Silver Phoenix is about Ai Ling, a girl with the power to wrap her spirit around those of others and hear their thoughts, who runs away from home to a...moreSilver Phoenix is about Ai Ling, a girl with the power to wrap her spirit around those of others and hear their thoughts, who runs away from home to avoid betrothal to a lecherous old man and to seek her father who has been summoned to the emperor's palace. Along the way she befriends the reserved Chen Yong after a near death experience. Though Ai Ling meets more foes than friends, she and Chen Yong make it to the palace safely, only to find an evil that has been awaiting their arrival for hundreds of years.
Cindy Pon creates a a world far different from the typical medieval england-esque fantasy setting seen in so many novels. It is a world of three-headed goddesses, monsters in the form of beautiful women, and races and tribes of her own creation, i.e. definitely not elves and dwarves. Cindy's heroine Ai Ling is a young woman who fits into her society for the most part as an obedient daughter, but has a rebellious streak in her shown through her thirst for knowledge in a place that does not advocate scholarly education of women.
One thing I admire greatly in Ai Ling is that even though she is confused by her powers, she is not afraid to learn to use them. She does what she must to survive. Cindy's characters continued to surprise me as the story went on. Ai Ling is not without fault, which she knows, but still lets her faults get the best of her at times. She makes very dark decisions that lead to changes in her, as well as wisdom.
Cindy also knows how to write villains. The worst monster in the book is a human, and Cindy does not skimp on the details of how power leads to corruption and the desire to corrupt others. From the beginning of the novel, Cindy deals with the darker side of love. She begins with the consequences of a forbidden love affair, continues the theme by introducing us to characters who have been scorned by love and jealousy, and ends by showing us how twisted a person can become when unable to let go of the past. Silver Phoenix shows us the tragedy of a world that puts restrictions on love. Ai Ling's belief that people should marry for love allows her to sacrifice for what is best for others.
On the technical side of things, Cindy creates imagery that pulls you into the setting. My mouth dropped during certain scenes, especially one that involved the description of many unique trees and their inhabitants. Her dialogue is believable; it does not sound modern yet does not feel stale in the ancient setting. The characters interact playfully, building relationships throughout the novel that readers can invest in.
Cindy builds tension and intrigue from the very first page with strong, distinct voices. Each character has his or her own set of beliefs, demeanor and ways of speaking that flesh them out and bring something important to the story.
At times I felt the story turned in interesting directions that were not developed enough. Certain sections, while being rich with character development, seemed like they belonged in another plot line. I hope these references made to places such as the land of men and the land of women, and fascinating characters-the chief of a certain tribe-with such small parts will reappear in later books with a greater purpose.
I only have one big problem with Silver Phoenix. I am not going to reveal any details about the event I am writing about, but some people may still think of this next part as a spoiler so skip to the next paragraph if you wish. As I said above, Ai Ling makes dark choices. I've been frustrated with fantasy authors for a long time because many refuse to let their characters make the wrong choice. When Ai Ling makes her choice, she is emotionally distraught but also in possession of knowledge of what consequences the choice will bring. The scene in which this occurs is brilliant and I had high hopes for the subplot until the end. In the end, Ai Ling does not suffer the consequences of a disturbing choice. So this stunning choice made by the heroine seemed suddenly like a device to show what a good person she is rather than an honest characterization that people are grey; no one is all good or all bad. I hope the sequel will handle this subject in a better manner because I believe Ai Ling is strong enough to deal with consequences she brings upon herself and deserves to show readers what she is made of. (less)
Lili writes emotionally charged scenes that are not over the top, which immersed me in the story. She is skilled at breaking down gender stereotypes t...moreLili writes emotionally charged scenes that are not over the top, which immersed me in the story. She is skilled at breaking down gender stereotypes to depict the characters as what I call "just people." Scenes where characters appear as "just people" are scenes where race and gender don't come into play because the characterization is about them as human beings. When a girl pulls a gun on a guy, we expect the guy to call her bluff. In Strange Angels, we don't see that. Lili shows us emotions without masculine or feminine stereotypes getting in the way. She shows us fear we can feel from both sides of the trigger, and the emotional strength it takes to pull it or not.
This isn't to say that the entire book is genderless in characterization entirely; it isn't and I wouldn't want it to be.
Initially, I was skeptical about Strange Angels. The tagline promoting the sequel, "Will Dru discover just how special she really is?," did not give me any confidence that this was going to be anything but a YA paranormal romance with a blase Mary Sue. I was pleasantly surprised when Dru turned out to be exactly what she should be: the product of an upbringing in which she is motherless and accompanies her father into supernatural territory on what are most likely suicide missions.
