Monday, March 28, 2011

Kat, Incorrigible - Stephanie Burgis

Title: Kat, Incorrigible
Author: Stephanie Burgis
Publisher: Atheneum (Simon & Schuster), April 5, 2011 (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Started: March 27, 2011
Finished: March 28, 2011

From the author's website:
At twelve years old, any proper young lady should be sitting quietly at home, practicing her embroidery, learning French, and keeping her mouth closed and her opinions to herself.

But Kat Stephenson is no ordinary young lady.

Kat's father may be a respectable vicar, but her late mother was a notorious witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and Kat herself is the newest target of an ancient and secretive magical Order.

Now Kat's ready to do whatever it takes to win all three of her older siblings their true loves, even if she has to battle highwaymen, practise magic, and break all of Society's rules along the way.

In a nutshell, think of Kat, Incorrigible as Pride and Prejudice for the younger set, with a sprinkling of magic added.

It's 1803 in England, and Katherine (Kat) Stephenson and her family are in trouble. Her older brother Charles has gambled the family into ruin, prompting their stepmother to marry off eldest sister Elissa to a rich suitor despite the scandalous gossip surrounding him. Kat's other sister Angeline has found her way into their late mother's magic books, performing dangerous love spells to deliver her escape from the family's situation. When Kat discovers she is the heir to her mother's pure magical talent, not the witch magic her mother practiced, she is wary to say the least. Reluctant to apprentice to the Order that expelled her mother, she tries to avoid the Order's representatives while trying to arrange unions of true love for her siblings. Obviously Kat does this without any regard to propriety and ladylike behaviour, a great contrast to her stepmother and older sisters, which is the reason why this book is so charming.

Kat, Incorrigible abounds with witty dialogue due to the setting. Regency-era England is a wonderful time period for vocabulary and dialogue, and the author proves herself excellent in this area. Kat is the main reason for me liking the book, since the whole plot concept of marrying off older sisters purely for money to save the family is one I never tolerated, however historically accurate, hence my dislike for pretty much anything Jane Austen wrote. People that are Austen fans and want their daughters to share the love will want to pick this up purely for that reason, it's seriously Austen-esque. Even if you're not an Austen-type enthusiast, this book is worth picking up purely because of Kat. She's feisty, wants to do the right thing regardless of propriety, and isn't afraid to tell people when they're acting like idiots. The whole magic element doesn't play in as much as I thought it would, it's more Kat interacting in social situations with literally a sprinkling of the magic sub-plot, hence why I think of this as historical fiction as well as fantasy. I'm assuming the magic will play more of a role in the future books. Since this was previously published in the UK, the second book is due out in the UK this summer, whereas we won't see it here domestically until Spring 2012, so if you're a fan, look into picking these up via or The Book Depository to avoid the extra wait.

Jane Austen for the kiddies with magic injected. If you're not an Austen fan, you'll still want to give this a read purely because Kat is an awesome character.

Thoughts on the cover:
Super charming, I love the art style. Although Kat doesn't actually pour tea like that in the book (it's actually something that their mother was said to have done), it's a good illustration of the magic element. Elissa and Angeline are supposed to be pictured on the back cover at the other end of the settee; hopefully they do make it to the final cover because the whole image from back to front cover is quite nice.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

White Cat - Holly Black

Title: White Cat (Book 1 in the Curse Workers series)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: March 24, 2011
Finished: March 27, 2011

From the inside cover:
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.

I'll warn you, I might be a little biased here because I'm not a big fan of Holly Black's writing style, but I wanted to give White Cat a read because I thought the premise sounded amazing.

Cassel lives in a world where people called 'workers' can cast spells and curses by touching someone; they can make you fall in love with someone and surrender all your money, beat up another person, erase and manipulate memories, and even kill. As a result, workers are looked upon as criminals (curses are illegal), forming mobster-like crime families to survive. People wear gloves to protect themselves from a worker's touch, to the point where bare hands are almost obscene. Cassel's whole family of workers serves one of the big crime families, with his brothers deeply involved in illegal activities. Cassel isn't a worker, so he struggles with his status as an outcast and tries to fit into normal society. Plus there's the whole killing his friend thing that hangs over him, poor boy's got a complex. When Cassel notices his brothers' weird behaviours, he decides to investigate what he remembers about his past and uncovers some startling secrets.

This book really didn't do it for me, mainly because I honestly didn't care about Cassel. Sure, I liked the kid, but I didn't get the feeling like he was completely broken over Lila's death and his involvement, and didn't feel he was completely hard done by. I think if Cassel had be portrayed in a more sympathetic manner I'd have cared more. The other thing was that although I loved the world setup, there wasn't a lot of explanation given to how everything worked right away....I was kind of confused for the first few chapters. You do get the information in bits and pieces later on, but I personally would've liked it up front. The plot kept me interested, but it never really made me emotionally involved with the characters, so I only kept reading to see if my predications about the plot were right (they were).

It has a good plot with an excellent premise, but flat characters failed to make this a complete package for me. Fans of Holly Black will likely think differently, but that's just my opinion.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how Cassel's eyes are obscured...that's pretty much it. The cover for the sequel, Red Glove, is a little more impressive.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Blood Red Road - Moira Young

Title: Blood Red Road (Book 1 in the Dustlands series)
Author: Moira Young
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 7, 2011 (Hardcover) (Review copy is an ARC from the publisher)
Length: 512 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian Fiction
Started: March 16, 2011
Finished: March 21, 2011

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.
Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she's a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.

Blood Red Road is another highly anticipated upcoming YA dystopian title, so I was over the moon at being able to read it before its June release.

18-year-old Saba lives with her father, twin brother Lugh, and 9-year-old little sister Emmi in their isolated home at Silverlake. In a future where the entire world is desolate, desert-like, and ravaged by sandstorms, Saba is completely content with life as long as she's with Lugh. When Lugh is kidnapped and their father is killed by raiders called Tontons, Saba and Emmi set out to rescue their brother. Through the various trials and tribulations along the way, Saba truly comes into her own without her brother to depend on, and man is she awesome. Saba is a fiery fighter, letting what she calls the "red hot" overcome her to defeat her enemies either in a gladiator-like episode that earns her the nickname "Angel of Death" to an amazing scene battling giant mutated worms. Blood Red Road isn't as much about rescuing Lugh as it is about Saba's growth as a person: she learns to have her own identity outside of being Lugh's twin sister, she learns to love Emmi like a true sister, and learns to love others period. Coupled with intense action, this makes Blood Red Road an addicting read.

Blood Red Road is written in Saba's first person point of view, and since Saba is illiterate, the book is done completely in dialect. The dialect here did take me some time to get used to, that I'll admit. The coarseness of it, and the constant short, clipped sentences grated on me for a while until I just got used to it, so that might be an issue for some readers. Unlike many of the recent YA dystopian titles that deal with a highly organized, very science-fiction based universe, Blood Red Road is as gritty and raw as you can get: the characters wear rags and depend on herbs for medicine, slavery is a very real concern for the characters, and the written word is so rare that practically no one is literate. It almost reads like a fantasy rather than a dystopian. The author does do a wonderful job of describing the atmosphere and setting of Saba's world, even using Saba's limited language, but I think that's what makes the descriptions so real is the toned-down simplicity of Saba's language.

Some of the character personalities are cliched, like Jack and Ike, but they are very likable characters nonetheless. Plus there's Nero, I dare people to not like a crow that acts like a human. I like the change in Saba's character as the story progresses, but I think the transition could've been handled a little bit better as it seemed rushed to me. The romance is a complete cliche, the typical "I really like you but I'm going to act like I hate your guts" kind of thing, and it's sooooo predictable but my annoyance was lessened by the fact that I really liked Jack as a character (cliche though he was). Plus I loved the song Jack sings to Saba later on in the book, I could almost feel the emotions of the scene in my head.

This is the first book in a series (not sure if it's a trilogy or more), but the author does a nice job of making the book stand alone without an insane cliff-hanger that will make you scream for the next book. I'll definitely be putting this series on my radar for future purchases though, it was really enjoyable.

A gritty, action-adventure dystopian that focuses on the journey/quest motif with a wonderful setting and likable characters. The dialect might take readers a while to get used to, but it has its charm. If you're looking for something different in the YA dystopian genre, read this when it's released in June, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thoughts on the cover:
The reds, browns, and grays work nicely here, and I like the texture shown in the title. I like the image of Saba walking through the dust-cloud in the desert.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Mockingbirds - Daisy Whitney

Title: The Mockingbirds
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown And Company, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 332 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 16, 2011
Finished: March 19, 2011

From the inside cover:
Some schools have honor codes.
Others have handbooks.
Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way--the Themis Way. So when Alex Patrick is date-raped during her junior year, she has two options: stay silent and hope someone helps, or enlist the aid of the Mockingbirds--a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of the student body.

In this account of a teenage girl's search to find her voice and the courage to use it, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that standing up for someone, especially yourself, is worth the fight.

When Alex wakes up in the bedroom of a boy she barely knows and doesn't remember the previous night, she knows something's not right. Only after putting the pieces together and remembering fragments does Alex realize she'd been raped the night before. Not wanting to go to the police but wanting to do something, Alex seeks the aid of the Mockingbirds, a group formed by Alex's older sister Casey to right the wrongs committed by Themis students.

This book is a page-turner to say the least, I read more than half of it in one sitting because it was just that engrossing. Alex big into classical music, and the author uses Alex's love for music as an indicator of how her mental state is affected by the rape, since she feels her music is ruined now and she cannot enjoy it as much as before. Wanting to reclaim the hold music used to have on her is one of the reasons why Alex decides to take action against Carter, the boy who raped her. I love how the Mockingbirds were set up, they use a ton of checks and balances in their almost trial-like system of punishment to make sure everything is done without bias and in a way that's fair to everyone. Plus the whole concept of the Mockingbirds is based on the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird, which rocks my socks. The themes of taking a stand and speaking up for what is right and not being a bystander are important and well illustrated here.

The writing isn't anything to write home about, but the plot and themes are outstanding and the plight of the characters will have you glued to the pages.

Thoughts on the cover:
Nice little illustration based off the Mockingbird pictured in the group's flyers (or so I assume).

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Mermaid's Mirror - L.K. Madigan

Title: The Mermaid's Mirror
Author: L.K. Madigan
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 308 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: March 11, 2011
Finished: March 14, 2011

From the inside cover:
Lena has lived her whole life near the beach — walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves — the problem is, she’s spent her whole life just watching.
As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Lena vows she will no longer watch from the sand: she will learn to surf.

But her father — a former surfer himself — refuses to allow her to take lessons. After his near drowning years ago, he can’t bear to let Lena take up the risky sport.

Yet something keeps drawing Lena to the water . . . an ancient, powerful magic. And one morning Lena catches sight of this magic: a beautiful woman — with a silvery tail.

Now nothing can stop Lena from seeking the mermaid, not even the dangerous waves at Magic Crescent Cove.

And soon . . . what she sees in the mermaid’s mirror will change her life forever.

Selena (Lena) longs for the sea that her family lives by, but her father won't let her learn to surf despite once being an avid surfer himself. Combined with discoveries Lena makes about her birthmother, it becomes obvious exactly why Lena's dad avoids the ocean.

The Mermaid's Mirror is similar to the selkie legends of Ireland/Scotland/Wales, if you're familiar with them. There are variations in different cultures too, Japan has a version where the creature is called a Tennyo, and doesn't hail from the sea, but from heaven. If you know these types of stories, it's obvious early on what the plot is and the circumstances behind Lena's mother's death/disappearance.

The early part of the book where Lena is uncovering this family secret and learning to surf is a little on the boring side, mainly because I have no interest in surfing and knew what the secret was, so I just wanted to get to the aftermath. Luckily for me, the aftermath of the secret and what happens to Lena is what makes this book wonderful. Even though the selkie legend forms a base for this story, the author went beyond to explore what would happen afterwards. The mermaid world she creates is wonderfully imaginative and different from typical mermaid myths/legends that we might already be familiar with. The ending felt bittersweet for me, it's what I felt Lena needed but was sad about it nonetheless. Sadly, the author was intending to write a sequel to The Mermaid's Mirror but has since passed away, so we'll never really know what might have happened after the ending.

Wonderful story with a basis in existing legend that's a little slow to start, but the second half is worth the wait.

Thoughts on the cover:
Eh, it's not bad. It works for the story, but there's so much that could've been done with this cover to make it look amazing (like an underwater scene with a person that may or may not be a mermaid).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Slow Month Ahoy!

Hi everyone,

Just a heads up that March will be a bit slow in terms of reviews, as is already evident ^^;

My husband and I are in the midst of an adoption process, so we've had other things on our minds, mainly books on adoption. Plus our homestudy has taken on a life of it's own and we've been devoting a lot of spare time to it. March is a bit of a crunch month for said process, so I'm going to do my best to update at least once a week, but be sure to expect the usual 2-3 reviews per month after March is over ^_^

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Thirteen Secrets - Michelle Harrison

Title: The Thirteen Secrets (Book 3 in The Thirteen Treasures series)
Author: Michelle Harrison
Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Children's Fantasy
Started: March 3, 2011
Finished: March 10, 2011

From the back of the book:
Red is now living at Elvesden Manor under her real name, Rowan, and trying to put the past behind her. But staying on the straight and narrow isn't as easy as she had hoped. Hounded by those who would like her to participate once more in the changeling trade, Rowan is also haunted by dreams of the Hedgewitch's cottage and the chained-up Eldritch, who swore revenge when she left him there. Her past is about to catch up with her - but can she, Tanya, and Fabian prevent it consuming her altogether?

