I wish someone would have warned me that 2016 was the year the majority of my favorite authors would disappoint me. This book has won a lot of awardsI wish someone would have warned me that 2016 was the year the majority of my favorite authors would disappoint me. This book has won a lot of awards (including the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for fiction announced today an hour or so after I finished reading it), yet I feel it is the weakest of all Hardinge's books to date. The concept of the tree itself is intriguing but the way it manifests itself in the narrative is unimpressive. It is a tool of supernatural forces in an otherwise realistic setting that allows the heroine to investigate her father's death, but then conveniently doesn't need to be dealt with further at the end. When you add to that the feeling I could not shake that I was meant to be taking a lesson in how dumb religion is and pure and perfect science is form its thematic presence, well....I lost all tolerance with the book. I would LOVE a book that explores the tension between science and religion with nuance. Hardinge could have done that. She has dealt so well with tricky themes (censorship, imperialistic racism, political and economic oppression) brilliantly before. The difference is here every character and plot point feels manipulated to make her point whereas in her other books they flow naturally out of the intricate worlds and characters she created. Yes, this has won a lot of attention, but I recommend reading pretty much anything else Hardinge has written if you are trying to find a good starting place for her books. (My favorite is A Face Like Glass, which tragically still hasn't been published in the US. But this was. Grrrrr.)...more
The story of Scheherazade is one that is tricky to do as a retelling. There's so much potential for the problematic. E.K. Johnston is one of the few authors I would name as one who could tackle this and do it well if I were asked. And in A Thousand Nights she did just that.
Lo-Melkhiin has wed-and killed-300 different girls. The first few caused unease but went generally unremarked by the nobles. When the numbers started to pile up, a law was passed. One girl from each village in turn and then he could start over again. One girl has the courage to make herself the target of his eye in order to spare the life of her sister. After she survives the first night and then another she begins to realize she has a power her predecessors did not have fed by her sister's prayers and rites that have made her into a small god. The demon who inhabits the body of the once great king is intrigued by this new wife. When he realizes the power she has, he becomes greedy to share it and use it for his own bent purposes. Unfortunately for him, he never bothered to understand the power of the small gods or the strength of the women who who tend them.
A Thousand Nights is as beautifully written as I've come to expect from a book written by E.K. Johnston. The prose pulled me right into the rich desert world and oppressive palace where Lo-Melkhiin makes his home. The richness of the world is in the details Johnston includes and her beautiful imagery which calls to all of the senses. Not every aspect of the world is explained. She leaves a lot to conjecture, but it works well for the story she is telling. In another type of book this might irritate me, but here I preferred it to the alternative.
Discussing the characters is a little difficult as none of them save the possessed king have a name that is mentioned. This is another thing that might be irritating in another type of story but works incredibly well here. The heroine is in no way lacking despite only being referred to by the various titles she holds to those who love her. Her act of sacrifice for her sister makes her courageous and laudable, but she is also clever and industrious. She is being fed power by the rites her sister and the women in her village are performing, but she is the one whose keen mind and willing hands figure out how to manipulate it and negotiate the dangerous life she lives in the palace. The heroine's sister, though we get to see less of her, is also possessed of industrious heart and keen mind. It is through them working together though they are miles apart that great things are accomplished and I truly truly loved this aspect of the novel. It demonstrated the power and strength and contributions that women make by doing whatever it is they excel at. It also showed how easy it is for those things to be overlooked and for their power to go unappreciated and underestimated.
The aspect of this retelling I enjoyed the most was that there is no attempt to turn this into a story about romantic love. It is, first and foremost, a story about sisterly love, but there are all other sorts of relationships celebrated as well. And it is a story about women: their friendships, their alliances, their arts, and their bonds with each other.
I read an ARC provided by a friend who had finished with it. A Thousand Nights goes on sale October 6th....more
I was very much looking forward to Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt because I generally really enjoy Gary Scmidt's books. After reading the first chapter, I was certain that this one would wreck me emotionally. Possibly more than any other. I wasn't wrong. But I also wasn't right. I was expecting a good sort of emotionally destroyed. A Code Name Verity type of emotionally destroyed. That's not what I got.
Jack lives a quiet sheltered life on his parents' farm in Maine until his family takes in a 14 year old foster kid named Joseph. Joseph became a father at 13 and was sent to a Juvenile Detention Center. Broken and sad, Joseph's one dream is to be reunited with his infant daughter, Jupiter. Jack's life is changed by seeing his school, town, and life in general through Joseph's eyes.
The harsh events of Joseph's life is all too realistic. He is an abused child who was screwed over by the system on pretty much every level imaginable. He is incredibly smart particularly when it comes to Math. He really and truly loved Jupiter's mom and only wants to take care of his baby.
Jack is greatly impacted by the tragedy in Joseph's life. He wants to be his friend and have his back. He stands up for him at school and tries to keep him from getting hurt. He is haunted by the words Joseph speaks during his nightmares at night. The relationship that develops between the two of them is an interesting one. Joseph is not really sure what to do with Jack at first, but he begins to share parts of his life with him and give him advice.
While I found all of the events of Orbiting Jupiter to be incredibly realistic, I can not say the same for the characters. There are far too many perfect people inhabiting this book. And the characters who aren't perfect are horribly cliché in their awfulness. Jack and his parents are amazing, and there are truly amazing foster families in this world. I know. I'm friends with many of them, but no one is perfect. Everyone has their breaking points and resentments in these situations. That none of them ever came out made it hard to swallow. Then there is Joseph himself who is not responsible for pretty much any of the terrible that has befallen him. He got a girl pregnant. Her parents were displeased. Everything else is not on him. The book goes out of its way to make him a helpless innocent victim of the system. This is particularly annoying given the conclusion of the book. I would say more about why this bothers me, but can't due to spoilers. In the end I found the book to be emotionally manipulative rather than emotive.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Clarion Books, via Edelweiss. Orbiting Jupiter goes on sale October 6th. ...more
I may never have known Audacity by Melanie Crowder existed if it weren't for Book Riot's post on feminist YA books of 2015. Thank you, Kelly Jensen, for writing that article. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else, and that is a shame. This is a brilliant and moving book. And I may need to officially revise my stance on verse novels.
Audacity is the story of Clara Lemlich. It begins when she is a teenager living in her shtetl in Russia. After a series of harsh pogroms agains the Jews, Clara and her family immigrate to America. The book chronicles their stay in a poor house in London, the steerage passage to the US, and their entrance through Ellis. Then it changes pace as Clara gets a job in a sweat shop and begins her fight for unions and justice in the garment industry. Told in beautiful first person perspective verse, Audacity is the story of a girl who had a fire burning inside her too bright for anyone to put out, and how she used it to warm and change the world.
Clara Lemlich was a real person, but this book is historical fiction as it takes some liberties with the story here and there. Nothing is changed to take from the historical authenticity of the novel, there are just some thoughts and interactions Clara is involved in that would not be documented. There is a fascinating interview with her daughter and several of her grandchildren at the end that is also worth reading.
Clara was born into a family where the men studied the Torah and the women did the work. She was not allowed to go to school, not allowed to speak Russian, not allowed to learn to read or write. She defied her parents and secretly learned to do all of these things. She was constantly told good girls are obedient. Good girls do what they're told. But Clara made her own rules and fought for the herself and the girl she sat beside in the sweatshops day by day. Despite being beaten, jailed, and harassed, she never gave up. Audacity wonderfully captures her struggle and spirit.
Some excerpts that show the beauty and scope of the story: How can I ever be more than just someone's daughter wife mother if I cannot study if I cannot learn if I am not permitted to have even one book?
The mother of the exiles holds her torch aloft greeting us in the water The clouds break apart and for a moment pure clean rays of sunshine reach through the heavens to dance across my cheeks
One by one the foreman pats the workers down roving over curves and creases searching for scraps of fabric or thread or dignity that might find their way out of the shop
I know he thinks to break this thing in me that insists I think for myself
Just think Pauline says, if thousands of tiny lights can outshine the moon, is there anything thousands of us cannot do?
Audacity is full ideas: feminism, idealism, the power of knowledge, fighting for what is right, and never giving up no matter how hard it gets. Clara's story is inspiring in thousands of different ways, and this should be included on shelves everywhere.
The book is considered YA, but strong MG readers can handle it as well. I can't wait to share it with my own daughter....more
I've heard a lot of good things about Nova Ren Suma's books. When the opportunity to read an ARC of her latest, The Walls Around Us, came up, I decided it was the perfect time to try her writing. I can see why so many have sung her praises, but sadly this book didn't work for me personally. There are several good aspects to it, but as a whole it was just not a Brandy book.
