Wednesday, October 22, 2014

WoW: Crimson Bound

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Rosamund Hodge's Cruel Beauty is one of my favorite reads of this year. I LOVED it. I'm willing to read (and pre-order) anything else she writes. To make this even more enticing, Crimson Bound is a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood". And it comes out the day after my birthday (May 5, 2015) Happy Birthday to me. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Empire of Shadows

Empire of Shadows by Miriam Forster was a highly anticipated read of mine. I really enjoyed City of a Thousand Dolls when I read it and could not wait for the companion novel which goes back about 20 years into the past of the Bihnian Empire and tells the story of an attempted with all sorts of intrigue.

Mara is a Tiger Sune (yes, A TIGER) who is trained as a highly elite bodyguard. As a way to redeem herself after she commits a tragic crime, Mara dedicates her life to the protection of others. She must pledge herself to one specific person and protect that person's life with her own. She makes her way to the capital and meets many people along the way including a charming fabric seller named Emil. She also meets Revathi, a noblewoman, and her fiancĂ©. Mara agrees to be Revathi's bodyguard until she decides to whom she will pledge her life of protection. Mara never transfers into her tiger form anymore and is, indeed, afraid to. She suddenly finds herself in the palace where nothing is as it seems, and everyone lies. Emil, charming goat herder and fabric seller, is the other half of this story. He is bound for a life of leadership of his tribe, but does not want it. He longs to be in charge of the trade, like his uncle, not the leader like his father. When his brother decides to join a group of mercenaries and runs away, Emil defies his father and goes after him taking his friend Esmer  (a spotted cat Sune) with him. Suddenly Emil and Esmer find themselves immersed in a conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor, one that has dragged Mara and Revathi as well as Emil's brother into serious danger.

Mara is amazing. I mean, she's a TIGER, so how could she not be? But she is also fiercely loyal and a wonderful friend. She is just a truly good person with high ideals and a powerful desire to do what is right. She fell far and hard once upon a time and is doing everything in her power to atone for it. Revathi is also a great character. Harsh and hardened by the life in the Emperor's court, it takes her time to warm to Mara, but it happens eventually. I just really liked the friendship that developed between these two. Mara was meant to protect Revathi, but they both end up protecting each other and it is great. Emil is also a character who it is easy to love. He has a firm opinion of what is right for him. He went along with his father for as long as he could, but when it came time to do what was right and reconcile with his brother, he never flinches from the hard perilous road he is traveling. Esmer is a wonderfully loyal friend as well, and one who knows Emil well enough for them to work perfectly together. Because she knows Mara's secret, she is also able to work with and help her. The friendship between Emil and Esmer was another favorite part of this book for me. It is just a friendship and those male/female friendships with absolutely no hint of romance are rare. I love that this book gave us so many wonderful relationships: the friendships, the brotherly love between Emil and Stefan, the relationship between Revathi and her grandmother, the two young princes' brotherly bond, and the love of the Emperor for his children. These were all shown so beautifully.

A relationship that didn't satisfy me at all in this was the romantic relationship. There really wasn't sufficient time to devote to its development with the way the plot was set up so it felt very rushed. There is very little actual page time where Emil and Mara are actually together yet it's true love. I almost had whiplash from how fast that happened. Romances like this are never satisfying for me. I would have preferred the hint at romantic potential with some development (the kissing scene was fine-liked that) without the LOVE part. The epilogue would take care of the rest. 

Because this story isn't really a romance. 

It's a story about politics, loyalty, honor, and knowing yourself as a person and where you stand. I appreciated how there were so many shades of gray in this too. There are several situations in which any decision could be construed as the "right" one. There are so many different ways things could have gone. Forster captured the chaos of battle and the affect of threats on a person's actions so well. I also liked that Forster was unafraid to let her villains be villains. They do stuff that will have you cringing. She never takes the easy way out of a situation and the effect is incredibly realistic. 

I really liked this though I do like the first book slightly more. The romance part was just a little too much for me in this one. You can read this separate from City of a Thousand Dolls. You may be spoiled for some surprises in this if you read that first, but the opposite is also the case. Read this first, and you will have inside information going into City of a Thousand Dolls. Whichever order you decide to read them in, you should certainly read them if you're a fan of political intrigue fantasy. 

I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Empire of Shadows is available for purchase on November 4th.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Fantasy Series Starters

Here are some shorter musings reviews of several first books in new MG fantasy series that started this year. Ummm....most of them I'm not too excited about-two I outright hated.

