Every time I come across a book by Shannon Hale that I haven't read yet (there's now only one, and I'm saving it), I get this inward, magical excitemeEvery time I come across a book by Shannon Hale that I haven't read yet (there's now only one, and I'm saving it), I get this inward, magical excitement. Like I've just seen a leprechaun or something.
Palace of Stone picks up about six months after Princess Academy leaves off. Considering the events of the first book, Miri is a very different girl at the beginning of book two than she was at the beginning of book one. She still has the same spirit, the same fire, and in many ways the same self-doubts. But she also has a hope for a wider world, a vision for her village, and a knowledge of her own strength. She has learned that if something needs to be done, she can't wait around for someone else to do it.
It's this Miri that travels with the traders' wagons, five other academy girls, and Peder, down the mountain to their capital, Asland. There they find a world wider than their imaginings, a city teeming with people, buildings and castles, libraries, an ocean. But their wagon has barely stopped before they realize that all in the lowlands is not as idyllic as it appears. There are poor in the city as well as on the mountain, and the king is demanding more tributes than the people can pay. When Miri realizes that her own village may soon suffer the same extortion from the crown, her loyalties are quickly divided between the rising revolutionaries and her friends within the palace.
In a way, Palace of Stone serves as a kind of introduction to the revolutions in our own histories, drawing from images of the American and French revolutions, while ever being grounded in Miri's own world. She serves as a kind of filter through which the reader can grapple with the same questions. Questions of justice, the right and wrong power of a government, and the same right and wrong power of the mob. Ultimately, it is a reminder that behind every question of justice, power, right and wrong, there are individual people whose stories matter.
In a way, the stories of these two books are surprisingly similar. In both, Miri faces repeated circumstances where something is just unfair. In Princess Academy, though, it is clear what that fairness means. She is surrounded by twenty other girls about her own age who are directly affected by her choices. In Palace of Stone, Miri realizes that her choices can have a direct affect on an entire nation. At first, this thrills her. But the responsibilities that come with that kind of influence can be dangerous. She will understand it best when she sees the entire nation - the king and the shoeless alike - the way she saw the other girls at the academy. People she knows, understands, and with whom she shares a fate of either violence or peace.
In all other ways, though, these books are very different. You don't have to have read Princess Academy to read Palace of Stone - though I suspect some familiarity with the magic of the place would be helpful, especially in the story's later moments. It definitely helps in understanding Miri's homesickness, as the reader cannot help but fall in love with the rough, beautiful Mount Eskel in the first book. Wherever you are in your reading of Shannon Hale's canon, take a moment for this one. It's worth it....more
Persuasion is my favorite of Jane Austen's novels. It's hard to have a favorite, but I do. Anne Elliot's quiet, patient, unassuming love is painfullyPersuasion is my favorite of Jane Austen's novels. It's hard to have a favorite, but I do. Anne Elliot's quiet, patient, unassuming love is painfully romantic, but even more than this, she's a character you want to emulate through and through. Who doesn't want to be as good as Anne Elliot? When has goodness ever been so beautiful, so ignored, and so romantic?
Diana Peterfreund's novel, For Darkness Shows the Stars, is a retelling of Persuasion right down to many of the names (the main character is Elliot North, and her dearly loved captain is Wentforth—close, but not quite, but not quite with reason). It's technically a sci-fi novel, as it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where technology has so ravaged the world that the only survivors have deemed any but the most rudimentary technological achievements to be the greatest evils.
Of course, because the characters are severely anti-technology, the novel doesn't feel like science fiction most of the time. When advanced science does show up, it feels either silly (sun-carts?) or magical (superhuman abilities?). The result is that the sci-fi aspects of the book are its weakest elements, and many of them feel like they're only around to make the book just a little bit more different than its source material.
That's not to say the book wasn't well done. It was. Though I frequently found myself wondering if it would've been better without such obvious derivation from Jane Austen, it was still a very good story. Kai and Elliot are an imperfect but perfect for each other pair, and the flashbacks given through their letters to one another were an ideal way to develop history while leading up to the epic final missive Persuasion is so well known for.
I was disappointed that more wasn't made of the setting. It's rare to find a novel set in New Zealand, let alone post-apocalyptic New Zealand, and I confess that I wanted to feel myself there as thoroughly as one does while watching Whale Rider, or even one of the Tolkien movies. It's such a gorgeous place, it's a pity not to make as much of it as possible.
The best uses of the setting were in the scene originally set in Lyme—the great catastrophe that turns the tide of tension away from Anne Elliot and toward Captain Wentworth. Here, the scene encompasses considerably more, as Elliot North not only rises to the occasion after that inevitable fall, but also discovers a chilling secret about the whole Fleet that will drive the narrative from here to the end of the novel.
