Monday, May 30, 2011

Huntress - Malinda Lo

Title: Huntress (Companion novel to Ash)
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 25, 2011
Finished: May 27, 2011

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn't shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people's survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls' destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo's highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.

Huntress is a companion novel to the author's first book, Ash, released back in 2009; so it takes place in the same universe, but in a different time period and with different characters. I adored Ash when i read it last year, so I knew Huntress would blow me away before I even read it.

In the world of Huntress, set hundreds of years before Ash, things are out of balance, and the humans believe the solution lies with the fae (called the Xi). When the king receives an invitation to the Xi queen's court at Taninli, he sends his son, Con in his place. Traveling with the prince are several guards, as well as Taisin and Kaede, two 17-year-old girls from the Academy of Sages, whom have been prophesied to accompany them on their journey. Kaede (I know it's supposed to be pronounced Kay-dee, but I'm used to the Japanese pronunciation Kah-eh-day) is the daughter of the advisor to the king, an upper class girl who is facing an arranged marriage she does not want, as well as a career at the Academy that she is not suited for. Taisin is the daughter of farmers, admitted to the Academy based on her amazing magical talent. Kaede is tough and spunky, having grown up with a slew of older brothers as well as Prince Con. Taisin is much more reserved and proper, who blushes at almost everything, which I found adorable.

The book can be divided into two sections in terms of plot: the journey leading up to Taninli (which is almost 3/4 of the whole book), and the events that happen after Taninli. Most books that focus so heavily on the journey aspect tend to lose my attention fairly quickly since I usually just want things to progress to the main point, but this one was different. The events in the journey leading up to Taninli are so important for character development (plus they do contribute to the plot) that I often forgot why they were journeying to Taninli in the first place because I was so caught up in the character interactions (for me this is a good thing). The build-up leading up to Taninli was wonderfully done, but then the events that occur after Taninli happen so quickly that it feels like a let down, plus things felt like they came into place a bit too conveniently.

Huntress and Ash both come under a slight bit of controversy because of the lesbian relationships in them, even though the depiction of the romance isn't offensive or inappropriate. The two main romances in Huntress are Taisin and Kaede, and Con and Shea, and both are very tame and portrayed in a very sweet manner. In terms of the development of the romance itself, I think I liked Ash better in that regard since we get to see the romance develop very clearly, whereas in Huntress I never really got a sense of the point where the two girls fell madly in love with each other to the point where they'd sacrifice their lives for each other, although the author did a really great job in describing the physical reactions of first love (the blushing, the electric tingly feeling when you make contact etc.). Also, I kept thinking that since Taisin had visions of Kaede before she even knew her, I kept thinking that Taisin's feelings of love for Kaede weren't really real since she kind of had that window into the future, so I thought it felt like a cop out on Taisin's end....but I did feel that Kaede's feelings were genuine.

Beautiful and wonderfully written. After reading Huntress, I have to say that I prefer Ash, but that's not to say Huntress isn't worth reading.

Thoughts on the cover:
Awesome. I like the purple accents this time compared to the mauve-y pink from Ash. I'm pretty sure that's Taisin on the cover (both girls were described kind of similarly, so it was hard to tell), and I love the symmetry with the pole/wooden practice sword (couldn't exactly tell what that was supposed to be).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Girl Who Was On Fire - Leah Wilson

Title: The Girl Who Was On Fire: Your Favourite Authors on Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy
Author: Leah Wilson (Editor)
Publisher: Smart Pop, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Literary Criticism
Started: May 22, 2011
Finished: May 25, 2011

Katniss Everdeen’s adventures may have come to an end, but her story continues to blaze in the hearts of millions worldwide.

In The Girl Who Was on Fire, thirteen YA authors take you back to Panem with moving, dark, and funny pieces on Katniss, the Games, Gale and Peeta, reality TV, survival, and more. From the trilogy's darker themes of violence and social control to fashion and weaponry, the collection's exploration of the Hunger Games reveals exactly how rich, and how perilous, protagonist Katniss’ world really is.