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

The Blood Guard will certainly have a vast amount of kid appeal, and I can see why. It is fast-paced, adventure packed, has both male and female protagonists, and a lot of twists that are going to take child readers by surprise. There wasn't much in it that set it apart from a lot of series starters I've read lately. It has a very video game type feel to it. There is quite a bit of violence, but none of it really matters because of plot twists. There is a dehumanizing factor to that I didn't like personally. Also the whole concept of the novel had me rolling my eyes quite a bit. 36 "pure" people who are just deep down good hearted and don't know it keep the world in balance and God from destroying it? What even. ETA: The what even is that this is based on the Tzadikim Nistarim-a belief that comes from the Kabbalah. It is actually a part of a mythology then and wasn't just reached arbitrarily. Good to know, but I really wish it had been expanded a bit more. The way it was thrown in there had me so skeptical and unable to buy the world-bulding at all. 

Shipwreck Island by S.A. Bodeen
I probably wasn't the best reader for this book in the first place. I loathe The Swiss Family Robinson. Loathe. It. But this looked so short I figured it might be a better, more fun update of the same concept. It's only short because it is the first in a series. (If I had known that, I wouldn't have read it.) That in itself is not enough to make me dislike a book as much I disliked this one. So what are my reasons? It begins like one of the WORST made for Disney Channel movies. The parents are ridiculously clueless. The kids, newly brought together by their parents' marriage, are self-absorbed and obnoxious. It even has the famous two boy and one girl formula that Disney uses for everything and each of them fit into some caricature-the smart snotty one, the super geeky quirky one, and the stoic brave level headed one. There is little to no character development done beyond that. The plot trips along in an absurd manner until halfway through the family is stranded on an island after the boat begins to sink in a storm and the Captain dies. The island is all kinds of mysterious, but we can't tell exactly what kinds yet. It is hinted in just a few short pages that there are possible ghosts, weird people-chasing-weather-phenomena, and animals the likes of which one would find residing with Dr. Moreau. Then the book ends. Just. Like. That. Like this is a TV pilot and they want you to be sure to tune in again next week to see what happens next. I know that works great for TV shows, when you only have to wait A WEEK. But nothing makes me angrier than when books do it, because the next book isn't coming out next week. It's an even dirtier trick to pull when you do it with a book. The parents, being the type of people they are, haven't clued in to the strangeness of the island yet. So what is the sensible thing for the kid who has experienced the strangest aspects to do? Lie about it, of course! Even when it means contradicting his step-sister and making her look like an idiot. Needless to say, despite the best efforts to get me to read the next book with that cliffhanger ending, it will not be happening. 

Sky Raiders by Brandom Mull
This is the beginning of a new series by Brandon Mull who is particularly good at cranking out series sure to entertain MG students everywhere. This one kicks off to a particularly dark beginning. A group of 5th-7th graders kidnapped en masse and sold into harsh slavery in a world not their own is some serious stuff. That sense of peril never lessens making it hard to put down. The world building is interesting, and I like all the main characters. Mull has another good one on his hands with this. 

The Thickety by J.A. White
When I first read this, I had several issues with it, most of which I don't care to get into. After discussing the book with a friend, I realized I had overlooked a MAJOR issue that I don't have any trouble getting into. This is why I love the book and blogging community. Because discussions with friends help me find strengths in books I had not previously seen, and they also open my eyes to my own privilege and how I could allow a serious issue to slide by without commenting. The villain in this story is a girl born with a disability, a disability that she uses to manipulate other and be generally mean, spiteful, and specifically plot awful things toward the protagonist. While her environment can be blamed for how she turned out, the way she is portrayed ties her disability too closely to the evil machinations of her mind. Also, the word "cripple" is used to describe her, which is not acceptable in anyway. 
Do I understand that evil and cruel intentions are something that people with disabilities can have? Of course! I'm not naive. However, kids with disabilities see themselves so little in books as it is. When they do have the opportunity to see themselves in a book, do we want them to see themselves as the villain? That is worse than them being the sympathetic sidekick (looking at another popular MG book from this year). We need more books like [book:Handbook for Dragon Slayers|13624404] where these kids get to see themselves as the heroes. 
This combined with the issues I already had means I can't endorse this book in any way. Upon further thinking of the book, I've also decided that the writing isn't of the quality enough to save it from it's weaknesses. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Love and Other Foreign Words

Erin McCahan's Love and Other Foreign Words is a novel I was excited to read. I had heard good things and I enjoyed most parts of her previous YA,  I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, particularly the writing and character development. Love and Other Foreign Words had those aspects plus a storyline I as able to love more so I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

Can anyone be truly herself--or truly in love--in a language that's not her own?
Sixteen-year-old Josie lives her life in translation. She speaks High School, College, Friends, Boyfriends, Break-ups, and even the language of Beautiful Girls. But none of these is her native tongue -- the only people who speak that are her best friend Stu and her sister Kate. So when Kate gets engaged to an epically insufferable guy, how can Josie see it as anything but the mistake of a lifetime? Kate is determined to bend Josie to her will for the wedding; Josie is determined to break Kate and her fiancé up. As battles are waged over secrets and semantics, Josie is forced to examine her feelings for the boyfriend who says he loves her, the sister she loves but doesn't always like, and the best friend who hasn't said a word -- at least not in a language Josie understands.