Ultimately, Austen's Anne and Peterfreund's Elliot are two very different women who share long-suffering love and the burden of caste. Elliot is much more passionate, rigorous, and fearful than Anne, but the two women also live in very different worlds. They are both worlds of status, but they are significantly different nonetheless. In the end, Elliot is defined not by her patience and unassuming love, but by her resolve and ingenuity. She's an Anne Elliot for the modern day—or perhaps for the future. And while I do wish more sixteen year old girls were modeling themselves after the original Anne Elliot, Elliot North is very much the YA heroine of today. Which is still a very good thing....more
An honest look at the life of a street cop, Black & White will have you questioning every cop show, movie, and novel with its book-sized educationAn honest look at the life of a street cop, Black & White will have you questioning every cop show, movie, and novel with its book-sized education on what real law enforcement looks like. ...more
A fascinating introduction to a mostly hidden subject, Flashblind does an incredible job of making a highly scientific topic comprehensible to the layA fascinating introduction to a mostly hidden subject, Flashblind does an incredible job of making a highly scientific topic comprehensible to the layman without becoming condescending. The story follows a scientist and his brother, who is suffering from a rare skin disease that threatens to kill him, as they uncover a history of radiological studies in the Los Alamos desert. Government cover-ups, corporate cover-ups, and a desperate attempt to save humanity that may have gone too far - this book has it all....more
This book has been winning fans and followers since its release, and small wonder. It's refreshing, for one thing, to see a YA book garnering so muchThis book has been winning fans and followers since its release, and small wonder. It's refreshing, for one thing, to see a YA book garnering so much attention without having anything to do with the paranormal, or romance, or sequels. It's historical, too, and it's about time we celebrated a believably historical YA novel. Code Name Verity is told from two different points of view, both in the form of written confessionals. "Queenie," who goes by a number of different names throughout the book, begins the narrative imprisoned and interrogated by the Gestapo in WWII. She's been starved and tortured long enough, and she's ready to talk. Or write. As we read her account of her involvement in the British efforts against the Germans, we are mostly reading the story of her best friend, Maddie. Maddie is a mechanic and a pilot, so between the two of them, they make up the most unlikely pair of women in the whole of the British army. By the time the story shifts to Maddie's own account of things, we feel we've known her forever. It's a story of twists and turns, of gradually unraveling truths and lies in a richly personal account from two remarkable young women. The gravity of the narrative is wrapped in all the sass and gumption of these two, so that the reader almost forgets just how dark their situations are. It's an easy read in terms of how the story goes, but there's nothing easy about their lives. It's a story of friendship, bravery, resilience, and determination. By the final pages, you will love these two girls as much as they love each other. A few things to keep in mind: You will need to pay close attention all the way through, and you will need a box of tissues and a hand to cover your gasps of surprise.
Despite some acknowledged artistic license, this book would be an excellent way to integrate history and literature in a classroom. It's also a great way to teach foreshadowing and point of view if you happen to be tired of the old staples. I suspect this would not be relegated to the pile of books kids were forced to read but not love. I should also mention that even though this is definitely a girl power book, it's also a book about espionage, flying, and war. So if you have a room of stereotypical boys and unstereotypical girls, both camps will love it....more
I knew one thing about Rae Carson's The Crown of Embers going into it. Without discussing the details of the story, every reader I stumbled across whoI knew one thing about Rae Carson's The Crown of Embers going into it. Without discussing the details of the story, every reader I stumbled across who'd read it before me mentioned the romance. On more than one occasion, it was even called "steamy." Considering the disastrous romances of The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Elisa, seventeen year old queen and bearer of the Godstone, is due a break.
It would be a mistake to call the novel a romance in the sense that there's a great deal more going on than passionate glances and fervent kisses and the like. Elisa has inherited a kingdom ravaged by war, desperately poor, and politically unstable. She is raising a young prince, entertaining suitors, and uncovering the truth behind obscure prophecies that seem to center directly around her. There are daggers and arrows, assassins and desert caravans, and ships traversing stormy seas. And let's not forget magic. In short, this book is epic.
But it is true that the most powerful story you're left with at the closing of the final page is the heady passion between Elisa and the man she loves, as their friendship matures each step of the journey. Second books often suffer from lack of narrative, serving as a bridge from the opening story in book one to its conclusion in book three. It's the love story that keeps The Crown of Embers together, unifying each disparate plot twist with one steadily growing theme.
Beyond that, Elisa herself is a character you want to stay with through anything and everything. She's a flawed character, but so very strong. Her strength is in her intelligence and her courage, yet she is not afraid to rely on those she trusts. She's a good example of love allowing you to be vulnerable without making you weak. Nothing about this series is moralizing, but I cannot help feel that a reader could learn a great deal from these characters about wisdom, courage, and power - the very things Elisa asks for in the sacrament of pain, the lessons she herself takes from her own experiences.
You must know before you begin that the series does not end here. Much more than with the first book, The Crown of Embers concludes with a serious cliffhanger. You'll be aching for book three. So much happens between Elisa's marriage to Alejandro in the opening pages of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and the final scene of The Crown of Embers, that you'll probably have to reread them both before the next release. So carve out the time now, and gather yourself a book club. The Bitter Kingdom is coming in the fall of 2013....more
Beautiful story. Absolutely worth all the book clubs that have been reading it over the last few years. Thanks to Sister 1 for making me read it. AndBeautiful story. Absolutely worth all the book clubs that have been reading it over the last few years. Thanks to Sister 1 for making me read it. And look! I read traditional adult fiction!
Read again for my own book club in 2014, then again via audiobook with Kathryn in Costa Rica. It's still good....more
For fans of Shannon Hale or Gail Carson Levine, The Amaranth Enchantment provides a refreshing addition to the genre of fairy tale adaptations. LucindFor fans of Shannon Hale or Gail Carson Levine, The Amaranth Enchantment provides a refreshing addition to the genre of fairy tale adaptations. Lucinda Chapdelaine barely remembers her parents who died when she was very young. Raised by her well-meaning uncle and vicious aunt in a jewelry shop, she's about as poor and insignificant as she can get. Until a mysterious woman happens into the shop, leaving behind a mysterious and powerful jewel. Lucinda is determined to use the jewel - or the woman - to save her uncle from destitution. But his untimely death, and the theft of the jewel land her in the middle of the worst imbroglio she could have imagined. Accompanied by a friendly goat, an untrustworthy street urchin, and her own pluck, Lucinda must track down the jewel and bring it back to its owner - even if it means stealing it back, right from under the nose of the crown prince....more
There are two Briony's that stand out to me in literature. There's Briony from Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, and there's Briony from Franny BillingsleThere are two Briony's that stand out to me in literature. There's Briony from Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, and there's Briony from Franny Billingsley's Chime. They are worth comparison. Both are storytellers, for one thing, and their storytelling works its way into the fabric of the narrative so completely that the reader has to learn the difference between what is told and what is true. Both Briony's struggle with a profound sense of guilt. Both Briony's feel responsible for the utter destruction of another person's life. The comparisons end here.
The Briony in Atonement, for one thing, is a self-deluded beast. It's hard to pity her, because she wants your pity. The novel is also historical to a T. There is nothing out of the ordinary in Atonement, save for McEwan's excessive infatuation with deceiving his readers. The Briony of Chime lives in a world that is anything but ordinary. Her house, a parsonage on the edge of a swamp, has been burnt by fire and engulfed by flood. And that's just the beginning of the things that Briony has done, because she's a witch and always has been, a witch who ought to be hanged for the damage she's wrought in her anger. It's the secret she keeps buried inside of her, the secret only her stepmother knew about. But her stepmother was murdered, and now there's no one but her strange sister Rose, her distant father, and a village ready to hang her the moment she cries Witch. Then Eldric comes and opens a window into her dark, troubled heart. He's everything she's not, and for a moment she begins to forget to hate herself so very utterly much.
Considering all the self loathing Briony engages in, you'd think this book would be a dreary, miserable sop to read. But it's not. It's absolute poetry from beginning to end - unflagging, unflinching, unapologetic poetry. The book is a reminder of the light and dark in the world of fairy. It's both a tribute to some very old tales, and something completely new all at the same time. Every character undergoes a delicate, believable transformation. The ending feels every inch justified, and the reader is deliciously, restfully satisfied.
Ally Condie does something very different in Crossed than she did in Matched. The first book of the series shows Cassia's gradual transformation fromAlly Condie does something very different in Crossed than she did in Matched. The first book of the series shows Cassia's gradual transformation from delighted citizen to disillusioned rebel. In the second book, we begin to see things through Ky's eyes. Quite literally, as half the book is told from his perspective. Through him, we see her grow from the ignorance and insecurities of the first story into a fearless, steady woman who will endure hunger and thirst, abandonment, exhaustion, and miles of desert to find the one she loves. It would almost be a fairy tale if it weren't so earthy and human.
And of course, it doesn't end here. Cassia has left her family to work on the outskirts of the Society in hopes that she might get close enough to Ky to find him again. With no idea where he's gone, or if he's even still alive, she follows her instincts and some twists of fate - that would look to anyone else like the worst misfortune - until she find someone who has actually seen him. Who can point to where he's gone, and even run with her part of the way. Joined by some unlikely companions (because what journey story would be complete without them), both Ky and Cassia make their own ways across an unforgiving landscape to find each other.
Along the way, we learn a lot. Most importantly, we learn just what sort of experiences have fashioned Ky, mystery-boy extraordinaire. We learn something of what makes him tick. Far from making him less interesting in the revelation, it helps to pull him out of the general "emo boy" that many other reviewers pegged him as, and give him real depth and breadth. It's absolutely worth all the desert miles to learn about him.
But we also learn about the Society's real opposition, the rebellion that's stirring and growing, not just outside its borders, but within the very capitol. And we can't help but learn a good deal more about a character Ky would prefer to forget - Xander, the other tip of the triangle. There's love and death and dirt aplenty in this book, and it's all good. ...more