Violet is a star ballerina headed to Julliard and ready to leave behind her past. Part of the past she's escaping is the horrible memory of her best friend Ori and what happened in the tunnel of trees behind their ballet theater. The incident that sent Ori to prison and handed Violet all of her dreams. Amber was serving a sentence in the youth detention facility Ori was sent to. Amber was found guilty of murdering her step-father. Amber knows she has no future beyond the life she lives in the facility. Both girls tell their stories and, through them, Ori's story is told. Combined, the three girls share one story of friendship and hate, murder and revenge, ambition and power.
The combination of ballet and prison is an intensely interesting one. As you read both Violet and Amber's accounts there are a startling number of similarities between the two cultures. Hierarchies, those who bully, those who try and keep their heads down, the push and drive to become the most powerful. It is a fascinating study. I would love to hear from people involved in both worlds how accurate the representations here are, but from a purely literary standpoint, the comparison is incredibly well done. Violet and Amber play similar roles in the worlds they inhabit, the main difference being that Amber is more of a planner and better at execution when she wants something done. They both tell lies, not just to the people around them, but to themselves as well. Through them both, the reader sees plainly the power your mind has to manipulate your memories and make you believe what you want. This is a thing everyone does, just not on as grand a scale as Violet and Amber do it. Of the two girls, Amber was the person whose point of view I preferred. Violet was so self absorbed and unrepentant that I hated being in her head. I do think it is important that we were given that opportunity though. It's an important part of the story, and the dual narration lends the novel its sense of mystery and intrigue. I was saddened by how little we truly knew of Ori. Both girls have her on a pedestal-to them she is utterly perfect. Violet wants to knock her off that pedestal. Amber wants to worship her on it. I never got a sense of who she truly was a person, which was a real problem for me given the end.
The ending is my biggest issue with the book, and it's frustrating that I can't fully explain why without spoilers. I'll just say that the resolution didn't work for me at all. I didn't understand the mechanics of it. What on earth???? The supernatural aspects of the novel were really well done up until that resolution, and then I was just left feeling incredibly let down because it didn't make sense. I also feel like it counteracted a lot of the rest of the novel thematically.
I'm thinking I will read at least one of Suma's other novels to give her a fair chance, but this particular one left me confused, frustrated, and sad (sad because I feel like beautiful writing and well done characterization was wasted on an end that was ridiculous.)
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers, via Edelweiss. The Walls Around US is available on March 24....more
Incredibly well done historical fiction with a diverse cast of characters and a realistic resolution to the girls pretending to be boys. I thought itIncredibly well done historical fiction with a diverse cast of characters and a realistic resolution to the girls pretending to be boys. I thought it could have been a little shorter and tighter plot-wise, but overall a good recommended read. ...more
I looked forward to reading this for a while and was so disappointed. Higgs is an awful human being and Monarch is as stereotypical manic-pixie-dreamI looked forward to reading this for a while and was so disappointed. Higgs is an awful human being and Monarch is as stereotypical manic-pixie-dream girl as you can get. I kept waiting or Yee to subvert these characterizations and do something clever with the plot but that didn't happen. I'm personally disappointed, but am glad ti have it as a rec for those I know who eat these books up....more
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds came out the first week of the year. I heard good things from several people, and was eager to try on of Reynold's books. Boy was I not disappointed.
Matt Miller is a boy who wears a black suit to school every day. His mom died of cancer recently, but that's not the reason for the suit. Matt, a senior on an abbreviated schedule due to good grades, works every day at a local funeral home. He arranges flowers, sets up buffets, washes cars, and sometimes acts as pall bearer. He also attends most of the funerals. Sitting in the back, he soaks up every ounce of heart splitting grief he can. Matt has close friends, both old and new, who are there for him though and don't allow him to get swallowed up in his own grief. Friends who will have his back, broaden his horizons, and bring him back, little by little, into the world of the living.
Matt's world shrunk considerably when his mom died. He lost his position at the bank he was supposed to be working at for school. His father started drinking again after years of sobriety. He lost almost all the joy in his life. Matt loves to cook but finds he can't because it reminds him too much of his mom. In the days closest to her death, you can see that he is only hanging on by the barest of threads. As the days and weeks pass, it gets a little easier. His method of coping is a bit odd. He goes to the funerals and focuses on the person who appears closest to the deceased, and then eagerly awaits for the breakdown of grief he knows is coming. Like living vicariously through these grieving people keeps his own close enough that he never forgets what he's lost. Then his father ends up in the hospital and he's living alone. I felt so bad for Matt and worried for him. But I like his progression away from his grief too. He slowly begins to live a little. He hangs out with his best friend, who works hard to keep things as normal as possible between them. Matt's new boss becomes his mentor, sharing the hard times of his own life and giving Matt advice. Then there is Love, a girl Matt meets who brightens his world. She expands it too, dragging Matt into places he's never been and sharing her own pains. Through his relationships with the people around him, Matt takes his steps back into his full self, slightly altered but with a sense of purpose and reason to keep living.