After reading The Thirtten Treasures and The Thirteen Curses, I knew this was one series that was pure gold in a sea of mediocre children's fantasy novels. The final book, The Thirteen Secrets, is no different, it's probably the best book out of the three.

Picking up several months after the events of The Thirteen Curses (book 2), you begin by exploring what Red/Rowan, Tanya and Fabian are up to at the beginning of summer vacation. Soon Rowan is caught up in her old changeling trade contracts, including Sparrow (I love that character), and the whole trio becomes involved in the usual fairy business, except this time everything is even darker than before (I'm talking character deaths here). I'm not going to say much more for fear of spoilers, but the book starts off slow similarly to The Thirteen Treasures and picks up considerably after about 200 pages. The ensuing plot's varying degrees of awesomeness more than makes up for the slow start.

This is a children's fantasy series that is delightfully dark and mature, yet still appropriate for middle-grade readers and teens, with amazing well-developed characters (both human and supernatural). Plus the author's writing style is pretty good too, I'll be on the lookout for the next thing she writes, hopefully it's as good as this series.

A million times yes, read all three of the books in this series, order them from the UK (books 2 and 3 aren't available in the US/Canada yet), it's so worth the effort of importing them!

Thoughts on the cover:
My favourite of the three. The '13' is done to look like iron/metal with crystals in it, with a mostly purple and grey colour scheme with a shot of green. My copy was sparkly/shimmery too, not sure if this was just for this third book or if the other two received this treatment for first edition copies (my copies of the first two books were later printings).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Blue So Dark - Holly Schindler

Title: A Blue So Dark
Author: Holly Schindler
Publisher: Flux, 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 266 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: March 2, 2011
Finished: March 2, 2011

From the inside of the book:
Fifteen-year-old Aura Ambrose has been hiding a secret. Her mother, a talented artist and art teacher, is slowly being consumed by schizophrenia, and Aura has been her sole caretaker ever since Aura’s dad left them. Convinced that “creative” equals crazy, Aura shuns her own artistic talent. But as her mother sinks deeper into the darkness of mental illness, the hunger for a creative outlet draws Aura toward the depths of her imagination. Just as desperation threatens to swallow her whole, Aura discovers that art, love, and family are profoundly linked—and together may offer an escape from her fears.

I love realistic fiction books that deal with heavy subject matter like this, I think they're necessary for kids purely because the subject matter doesn't show up too often.

Aura Ambrose is nearly 16 and her family's falling apart. Her mother is suffering from schizophrenia and her father has left them and since remarried, leaving Aura in the role of caretaker. Her best friend Janny is a teenage mom, so she can't help much, and her grandmother doesn't even know Aura exists. What's worse, Aura is convinced that being artistic and creative is linked somehow to schizophrenia and rejects her creative side. When her mother's meds run out and her episodes become more severe, Aura debates whether to tell someone or to try to take care of her mother all on her own, which of course doesn't lead to a better quality of life for her.

A Blue So Dark is beautifully written, the author illustrates the muddle of mental illness and the confusion felt by those affected by it either directly or indirectly. But in spite of the beautiful writing I couldn't get completely into the book, mostly because of faults I found in Aura's character. She's 16, and she knows a fair bit about her mother's illness; she knows it tends to be hereditary, which scares the crap out of her, as it should. But she also thinks being creative leads to being schizophrenic, which is the main issue for Aura because she denies her creative self, but the whole idea just isn't true. You'd think with all the research Aura does she'd figure that out, so it seems unlikely to me that she'd actually go on believing this, unless she was much much younger and her thinking wasn't as sophisticated, but she's 16, so I kept wanting to smack her up the head for being dumb. Also, the fact that Aura not only promises her mother that she won't feed her meds, which contributes to the deterioration of mother's condition, and fails to explicitly tell anyone sooner of how seriously off her mother is, made me want to smack her more. To me, Aura contributed to her own problem, so I didn't feel for her as much as I probably could have.

Wonderfully written book about mental illness and how much it impacts families. People who don't have an issue with Aura will enjoy this much more than I did.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the cover, it plays with the water metaphor that Aura uses to describe her fear of succumbing to the same mental illness that affects her mother.