• How does the way the Games affect the brain explain Haymitch’s drinking, Annie’s distraction, and Wiress’ speech problems?
• What does the rebellion have in common with the War on Terror?
• Why isn’t the answer to “Peeta or Gale?” as interesting as the question itself?
• What should Panem have learned from the fates of other hedonistic societies throughout history&mdashand what can we?

The Girl Who Was On Fire covers all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy.

This has been on my to-read list since I saw it advertised in Shelf Awareness a few months back. Apparently this publisher has put out a few of these type of books with essays on popular children's and young adult series written by other authors, but this is my first foray into it.

There are 13 essays in this collection on practically every in-depth aspect of the Hunger Games trilogy you can think of. There are essays on Team Katniss (Hunger Games fans know what this is), love as a political weapon, reality versus unreality, why the trilogy is so popular, surveillance in the series, and the reality television aspect, among others. The various YA authors, among them Sarah Rees Brennan and Carrie Ryan, present some very well written pieces here, although some of the essays are more effective than others purely because of the topics presented. Some of the essays weren't as insightful as I was hoping, like the ones on surveillance, reality versus unreality, and the science fiction elements being closer to reality than we think; but I think that's just because those are some of the base themes that anyone who's read all three books and given some depth of thought to them would realize, hence my reaction of "yeah, I already got that" when I read those particular essays, but there are plenty of others that will stop and make you reconsider things about the series you thought you understood.

My favourite essays were: Team Katniss by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist by Mary Borsellino, Panem et Circenses by Carrie Ryan; Bent, Shattered, and Mended by Blythe Woolston, and The Inevitable Decline of Decadence by Adrienne Kress. The collection greatly surprised me in that all the essays were quite well written and put-together (I would actually use some of these as examples of well-written essays in a classroom, especially for writing introductions and conclusions), so the favourites of mine are purely because of the topics presented. This collection covers all three books in the trilogy, and sometimes an author will reference all three books in one essay, so it is essential that someone reading these essays be familiar with all three books. The authors do paraphrase events in the book when they are brought up in the essays, but not necessarily in enough depth for someone who hasn't read the books to understand.

A must read for anyone who's a Hunger Games fan. All well-written pieces, but some topics will impress you more than others.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like how this one resembles the first Hunger Games cover: the black and yellow colour scheme, the font (though the smoke is a nice added touch). The arrow across the cover is a nice choice of image rather than the Mockingjay since it represents Katniss just as well, plus the Mockingjay is kind of overused.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Numbers: The Chaos - Rachel Ward

Title: Numbers: The Chaos (Book 2 in the Numbers series)
Author: Rachel Ward
Publisher: Chicken House (Scholastic), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 339 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction
Started: May 17, 2011
Finished: May 18, 2011

From the inside cover:
When he was just a little boy, Adam learned about the numbers. The first ones he saw were Jem's. That was how he knew she was going to die. Adam inherited his mother's curse. With a vengeance. When he stares into someone's eyes, he not only sees the date of their death, he feels the searing, shocking pain of it.

Orphaned, Adam has grown up by the sea with his great-grandmother, Val. But as rising tides flood the coast, they flee to London. The city is an alien, anarchic place. Most disturbing of all, Adam can't help but clock how many people's numbers are in January 2027; how many are on New Year's Day.

What chaos awaits the world? Can Adam and his damaged friend Sarah stop a catastrophe? Or are they, too, counted among the "twenty sevens"?

After reading the first Numbers book last summer, I knew I had to pick up the sequel once it came out here.

The Chaos picks up years after the events at the end of Numbers: Jem and Spider's teenaged son Adam has inherited Jem's ability to see the dates of people's deaths in his head, in addition to seeing and feeling the pain and circumstances surrounding their death. With Spider long dead, and Jem having passed away when Adam was only 8 (a death he foresaw and even told his mother about), Adam is raised by Spider's grandmother, Val. In 2026, global warming and climate change has decimated much of England's coastline, forcing Adam and Val to move from the seaside to London, exactly where Jem didn't want her son to be. Adam notices a lot of people's numbers are the same: January 1, 2027. Like his mother before him, he notices there's something up with the numbers and knows some cataclysmic event will occur. Adam struggles with the decision to either listen to his mother and save himself and never tell anyone about his ability and what he knows, or to try and save people by trying to warn them about what lies ahead. Plus there's Sarah, who doesn't see the numbers but has visions of the catastrophe that will befall London on New Years Day, 2027. After being raped and impregnated by her father, Sarah's only concern is to keep her newborn daughter away from the family that failed to protect her, which is almost impossible to do in London's high security society.

