years.

When their father falls ill and must leave their forest home over the winter, Jena and her oldest sister Tati are left in charge. All goes well until a tragic accident allows their over bearing cousin Cezar to take control. The appearance of a mysterious young man in a black coat divides sister from sister, and suddenly Jena finds herself fighting to save all she holds dear. With her constant companion Gogu by her side, she must venture to realms dark and perilous in her quest to preserve, not just those she loves, but her own independence as well.

An adaptation of the Grimm fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Wildwood Dancing came highly recommended as an excellent example of a fairy tale retelling. Wildwood Dancing adds so much to the original fairy tale that it's almost unrecognizable once you start reading it, but I'm not complaining, The Twelve Dancing Princesses didn't exactly have a lot of plot going on to begin with. Jenica ("Jena") and her 4 sisters Tatiana (Tati), Iulia, Paula, and Stela live in renaissance era Transylvania at their castle home, Piscul Dracului. They discover the magical realm of the Wildwood, which they enter from a portal in their bedroom. Years later, the sisters travel to the Wildwood every full moon and dance the night away, always mindful of the rules to keep their feet firmly planted in their own world without getting lost to the temptations of the Wildwood. One winter, their father takes ill and must leave their home to recover, plus their uncle dies from a hunting accident. With both male heads of the family gone, and with their mother long-dead, Jena and her sister Tati are left in charge until their father returns. Their cousin Cezar tries to exert his control over the family since he believes that women are inferior, and also wants to take his revenge on the Wildwood and its supernatural inhabitants for causing the death of his brother Costin 10 years earlier. Jena has other problems too; the Wildwood has been visited by the Night People (read: vampires) and Tati falls madly in love with one of them. Jena knows to leave them well enough alone but fears for Tati and the love that can never be. So between trying to find a suitor so one of the sisters can marry and produce an heir to get rid of Cezar and finding a way to save the Wildwood from their cousin and the Night People, Jena has a lot of issues on her plate.

It took me a while to get into the book, but by the time their father left and the Night People arrive in the Wildwood, I was hooked. I identified with Jena right away since she's the sensible sister, and wanted to slap Tati because she reminded me of a Jane Austen heroine who wastes away due to love....I hate Jane Austen heroines. I loved the plight of the sisters because they wanted to keep the independence their father allowed them, and were even willing to find a husband and get pregnant to do so....kind of ironic, but it's the 1500's, I'll forgive them. The Night People were a nice addition and were traditional vampires instead of the feminized vampires of YA books of late, plus Tadeusz was just brilliantly nasty, I loved him. Having Gogu as the little sidekick was super cute, especially since he was a frog, who doesn't love a good talking animal sidekick? The story is wonderfully crafted, the prose is beautiful, and the characters are endearing, all in all an excellent fairy tale retelling, same verdict as everyone else who's read this book.

If you're in the mood for a good example of a fairy tale retelling, read this! This story would appeal to anyone even if you're not a fan of traditional fairy tales since there's so much more content added here.

Thoughts on the cover:
Gorgeous. Every piece of the cover means something, so I ended up flipping back and forth every time I read something that I remembered seeing in the cover image.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Vinyl Princess - Yvonne Prinz

Title: The Vinyl Princess
Author: Yvonne Prinz
Publisher: Harper Trophy Canada, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 313 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 27, 2010
Finished: August 4, 2010

From the publisher's website:
Summer is here, and 16-year-old Allie, a self-professed music geek, is exactly where she wants to be: working full-time at Berkeley’s ultra-cool Bob and Bob Records. There, Allie can spend her days bantering with the street people, talking the talk with the staff, shepherding the uncool bridge-and-tunnel shoppers, all the while blissfully surrounded by music, music, music. It’s the perfect setup for her to develop her secret identity as The Vinyl Princess, author of both a brand-new zine and blog. From the safety of her favourite place on earth, Allie is poised to have it all: love, music and blogging.
Her mother, though, is actually the one getting the dates, and business at Allie’s beloved record store is becoming dangerously slow—not to mention that there have been a string of robberies in the neighbourhood. At least her blog seems to be gaining interest, one vinyl junkie at a time….

I can't remember the last time I read two books back to back that I happened to love, so this is new for me.This book is so amazingly wonderful and quirky, I fell in love with it. I had heard things about The Vinyl Princess but was reluctant to pick it up because I'm the furthest thing from a vinyl enthusiast...I eagerly embraced iTunes like it was the best invention since the printing press, so according to the book I'd be a mega blasphemer. However, the soul of this book is Allie and her music, and even though I only got about a quarter of the music references in the book (I love my music, I'm just really really eclectic in my tastes), it didn't detract from my appreciation of the content. You don't need to love Allie's music to like the story, you just need to like music period. This book didn't really develop an actual problem until more than halfway through the book, but I didn't care, I could've read about the daily exploits of Allie, her family, and Bob and Bob's until I developed a headache from eyestrain, all the characters were just so appealing and relatable. And quirky too, I love my characters with really unique traits I can identify after only a few pages. This book had me laughing too, I quoted parts out of it for my husband and he loved it as well. If I wasn't reading two other books at the same time as this one, I would've plowed through it in one go, it was that engaging; the writing is witty, the characters feel like old friends, and tons of music. I loved this book even more because it managed to work in a Willy Deville/Princess Bride reference! "Storybook Love" by Willy Deville (the theme song for The Princess Bride) was one of my wedding songs, so I was amazed to see it in passing while reading.

If you are a music lover at heart and the soul to go with it, read this!

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the headphones and the headbanger pose, it's the perfect image for this type of book. The only thing I don't like is the look of the model, she looks prissy and it even says in the novel that Allie doesn't wear makeup; so in my opinion if you cover up the model's face, you have the perfect cover.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Grimm Legacy - Polly Shulman

Title: The Grimm Legacy
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Putnum (Penguin), 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 325 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Started: July 31, 2010
Finished: August 2, 2010

From the author's website:
What if fairy tale magic really existed?

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as pocket money. The Repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books—everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves—or the thief captures them.

Anytime I read a book that takes place in a library, there's a really good chance I'll love it to pieces. The Grimm Legacy is just such a book. Elizabeth Rew's situation may as well be from a fairy tale: her mother has passed away, her father has forgotten she exists, her stepmother ignores her, her stepsisters are thankfully away at college, and she's had to switch schools in order for the family to afford tuition for said stepsisters. After she writes a paper on the Brothers Grimm for her social studies class, Elizabeth gets an unusual job offer to work as a page at the New York Circulating Material Repository, a library of objects rather than books (eg. Marie Antoinette's wig, Abe Lincoln's hat). She is soon told of an even more unusual part of the repository: the Grimm Collection. Flying carpets, Sleeping Beauty's spindle, the magic mirror from Snow White, boots that allow you to walk seven leagues in a step, all of these and more are found in this secret collection. When it is discovered that someone, or something, is stealing the magical objects form the Grimm Collection and replacing them with non-magical fakes, Elizabeth and the other pages, Aaron, Anjali, and Marc, set out to find the culprit.

I can't express how much I adored this book. The story comes together kind of conveniently and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going to happen, but this is one of those cases where the beauty of the story is in the details and the world building rather than the plot itself. The author could've written a book just about the repository without any traditional plot and I would've loved it: the setting and the whole build-up of the library is just astounding, it make the geek in me giddy. I would've appreciated an appendix of the call system they use and all the objects they mentioned in the book, just because they mention so many things in passing, but again that's the geek in me that likes appendices and glossaries and indexes. Aside from the setting (which I could go on about forever), the characters were really appealing. Elizabeth is a typical female protagonist, she's smart and likeable, though there were a few times I wanted to smack her on the head and tell her to smarten up and just listen to Aaron. Aaron on the other hand is caustic and incorrigible (and a bit of an ass), but in a charming way; he reminded me a lot of my husband, he may as well of been the teenage version of him. The adult characters were well written too: Mr. Mauskopf and Dr. Rust reminded me of your stereotypical sweet, academic professor types, so I loved them automatically, and Ms. Callender is just sweet period. The other thing I liked was the fact that the cast of characters are multi-cultural: Marc is black, and his little brother Andre is just the cutest thing ever; and Anjali and her sister Jaya are Indian.

Not only are the characters likeable and the setting is something out of my best daydreams, but the writing's good too. When I finished the book, I was, and still am, willing to give my right arm for this to be made into a series (it's just a one-shot so far), this book just begs to be continued. Also, a thank you to the author for the stained glass windows and elaborating on The Garden of Seasons, it's like she read my mind!

Just read this, trust me.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the cover, but it doesn't really fit the feel of the story, this cover seems appropriate for a darker book, but I didn't think it appropriate, though it is pretty. Also, my mind just wants to call this novel The Grimm Collection instead of The Grimm Legacy; the given title, like the cover, doesn't feel appropriate for the story....but it could be just because they refer to the Grimm Collection so many times it just becomes the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the book itself.