Dru is uncouth; she says "goddamn" and belches as often as she pleases. She may be an amateur, but she doesn't curl up in a ball when evil knocks on her door. She does something about it. Dru is an interesting girls. She even has interests of her own; drawing! Yes, dear readers, this is not a girl who is desired by the entire school body despite hating everyone and everything. Dru doesn't get a lot of attention at school, and she doesn't try to. With the paranormal hunting her down, she has real things to worry about.
In regards to her drawings, I'd like to see her depicted as someone with an artist's eye. I appreciate the fact that she has a personality underneath that rough exterior, but I don't see it in action. At one point Dru says she can probably describe all of the places she has lived in terms of the way light and shadows hit her different bedroom ceilings. Probably doesn't make me believe in her ability to do so. I want her to show me that attention to detail in her astounding, daily life.
In addition to a strong female lead, Lili delivers a solid supporting male character in Graves. A cute half-asian boy who is afraid he is becoming a werwulf, Graves offers comic relief in the presence of Dru's serious business attitude. He plays a lot of roles throughout the story including the maybe-hopefully-boyfriend and the voice of reason for Dru whose life is bereft of role models.
I found Graves to be the most interesting character in the book. We learn just enough about his past and every day life to become intrigued and wonder what it was that got him to where he is, and how his history will affect his choices now that he knows about the existence of paranormal beings.
Though, I think dangerous ground is tread when Dru describes Graves as a "half-breed," and thinks it is good that Graves "hadn't drawn the really slit-eyed card a lot of half-breeds have to play." Maybe some racially mixed people like the shape of their thin eyes, Dru.
Strange Angels is well-paced with a balance of action and down time for most of the story. Around page 200, however, there is a lull that dragged on far too long for me. I've noticed this in many novels that near the climax. The characters finally begin to make sense of the crazy things that have been happening to them, then proceed to spend chapters wondering when the evil is coming, what it wants, why is it after us, let's consult the books, maybe make a few phone calls, is the evil hear yet let's wait. So the final confrontation gets crammed into one chapter that only serves to offer a little more back story and a set-up for the next installment in the series.
In the end, Lili shows us more of her skill at depicting the human condition after the shock of terrible events and ushers in a new setting that will bring more exciting and dangerous adventures, and continue the quest for revenge and retribution, to the lives of her characters.
I am excited about the sequel, Betrayals, which is being released this November. It is likely to be an entirely different animal from Strange Angels with limitless directions that story could take.(less)
A Little Friendly Advice is about Ruby, a girl who has just had a disaster of a sixteenth birthday party, despite the awesome vintage polaroid camera...moreA Little Friendly Advice is about Ruby, a girl who has just had a disaster of a sixteenth birthday party, despite the awesome vintage polaroid camera her mom bought her. The father she hasn't seen in six years arrives hoping that a bouquet of flowers will patch things up. Ruby avoids a conversation by screaming at her father and running off with her friends to party at a local park and get drunk for the first time. Ruby thinks she has found closure after six long years, but quickly learns that closing the door on one aspect of her life means opening 5 more. Now with the help of "loyal Beth, dangerous Katherine, and gossipy Maria" plus her new romantic prospect Charlie, a boy who spends his time making buttons with cute phrases on them, Ruby discovers that friendship and love aren't as black and white as she thinks.
I found myself stopping in the middle of reading A Little Friendly Advice several times to laugh and reminisce in memories similar to the action in the book. Much of what happens in Advice will ring true with those who have graduated from high school and those who are still toughing it out.
Each of Siobhan's characters have a distinct voice, home life, set of interests, and style that makes it almost impossible not to identify with one of the characters. And identity is a large part of Advice. Ruby has spent a long time defining herself by her closest relationships (who doesn't at some point?), letting others make her decisions for her, and must struggle to understand who she is when those relationships change.
As a narrator, Ruby is compelling because she makes things harder on herself by not calling people out on the injustices they've committed. Ruby's inner monologue, while at times a bit too rational for 16-year-old thoughts for me, treats readers to an observant mind. The mind of an artist, as Charlie points out. Ruby quickly recognizes people and situations for what they are, then waits and weighs her options before being acting.
Siobhan used a great technique when transitioning into memories. The book is written in the present tense, except for flashbacks. Instead of triggering a memory for Ruby every so often and pulling us out of the immediate action, Siobhan sections memories off into their own chapters. It let me leave one moment in time with ease and without abruptness. As Ruby's memories come back to her, she puts another piece of the Six Year Puzzle in place, and the audience can play along.
I was throughly impressed with how convincing the dialogue came off in Advice. Not once did I find myself saying "no way would a teenager ever say that," and the dialogue that comes from the adults is just as credible. You can lose yourself in the sincerity of this book! Not only is the dialogue a smooth read, the action is engaging the whole way through. These girls don't sit around talking each other to death. They shop at thrift stores, skip school to see art shows, and commit some Mischief Night mayhem.
Advice left me wanting to know more. While Ruby finds her resolution in the end, there are still many questions hanging in the air. I certainly wouldn't want all of the conflicts tied up in a little bundle with ribbon, but I wanted to see more of a change in Ruby's relationships with Maria and Katherine. I acknowledge that Ruby's most important relationships change and mature over the course of the narrative, but I feel that two developing relationships were given short shrift at the end of the story. Advice is about learning what friends are for and what they are not for so I expected to see a greater change in the way Ruby viewed Maria and Katherine. She has a new view on what Beth means to her, but Maria and Katherine are not fleshed out enough even though they play important roles in the group dynamic. Siobhan is teaching my Writing Youth Literature class this upcoming semester, so maybe I can spend time convincing her to write a sequel.
When I took The Hunger Games out of the library a couple weeks ago I didn't expect it to be anything too great. I'd heard the premise before with Batt...moreWhen I took The Hunger Games out of the library a couple weeks ago I didn't expect it to be anything too great. I'd heard the premise before with Battle Royale, so I didn't have high hopes for its originality. I figured there would be a few cool action scenes, some well-written passages, mildly interesting characters, and an ending that would no doubt disappoint me since most endings do.
When I cracked open and read the first page, I became a citizen of District 12. From the moment Katniss began to speak, she jumped off the page as one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever read. A girl who risks death to feed her mother and her sister, who from the very beginning lets us know she will do whatever she needs to do to survive. Peeta, a boy who worries about losing his humanity in the brutal games.
To me, The Hunger Games is what writing is about. Suzanne Collins has taken the current concerns of war and shown us how violence and oppression ruins those they touch. But their is hope among those who don't give into the oppressors running the show. The ones who want to rebel to stand up for freedom. Collins gave her characters something real to fight for and something real for readers to cheer them on for. I wept when Peeta spoke about his concern over losing his humanity, afraid he would turn into a monster.
We shouldn't have to ask ourselves, but how far would we go to survive and to protect tho ones we love? I applaud Collins for bringing these subjects into the lives of readers, young adult and adult. Being humane toward one another is something we should all be thinking about, and Katniss is always thinking about who the other tributes are. What kind of people they are. Collins never makes anyone an animal. All of her characters have needs and are just as vulnerable as everyone else. I could identify with almost all of her characters.
Then there is the Capitol. It is a distant but always present villain. I hope that in the sequel we can get inside of how the Capitol works and who runs it. Who made the rules of the Hunger Games and why do they keep it up? Are they really so corrupt or do they refuse to question what they have always known? I have a lot of questions and faith that Collins will answer many of them in Catching Fire.
My only gripe with The Hunger Games is that it lingered on the romance plot line too much for my taste. I found the love story beautiful, even if it was contrived partly, but I think more time should have been spent developing the secondary characters. Collins spent a lot of time building up suspense, then ended character subplots abruptly.
When I returned the book the the library today I opened it up to the inside of the back cover where a post it note had been placed. I'm not sure if this is something the library did or if it was placed there by a previous reader. I took out my pencil and wrote "This book changed me. Let it change you." Then I hugged it to my chest, and with a quick kiss on its top edge, slipped the book into the return slot.(less)
I often wonder how some books become published. Secret Society would be torn apart (figuratively. Well, maybe literally, too.) in even an introduction...moreI often wonder how some books become published. Secret Society would be torn apart (figuratively. Well, maybe literally, too.) in even an introduction to fiction class. The narration changes between four characters, often in the same scene, making the action difficult to follow.
Dolby skips crucial scenes that would let readers connect with characters. One subplot is about Lauren who meets Alejandro. A couple sentences tell us Alejandro gives Lauren an extravagant birthday present and a few chapters later Lauren describes him as someone who "makes everything worth it." A few chapters beyond that she describes him as a flake, but Dolby hasn't shown us any behavior flakier than Lauren's own.
Perhaps when Lauren said "worth it" she meant the $900 skirt she bought in her introductory chapter. It's so tough buying those, right?
"She turned over the skirt's price tag: nine hundred dollars. Would her mother notice if she put it on her platinum card? No, Lauren shopped at Giroux all the time, so what was the big deal? Even if her parents' divorce had frozen her mother's love life, it had done no such thing to her bank account."
Dolby tells us how great his characters are, but he never really shows us. Why is Phoebe good at art? Her mom being an artist isn't enough. Has she studied art all of her life? What credentials does Nick, the one who supposedly loves music, have to judge what is good and poor sounding? Music lessons, ever? And for the love of anything that makes sense, why does Patch, the poor kid, go to the rich prep school?