Josie is a genius but this means she is often out of the loop when it comes to how average people interact. She is incredibly gifted with all the quirks that go along with that. She especially enjoys foreign languages and studying them. She does an exercise in her head where she translates people's words into "Josie". High school speak, college speak, etc. She has particular trouble translating love though, a concept that escapes her entirely. The book chronicles several months where Josie attempts to come to terms with her sister's engagement, her love for her sister, and get her own love life. It is a book all about relationship. Sibling relationships, dating relationships, friendship, and parental relationships all play a major part in the story. That's because these are all important relationships in Josie's life. Relationships of any type experience a high frequency of change, and change is something Josie has major issues with. She is having to contend with her much loved older sister getting married to a man of whom she is not fond. In her attempts to understand love she explores dating, changing the dynamics of several of her friendships along the way. The book is so captivating because of Josie's voice, which is so well done. She is super intelligent and odd as a result, and being in her head is truly fascinating. Watching as she sorts out her feelings toward the people around her as she herself grows and changes makes for a great read.

As I said, this is a story about all sorts of relationships, but it is most particularly a sibling story. I love sibling stories and this is a good one. The relationship between Josie and her sister is wonderful. Then there are Josie's parents who are fully involved and engaged in her life. Lovely to see in a YA.  I also LOVED the relationship between Josie and her best friend, Stu. Stu is a genius as well and he speaks fluent Josie even though he has a language entirely his own. The rapport between the two of them is perfect and I loved their banter. Seriously, there is some excellent banter between these two. I had a goofy grin on my face while reading them in several places. And I just adored the ending.

Love and Other Foreign Words is a book that really sticks with you. At first I just wrote a quick few word review on Goodreads, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it and felt it deserved the full treatment here on the blog. If you enjoy contemporary YA, this is not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

TTT: Places Books Made Me Want to Visit

This week's TTT topic: Places Books Made Me Want to Visit (Real or Fictional)

Eddis and Attolia from The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner
I'm not saying I want to hang out in the court of the King and Queen of Attolia because that would be scary. But I would love to see the mountains and the dystopia. Also I like olives and wine quite a lot so YUM! And I wouldn't mind seeing the greatest monarch couple ever from a distance. A very very far distance.

All the Restaurants, Patisseries, and Chocolatiers in Laura Florand's Amour et Chocolate Series
If you haven't read these books, you can not quite comprehend the level of want in this. Florand's description of desserts is absolutely sinful and will have you weeping for the lack of artisan pastry and chocolate in regular town America. A trip to France to visit all these wonderful places would be the best trip ever. (The shop I want to visit the most? It's a tie between La Maison de Sorcieres in The Chocolate Kiss and Dom's shop in The Chocolate Touch.)

Shrewsbury College at Oxford University form Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Sayers made up Shrewsbury, but it has much grounding in reality. A lot of crazy things go down there in Gaudy Night, but I love how it is a place where smart women do, think, and talk about smart things with each other (mostly getting along).

Dare Island from Virgina Kantra's Dare Island Series
Dare Island is a made up island in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound. I LOVE the Outer Banks and Kantra does a wonderful job of describing life there. And I want to live there now. Or at least be one of the tourists mentioned (though not as obnoxious as many mentioned are).

Chrestomanci Castle from Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones
I love everything about all the inhabitants of Chrestomanci Castle. The best time to visit would be sometime after the events of The Pinhoe Egg for getting to know the optimal number of awesome people. It would, or course, need to be during a time when Christopher was actually there.

Gardam Street from The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
This neighborhood is the neighborhood I always wanted to live in growing up. It's actually quite similar to the ones I did grow up in on the military bases I lived on, but the families in those changed too often. I like the stability and community of Gardam Street.

Discworld from Terry Pratchett
I admit, I have barely begin to scratch the surface of this world. I just really want to hang out with Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle.

Wellmet from The Magic Thief Series by Sarah Prineas
True, things are often exploding there, but I want to hang out with the leaders of this place because they are awesome. Also, one would never get bored while there.

Urwald from Jinx trilogy by Sage Blackwood
Another dangerous place to be, particularly at the point we currently are in this trilogy. But I'm certain Jinx is going to do something about that and then it will be truly awesome and not just scary awesome.

And of course, no list of places to visit in books would be complete without: