Saturday, October 24, 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger - Rae Carson

Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 431 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Started: October 15, 2015
Finished: October 24, 2015

From the inside cover:

Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend - who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees to California - where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.

I read the author's famous Girl of Fire and Thorns series (The Girl of Fire and ThornsThe Crown of EmbersThe Bitter Kingdom) and loved it to pieces, so of course when I heard the author was writing a new trilogy called The Gold Seer, I of course had to pick it up.

This first book, Walk on Earth a Stranger, introduces us to Leah Westfall, called Lee, who can sense gold around her. She lives in Georgia in 1849, where her parents migrated from New England to stake a claim and find gold. They manage to survive despite the infrequent gold discoveries thanks to Lee's gift. But when Lee's uncle Hiram hires men to kill her parents in order to use Lee's power for himself, she escapes in the night dressed as a boy to follow her friend Jefferson to California. Not only does she have to worry about being found by Hiram and his men along the way, Lee has to survive the arduous journey from Georgia to California.

I'll have to admit, I felt the story was slow in the beginning while waiting for Lee to leave. Once she meets up with the Joyners and Jefferson and the other families she travels with, things picked up greatly. I liked how Lee and the other women in the book are strong in their own right and touch on how women are viewed as possessions (it is 1849 after all) and fight against that. I also like how the author touched on slavery and Native American relations, and even managed to incorporate LGBT characters moving to California in order to begin anew. I didn't love this book like I loved Girl of Fire and Thorns because I'm not a big fan of novels where all the characters do is travel from place to place with nothing of substance happening. I might like the subsequent novels better since the group is in California and can finally get in on the action.

Definitely worth the read but so far not as satisfying as the author's previous series.

Thoughts on the cover:
Simply gorgeous.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Strong Female Protagonist - Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

Title: Strong Female Protagonist
Author: Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 220 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Graphic Novel
Started: October 16, 2015
Finished: October 19, 2015

From the inside cover:

With super strength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter-ego Mega Girl was fun until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy. He showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn't seem so important.

Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to actually help the world while still getting to class on time. It's impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero...

I picked this up purely based on the title and that it featured a female superhero; this is one of the rare cases where I hadn't actually read the web comic before reading the collected version.

Alison Green lives in a world where individuals are biodynamic or chromosomally stable, you either have super powers or you don't. Alison came into her powers as a fourteen-year-old and went on to fight the forces of evil as one of the most formidable forces around, until she gave it up at nineteen when she realized it takes more than super powers to be a hero.

I like how this is a much darker and more philosophical type of super hero story (so not for the kiddies or super sensitive readers). Alison is disenchanted with her circumstances and realizes that being one of the most powerful people in the world hasn't changed things to the degree she'd have liked, and that others have actually made more of a difference than she (at least in her mind).

I like how Alison has a darker side, she actually muses on how she fantasizes about killing people because she knows she can but manages to quash it in favour of maintaining her optimism that she can bring about authentic change. I also like how a chapter on Alison's early life was included, and how awesome her parents are portrayed (yay for a hero actually having both parents for a change).

This is an incredibly refreshing take on the typical super hero story, definitely pick this up. Also, you can continue reading the story online at The graphic novel version covers chapters 1-4, but you can read the content online for free including what's covered in the graphic novel and beyond.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like Alison in the free fall pose, not sure why. Another nice touch is on the back side of the cover you see Alison in the same pose, just dressed as Mega Girl rather than her civilian self.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Astrologer's Daughter - Rebecca Lim

Title: The Astrologer's Daughter
Author: Rebecca Lim
Publisher: Text Publishing Company, 2014 (Paperback)
Length: 318 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Mystery
Started: October 2, 2015
Finished: October 14, 2015

From the back cover:

Avicenna Crowe's mother, Joanne, is an astrologer with uncanny predictive powers and a history of being stalked.

Now she is missing.

The police are called, but they're not asking the right questions. Like why Joanne lied about her past, and what she saw in her stars that made her so afraid.

But Avicenna has inherited her mother's gift. Finding an unlikely ally in the brooding Simon Thorn, she begins to piece together the mystery.

And when she universe a link between Joanne's disappearance and a cold-case murder, Avicenna is led deep into the city's dark and seedy underbelly, unaware of how far she is placing her own life in danger.

Pulse-racing and terrifyingly real, The Astrologer's Daughter will test your belief in destiny and the endurance of love.

I wanted to pick this up purely because it was a bit out there and very different from what I usually read. I think I chose well.

Eighteen-year-old Avicenna (love that name by the way) lives with her mom in Melbourne, recently moved to yet another new place due to the unwanted attention her mother receives from her work as an eerily accurate astrologist. When her mother suddenly disappears, Avicenna is faced with the task of helping the police figure out where she might have gone and what could have happened. When the police discover that Avicenna has inherited her mother's abilities (though she mostly refuses to use them), they ask her to finish up her mother's work on some unfinished jobs. With that, Avicenna puts herself in danger when she actually helps solve a cold case murder without getting any closer to figuring out what happened to her mom.

I loved the surreal feel in this book. The writing, the setting, Avicenna's personality, the astrological influences, everything comes together really well to make for an engrossing read. The only beef I have with it is the lack of closure at the end.

If you're looking for something different with a mysterious and otherworldly (but not too out there) feel, give this a shot.

Thoughts on the cover:
Not amazingly impressive but I do like that the model is holding a magnifying glass.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Serafina and the Black Cloak - Robert Beatty

Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Publisher: Disney Hyperion, 2015 (Hardcover)
Length: 293 pages
Genre: Children's Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Started: September 21, 2015
Finished: September 29, 2015

From the inside cover:

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There's plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care never to be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate's maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity...before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina's hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

I have to say I haven't been this enamoured with a middle grade book in a while, this is one that is sure to please.

Serafina is twelve and lives in the boiler room with her father in the basement of the enormous Biltmore Estate in North Carolina in 1899. Her father is the maintenance man with the mind of an engineer, making sure the house is supplied with the electricity it needs to be as state-of-the-art as it is. He has told Serafina that she is not to be seen by the others in the house because he is afraid of them thinking ill of her, for Serafina is not like the other children. She has yellow eyes, four toes on each foot instead of five, is an accomplished hunter, and can see quite well in the dark, to the point that Serafina calls herself a "creature of the night" and grapples with the connotations that go along with it. But that doesn't stop Serafina from prowling around Biltmore at night, and it's during one of these nights that she witnesses a young girl visiting the estate being "consumed" by an eerie man in a black cloak. The next day as the adults search for the missing child and Serafina learns that this is not the first person to have gone missing from Biltmore, she vows to use her unique skills to track down who the man in the black cloak is and find out if the missing children are still alive.

First off, I have to give the author credit for a few things: setting the story somewhere different than what we normally see (North Carolina), and really doing his research on Biltmore Estate (yes it is a real place you can visit). There's a point in the book where Serafina is referred to as the mythological Diana, goddess of the hunt, and there's an actual statue of Diana on the grounds at Biltmore (I thought that was a nice touch). I only wish there had been a little author's note about the estate and maybe a photo, because it was hard to get a sense of the size of it just from reading, and upon researching it myself, I realized it's more like a large European estate or small castle than what I imagined when thinking of an estate in the southern United States at the turn of the century. See the actual Biltmore Estate below:

Moving on to characters, Serafina is a great character, and many things about her personality click into place upon the revelation about her past at the end of the book. She's spunky and fierce but also worries about herself as a person and whether she'll be accepted by others. Braeden was a charming addition, I just loved the little guy, especially how he clicks more with animals than people, which makes him odd in his upper-class setting. Braeden and Serafina make a good match as friends, and his dog Gidean makes a good character all on his own too. 

The writing is well done, and I like how the author made things genuinely spooky without making it inappropriate for a middle grade novel, which makes it perfect read for Halloween.

Excellent plot, writing, and characters; this is a must-read. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Nicely creepy with Serafina's silhouette on the top with an imagined Biltmore on the bottom (but doesn't look like the real Biltmore).