I had short expectations for this book. I was worried it would be about whiny rich kids. I will admit the characters aren't whiny. They're just shallow. I did have hope in the beginning when the kids vowed to obey the Society over church, school, and state. I thought Secret Society was going to be a story about standing up to corruption and oppression, and how materialism gets in the way of wisdom and righteousness.
What I got was story about kids who can't look at a person without noticing their L.L. Bean boots. Kids who say 'oh, how horrible this Society is. Let's investigate!' then give in to their oppressors after a reprimand. I read somewhere that this is going to be a series, and I was so sad I almost wept. Sometimes a story is much stronger as stand alone piece. If this story had actually been revised, which I can't imagine it was from the poor quality of the writing, it could be a wonderful tale about the dangers of being out of touch with reality that privilege brings. I suppose it needs to be series because someone doesn't own enough $900 skirts.
At one point, an expensive shop owner tells Lauren that you have to pay for quality sometimes. It does make sense to pay for quality. Which is why it makes sense that I got this book for free.
I didn't hate Secret Society because I think Dolby was trying to make a point about corruption. There was one character who spent the book trying to infiltrate the Society so he could expose them, and the kids do see some serious damage done by the Society. Dolby just really missed the mark in regards to making his characters come alive and creatng a story that means something.(less)
Usually, when someone says a book is a fun read, I don't take much notice of the title. I like my books to be funny and exhilarating with a theme that...moreUsually, when someone says a book is a fun read, I don't take much notice of the title. I like my books to be funny and exhilarating with a theme that keeps me picking apart the meaning of the story well after I've finished it.
Violet Wings turned out to be those things on top of being fun. Fun to read and fun to think about. The descriptions of faeries and genies being two genders of the same species and the different amounts of magic assigned to each.
In Zaria's Feyland, each faerie or genie has innate magic that gives them a level, much like in a video game, from 1 to 100. They also have a limited amount of "radia," which must be spent in order to cast spells. Radia amounts come in six divisions, each with a different color (lowest to highest): Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet.
This is where that theme I was talking about comes in. In Feyland, there is a lot of elitism among faeries and genies with higher amounts of radia who look down upon those with lesser amount. So that means there is tension between faeries and genies who are, yes you've got it, different colors.
"Obviously, not all fairies and genies are equal. In fact, the differences in our levels of magic and reserves of radia make us quite unequal."
I got goosebumps when I read that.
The racial/class tension isn't in your face. Victoria slips it in smoothly, yet I think it is an enormously important issue that I applaud her and her characters for fighting to be friends despite being ordered not to associate with those vastly different in color.
So back to the fun.
Victoria doesn't hold back with great names for her characters like Zaria, Magistria, Meteor, and Wolframite, which all added to the magic of being in Feyland. There are also a lot of character types I wouldn't expect in a middle grade novel such as a gambling genie who will be your friend at a high price.
I was happy to see a lack of romantic plot is this book. There are some hints as to who Zaria has feelings for, but no subplot tacked on while she is worrying about far more important things like her missing family and an evil faerie.
Each chapter is preceded by an except from a book by Orville Gold, genie historian of Feyland, and it really builds suspense because the excerpts hint at what is coming next in the story.
The prose is less eloquent than I prefer, but Victoria does have some lovely passages, including those about seeing trees in person for the first time after living life in Feyland where trees cannot grow.
While some secondary characters seem underdeveloped and interchangeable, Victoria still does a good job of giving everyone their own quirks. I also noticed a distinct difference between the way humans and faeries/genies speak, both very believable and interesting.
The tone of the book reminded me of Artemis Fowl, so if you like him, you might like this.
I fell in love with Francesca's Weetzie Bat series in high school and since then have been convinced that nothing she writes can ever top the characte...moreI fell in love with Francesca's Weetzie Bat series in high school and since then have been convinced that nothing she writes can ever top the characters and modern faerie tale stories in those books.
The Waters & The Wild came very close.
The only problem I have with this book is that it is too short. I wish Francesca had written it as a full length novel. By the end, there is so much more to explore. Why was Bee switched for a changeling? How will all of the characters live when so much of what they knew of the world has changed?
If you've ever felt like you don't belong, and all of us have in one way or another, you'll find yourself in this book. I really connected with Bee, Haze and Stephanie, not only because they felt they belonged somewhere else, but that there was a place they needed to get back to. The difference in finding a place to belong and returning to a place where you belong may seem subtle, but I think it is vast. Returning is reclaiming who you used to be, but often times you can't go back unless you go forward. Is that a paradox?
Francesca weaves in other themes such as war. War between the world and war between peers, the outcasts and the popular kids. But it isn't the typical dynamic you see in a lot of books. Bee and her friends aren't afraid of the popular kids. They don't long to be them. They crash their parties and fly away. Francesca's prose is so lyrical I found myself side by side with the characters as they soared and sang and were covered in the earth.(less)