The Chaos didn't impress me as much as Numbers did. The plots are similar: the teen who can foresee something that's going to kill a lot of people and deciding what they want to do about it. I liked Adam's and Sarah's stories on their own, but when the two intersected it just didn't have the same effect as when Jem and Spider came together in Numbers. The Chaos still has that same writing style and pacing that makes it a wonderful thriller, but the characters really made the first one, and they didn't quite deliver in the same way as the first. That being said, I loved both Adam and Sarah, the author did an especially good job capturing Sarah's feelings towards her pregnancy and her baby Mia, Sarah's story was particularly powerful.

Not as amazing as the first one, but still pretty good.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not as horrendous as the first one, or maybe I'm just used to the freaky eyeball, but I'm sure the position of the eye is more appealing this time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M. Valente

Title: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Children's/Young Adult; Fairy Tale, Fantasy
Started: May 14, 2011
Finished: May 16, 2011

From the publisher's website:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

After reading glowing reviews from fellow bloggers (and receiving some impeccable perfect scores), plus being the recipient of the Andre Norton award for its category, I knew I had to test this baby out for myself to see if the hype was well-deserved. And hoo boy, is it ever! There are no words that can describe how magical and charming this novel is, and how blown away I was by it, but I'll sure as heck try.

September is 12 years old and living in Omaha, Nebraska in a time period echoing back to WWI-WWII. The Green Wind comes to her and beckons her to Fairyland, where she agrees to steal back a spoon from the evil Marquess and then ends up doing a task for the Marquess in order to save her own head. Along the way, September meets a variety of colourful characters and travels the furthest parts of Fairyland for her quest. As with all stories like this, it's a coming of age story where the child character goes through considerable growth illustrated through their journey, and this one is no exception. September is valiant, plucky, likable child that is loyal to the friends she makes in Fairyland, and has no problem standing up for herself (as much as you would expect a 12-year-old to do so in Fairyland). The supporting characters are equally charming: A-through-L, a wyvern whose father is a library (officially making him a Wyverary); a Marid named Saturday that eats stone and salt, plus the plethora of other characters that the group encounters in each chapter.

The novel is a subversive one written in an old fashioned, lyrical style highly reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and traditional British children's stories in general. The language and vocabulary the author uses isn't dumbed down in any way despite being written for a modern audience, so I would give it to slightly older kids and teenagers (10+) that are more likely to understand the language, unless you have younger children with some seriously advanced vocabulary. I love how the novel incorporates traditional fairy tale elements but still manages to make them unique without destroying their charm like so many urban fantasy type books do today. Again, I can't get over how utterly charming this book is, the author gets the formula dead-on that makes for a magnificent story. This is one of those special books that remains with a person for a long time, that evoke memories of being read to in front of a fireplace in winter, or the one thing that made you feel better when you were sick (The Princess Bride was always my go-to book whenever I was under the weather for those reasons). This is a book that will wait on our bookshelf until our kids are old enough to have it read to them, that I will buy and put away to give to my friend's toddlers in a few years time when they're older, that I'll give to my book-loving nephews, and I'll do as a read-aloud the next time I teach in a junior level class as school. The author has the first 8 or so chapters posted on her website (the entire novel was available as a free ebook until the rights were bought by the publisher about a year ago), so please feel free to check it out to get a feel for the atmosphere and the language, I can guarantee you'll be hooked.

Stunning. Beautiful, lyrical, charming, and so many other adjectives that I could name. Everyone I've encountered who has read this has been mesmerized by it, and so will you. Adults and kids will adore this, plus it just smacks of the type of wonderful book to read aloud to your kids at bedtime. Read this, just trust me on this one.

Thoughts on the cover:
I am so glad this book has illustrations throughout it. The pictures add to the whimsy and help the story along without giving anything away. The cover image is a modified version of one that appears in the book, except in beautiful colour. I like the choice of image too, of September and the Wyverary, plus the red tones on the cover just look gorgeous.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hunger - Jackie Morse Kessler

Title: Hunger
Author: Jackie Morse Kessler
Publisher: Graphia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2010 (Paperback)
Length: 177 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Realistic Fiction, Fantasy
Started: May 12, 2011
Finished: May 12, 2011

From the back of the book:
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

Apparently the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are alive and well, some of them not technically alive, and when they die, they choose replacements. Lisabeth Lewis, anorexic and damaged, is chosen by Death, who apparently looks like Kurt Cobain, to be the next Famine. The author uses a bit of the paranormal (and what's better than the Four Horsemen, really?) to follow Lisa and her growth from suffering anorexic to girl in recovery.

I really liked the Four Horsemen aspect: the personalities and depictions of Death, War, and Pestilence were bang on for their characters; and although Death can appear as whatever he wants, having the author describe him as Kurt Cobain is pure awesomeness. I wish the author had elaborated on the Four Horsemen part a little bit and why they choose the people they do, since they kind of get dropped on the reader in a "Huh? Horsemen? They recruit people?" kind of way. That I think was the only real detriment for me, the lack of some background on the Horsemen (at least this author's vision of them).

The author herself suffered from an eating disorder, so the depiction of the illness itself is really well done and very authentic, with the Thin Voice that invades Lisa's consciousness and can't help listing the calories for every single food she comes across. It's powerful in that Lisa witnesses the consequences of famine around the world in her role as Famine, and that leads to her accepting that she has a problem and that with all the food available to her, she chooses to starve herself, and she realizes she wants to change that and make a decision to live again. I've read better YA books dealing with eating disorders, but this one is still well done.

Definitely give this one a read, but don't get too frustrated with the lack of background info on the Horsemen and how they operate. There's a second book in this series already out as well (Rage, dealing with the person chosen as War), so I'll be picking that one up eventually as well.

Thoughts on the cover:
Shiny cover = good. I also like the focus on the implement of the Horsemen, in this case, the balance scales. The background image and design behind the scales is very nice too.

The Hunt of the Unicorn - C.C. Humphreys

Title: The Hunt of the Unicorn
Author: C.C. Humphreys
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 11, 2011
Finished: May 12, 2011

From the inside cover:
Elayne thinks the old family story that one of her ancestors stepped through a tapestry into a world of mythical beasts makes a great fireside tale. But she lives in the real world. In New York City. And she's outgrown that kind of fantasy.
Until she finds herself in front of a unicorn tapestry at the Cloisters museum and sees her initials woven into the fabric. And hears a unicorn calling to her. And slips and falls—into that other world.
Suddenly the line between fantasy and reality isn't so clear. But the danger is real enough. Almost before she can think, Elayne is attacked by a ferocious beast, rescued by a unicorn, and taken prisoner by a tyrant king. Each of them seems to have an idea about her—that she's a hero, a villain, dinner!
But Elayne has a few ideas of her own. She wants to overthrow the king; she wants to tame the unicorn. She wants to go home! And she's willing to become both hero and villain to do it.

The Hunt of the Unicorn takes a typical fantasy story and gives it a bit of unique spin. However, despite the cool premise and the plethora of medieval monsters and creatures, some horrible dialogue and slightly flat characters made it another one of those YA books with so much potential that it just about makes you cry when you realize that the end result just didn't wow you.

The Hunt of the Unicorn, besides being a slightly awkward title in my opinion...makes me think it should be just The Unicorn Hunt, starts off really well. We meet Alice-Elayne, who goes just by Elayne, as her dad is about to go into the hospital for cancer treatment. Before he leaves, he asks his daughter to read from their family history, a story written by the first of many girls named Alice-Elayne (kind of an unfortunate name to be saddled with). Elayne reads about their first ancestor, who grew up in a parallel world called Goloth, or the Land of Fabulous Beasts since it's crawling with griffins, manticores, cockatrices, and unicorns, among others. When threatened, the original Alice-Elayne escapes through a tapestry into the world as we know it (but the medieval version) with the help of a unicorn named Moonspill. Alice-Elayne promises if Moonspill ever needs help, either herself or her future generations will answer the call. When present-day Elayne goes on a field trip to the Cloisters museum the next day, the tapestries call out to her. Using the unicorn's horn passed to her from her father (and from generations before that), she steps through the tapestry to Goloth and meets Moonspill and discovers that he needs her help to overthrow the present king and reunite with his mate. But when Elayne comes into the company of the king, called Leo, will her mission be jeopardized?

I loved the premise with the generations waiting to repay the favour, the parallel worlds, and all the creatures. What really bugged me was the dialogue. Sometimes the characters would speak in a way that sounded out of character, like Elayne's dad talking very properly and formally; sometimes the dialogue sounded forced, like when Elayne would bring out the slang-y teen speak. And other times a character would switch between different ways of speaking, like when Elayne would switch randomly between ye olde English and modern speech, it was really annoying and awkward. The characters weren't really well developed, you felt for them on the surface but didn't bond with them. That, and Elayne wasn't really a strong character...she does a lot of waiting around. I get that she's only 15 and literally thrown into the situation, but c'mon girl, grow a spine! She does get better towards the end, but it still bugged me.

Lots of potential but didn't deliver.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the colour scheme, but the position of Elayne and Moonspill seems at a bit of an odd angle, Moonspill looks just weird.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Angelfire - Courtney Allison Moulton

Title: Angelfire
Author: Courtney Allison Moulton
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 453 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 9, 2011
Finished: May 9, 2011

When seventeen-year-old Ellie starts seeing reapers - monstrous creatures who devour humans and send their souls to Hell - she finds herself on the front lines of a supernatural war between archangels and the Fallen and faced with the possible destruction of her soul.

A mysterious boy named Will reveals she is the reincarnation of an ancient warrior, the only one capable of wielding swords of angelfire to fight the reapers, and he is an immortal sworn to protect her in battle. Now that Ellie's powers have been awakened, a powerful reaper called Bastian has come forward to challenge her. He has employed a fierce assassin to eliminate her - an assassin who has already killed her once.

While balancing her dwindling social life and reaper-hunting duties, she and Will discover Bastian is searching for a dormant creature believed to be a true soul reaper. Bastian plans to use this weapon to ignite the End of Days and to destroy Ellie's soul, ending her rebirth cycle forever. Now, she must face an army of Bastian's most frightening reapers, prevent the soul reaper from consuming her soul, and uncover the secrets of her past lives - including truths that may be too frightening to remember.

Man, the whole fallen angel thing is really popular in YA urban fantasy, 'cause here's another title with 'em. I'll be comparing Angelfire to Hush, Hush and its sequel Crescendo a bit, mainly because that series first comes to mind when I think of the whole fallen angel theme.

Angelfire's plot is nothing to write home about, it's pretty standard to the fallen angel thing, but with a few exceptions. Ellie is a fairly normal girl, but on her seventeenth birthday, a mysterious boy that she feels a pull towards awakens her sleeping powers. Will reveals to Ellie that she is a reincarnation of the Preliator, an ancient warrior fighting on the side of the heavens to help smite demons and reapers and the like. Will is her immortal guardian and bodyguard, and has been with her through every incarnation. Super badass reaper shows up wanting to do away with Ellie since she's uber pwoerful, and tries to employ a secret weapon that will banish her soul to the point where she won't be able to reincarnate anymore. Ellie and Will work together to foil the reaper's plot, while trying to train Ellie and maintain her human life at the same time.

Some things I liked: Unlike Hush, Hush, the heroine is actually an active force in the book. Ellie is really powerful, more than she even realizes, so she can take care of herself, to the point of beating up Will the odd time when she gets out of hand. Also, Will wasn't a complete ass like Patch is in Hush, Hush; yes he's stoic and removed a little bit, but not to the point where he's detestable. Their relationship together is handled really well, it's taken slowly and things get a little angsty, but Will and Ellie interact well together and make a really good team throughout the novel. Complete opposite of the relationship in Hush, Hush. This is a debut novel, and the writing reflects that at points, but I'm sure it will improve with future installments (this is the first of a planned trilogy).

All in all, this is probably one of the better fallen angel type books I've read, which granted I haven't read a ton of them, but it's definitely the best one I've read yet. The plot is standard but the characters are quite likable, and the romance is cute, plus Ellie is admirable as the heroine, very human with faults but strong at the same time.

If you're in the mood for a fallen angel type story but weren't nuts about Hush, Hush, read Angelfire, if you're anything like me, you'll find it more entertaining and less objectionable than the former.

Thoughts on the cover:
Eh, it's okay. The author's website has some awesome character concept art that's absolutely beautiful, so look at those instead.

The False Princess - Eilis O'Neal

Title: The False Princess
Author: Eilis O'Neal
Publisher: Egmont USA, 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 319 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: May 7, 2011
Finished: May 8, 2011

From the inside cover:
Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia has led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when she learns, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city, her best friend, Kiernan, and the only life she’s ever known.

Sent to live with her only surviving relative, a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. Then she discovers that magic runs through her veins – long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control – and she realizes that she will never learn to be just a simple village girl.

Sinda returns to the city to seek answers. Instead, she rediscovers the boy who refused to forsake her, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor’s history, forever.

I came across this a few months back and decided to give it a go, especially since YA fantasy tends to surprise me sometimes (in a good way). The False Princess isn't a book I went nuts over, but it wasn't horrible and I quite enjoyed it.

Nalia is Thorvaldor's princess, but just after her sixteenth birthday, her parents reveal that she isn't really Nalia at all. She is Sinda, taken as an infant to replace the real Nalia because of suspected attempts on her life due to a prophecy. The real princess has been raised in a convent without any clue as to her real heritage, the same situation Sinda now finds herself in. Brutally dismissed by the King and Queen, Sinda is sent to live with her aunt, who isn't exactly warm and fuzzy herself. When Sinda's long sealed magical ability comes out with a vengeance, she travels back to the city to seek guidance in how to control the magic that frightens her. Afterwards, she uncovers a conspiracy that only she and her friend Kiernan are privy to, and thus set out to set things right.

The False Princess had a bit of everything: magic, adventure, romance, traipsing about in libraries, oracles, you name it. The plot started off really well and grabbed me right away. The little suspenseful twists were well done too, I wasn't expecting them. The plot started to lag towards the climax, which was a drag, but the ending was satisfying enough that I can overlook it. I wish the author had spent more time on the magic in this universe, it kinda came out of left field all at once like "oh yeah, did we mention the random magic we have here?" kind of thing. I liked Sinda and Kiernan, they had completely opposite personalities that bounced off each other well, and although Kiernan was a bit of a playboy, it wasn't to the point where he was an obnoxious ass, and he's so devoted to Sinda that you just find him sweet. It was an entertaining novel, but just didn't have that little extra push that makes me fall in love with a story.

A very well put-together fantasy story with something for everyone. Not astounding, but still worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I can't figure out if the girl is Sinda or if Sinda is the image in the locket....slightly confusing. I like the colour scheme of gold and purples though.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery - Maryrose Wood

Title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery (Book 2)
Author: Maryrose Wood
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (HarperCollins), 2011 (Hardcover)
Length: 313 pages
Genre: Children's Classic/Historical Fiction
Started: May 6, 2011
Finished: May 6, 2011

Of especially naughty children it is sometimes said, "They must have been raised by wolves."

The Incorrigible children actually were.

Thanks to the efforts of Miss Penelope Lumley, their plucky governess, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia are much more like children than wolf pups now. They are accustomed to wearing clothes. They hardly ever howl at the moon. And for the most part, they resist the urge to chase squirrels up trees.

Despite Penelope's civilizing influence, the Incorrigibles still managed to ruin Lady Constance's Christmas ball, nearly destroying the grand house. So while Ashton Place is being restored, Penelope, the Ashtons, and the children take up residence in London. Penelope is thrilled, as London offers so many opportunities to further the education of her unique students. But the city presents challenges, too, in the form of the palace guards' bearskin hats, which drive the children wild—not to mention the abundance of pigeons the Incorrigibles love to hunt. As they explore London, however, they discover more about themselves as clues about the children's—and Penelope's—mysterious past crop up in the most unexpected ways...

After reading the first book in this series last year, I was so charmed by the book that I knew I had to pick up the subsequent books whenever they came out.

Picking up after the events of the first book, Penelope, the children, and Lord and Lady Ashton decide to spend some time in London while Ashton Place is being repaired. Questions are raised about the children's parents and Penelope's past, which are the main plot points driving the series right now, plus we see the addition of a nice potential love interest for Penelope, as well as some indication in regards to what happens to Mr. Ashton during a full moon. The children, although more civilized now thanks to Penelope, still get into hilarious situations like growling at the Buckingham Palace guards because of the fur hats.

The book is written to come off across like a classic governess story, but with more humour. The series so far is incredibly charming, I can't stress that enough, I literally melt as I read them because you just don't see modern children's books written in this type of style anymore. The plot does move fairly slowly, so I think it'll take at least one or two more books before we see major developments in the plot (though it's not hard to guess where things are going, this is a middle grade novel after all). I can't wait for the next installment, and will be waiting for it next year.

Kids will love this. I can completely picture myself reading this to my future child when they're about 8-9 years old. Heck, I love reading this even as an adult, it's so incredibly charming.

Thoughts on the cover:
The illustrations for the cover and those interspersed throughout the novel are done by the same illustrator from the first book, so more 60s-esque kitschy drawings, which I love.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi

Title: Ship Breaker
Author: Paolo Bacigalupi
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010 (Hardcover)
Length: 323 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Dystopian, Adventure
Started: May 1, 2011
Finished: May 5, 2011

From the inside cover:
In America's Gulf Coast region, where grounded oil tankers are being broken down for parts, Nailer, a teenage boy, works the light crew, scavenging for copper wiring just to make quota--and hopefully live to see another day. But when, by luck or chance, he discovers an exquisite clipper ship beached during a recent hurricane, Nailer faces the most important decision of his life: Strip the ship for all it's worth or rescue its lone survivor, a beautiful and wealthy girl who could lead him to a better life. . . .

In this powerful novel, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in a vivid and raw, uncertain future.

This book won the Prinz award and has been on my to-read list for a while (the library finally got a copy in). I gotta give the author some credit where it's due, he does some awesome world-building and has the writing skill to really place readers in that world.

Nailer, a small teenage boy, lives in the Gulf Coast area in a gritty, dystopian future where people depend on the seas and oceans for their livelihood. Since he's so small, Nailer can still work light crew, part of a team that scavenges grounded ships for copper wire and any other small items that can be resold. Between the cutthroat world he lives in where it's rare to find a person who won't screw you over to benefit themselves, and his abusive father, Nailer knows he needs to escape to find a better situation. When he finds a grounded clipper ship after a hurricane with his friend Pima, they find Nita, a swank (aristocratic) girl that is the only survivor. Nita is Nailer's ticket out, but only if he helps her get back to her family. But with Nita being pursued to be ransomed back to her wealthy father, Nailer's visions of a better life is going to be a lot harder to achieve than he first thought.

The author has created a wonderfully unique world here. The ships, the scavenging, the beaches, the shacks, the storms, the atmosphere just comes alive as you're reading. The writing style compliments the tense environment that Nailer experiences, again it just really allows the reader to be fully immersed in Nailer's world. The plot's nothing much to write home about: Boy meets girl, girl needs help, boy helps girl, gets into scrapes along the way etc., it's kind of predictable, but the author handles it well with the details and the whole plot revolving around ships and nautical stuff was unique enough to keep me reading.

The only thing that didn't win me over completely was the characters. Nailer's gone through some tough stuff, and I felt for the guy well enough, but I still didn't see a lot of development to the point where I got emotionally invested in what happened to him. Same with Pima and Nita and the rest. One thing about the characters I did like was the fact that they're multicultural and (I'm presuming) bi-racial: they're all described as having dark skin and dark hair, and Nailer's the odd one out because he has those features as well as blue eyes.

This is a must-read purely for the atmosphere, the author did an amazing job with the world-building. If you're big on character development you might feel something's lacking here.

Thoughts on the cover:
This does a great job of evoking the feel of the environment: the gritty metal, the rust, the colours...makes you feel like you're on a ship with Nailer.