The relationships and community are central aspect of The Boy in the Black Suit, and I found them all equally real, important, and necessary. This book showcases how the people in a person's life can make all the difference in times of crisis. I enjoyed all of the interactions between Matt and the other characters from the playful typical teenage banter he shares with Chris to the deep philosophical discussions with Mr. Ray to the tentatively healing superficial conversations with his dad to the gamut of conversations he has with Love, all of them are important and fit the characters and setting.
The setting of Bed-Stuy is fully realized as well, showcasing a community of diverse people with different motivations, pasts, potential futures, problems, jobs, and lifestyles. I really felt like I was experiencing the streets, restaurants, noises, and hilariously frightening cab drives right along with Matt.
The Boy in the Black Suit is an excellent look at the process of grief and the importance of community. ...more
I was introduced to Laura Ruby through my Twitter feed courtesy of Anne Ursu. She is an expert ranter about the things she is passionate about, and as we are passionate about many of the same things, I jumped at the chance to pick up an ARC of her new book, Bone Gap. I already knew she had a way with words and I couldn't wait to see how that manifested itself in a fiction narrative. It turns out Ruby is even more amazing when writing fiction.
This book is one that needs to be read. It begs to be read. Nothing I say in this review is going to do this book justice. It's one of those books you simply have to experience. Just read the book.
Bone Gap is a tiny midwestern town full of fences, cows, chickens, corn, and gaps. Gaps a person could disappear into never to be heard from again. Bone Gap is a place most people can't wait to get out of. This is true for the O'Sulivan boys as much as anyone. Older brother Sean had dreams of going to medical school, but put them on hold to stick around for his kid brother after their mom leaves them for an orthodontist who doesn't like kids. Younger brother Finn is in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school and working hard to get ready for his college applications. They will be his ticket out. But the brothers are currently both reeling from the disappearance of Roza, a beautiful girl who mysteriously entered their lives, and then just as mysteriously left them. Sean has resigned himself, figuring she chose to go of her own accord just like so many others had, including his mom. Finn knows better. He saw the mysterious man who came and took Roza away. Unfortunately he can't remember enough to help find her. As the summer continues, Sean's anger and resentment toward Finn grow. Finn, haunted by nightmares of Roza's disappearance, takes to going out at night and meeting up with Petey, the girl he's always had a crush on. As their relationship grows and the time since Roza's disappearance lengthens, Finn begins to feel better. But soon discoveries are made that make it impossible for everyone to ignore some harsh truths about themselves and life in Bone Gap.
Bone Gap is told in third person and follows the perspectives of several characters, mostly focusing on Finn and Roza. The reader also gets several glimpses into the mind of Petey and Sean. I loved the switching perspectives and how they give such a complete picture of what is going on. At the same time though, the way Ruby pieced these perspectives together gives the book a thrilling, edge of your seat, sense of urgency and mystery. Bone Gap is a puzzle where each piece is handed out one at a time, ending in a beautiful picture of family, community, love, friendship, and hope for the future. But some of the pieces are dark. Very dark. And that is part of the beauty of the finished picture. Ruby pulled it all together so well. And she has some great things to say through both Roza's story and Petey's story about the expectations society has for women and how that can trap a person. There is so much richness and depth to the whole book.
Bone Gap itself comes to life and is just as important to the story as any character. I have said before I have issues with small town books that are full of quirky characters. Ruby managed to stay balanced on the fine line between necessary oddness and too much quirk with Bone Gap. Bone Gap is a weird place for many reasons beyond being a small town. Reasons that become more evident as the story unfolds. The residents themselves are fairly typical people with their own little quirks and foibles, but there is never an overwhelming sense of it being too strange to be real. The people in the town and their stories are real and are brought to wonderful life.
As amazing as the plot, themes, and setting are, the characters are what truly won my heart. I'm a character reader and Ruby does characters well. There is a richness and depth to all the characters that make them feel so real. I haven't been this thoroughly immersed in the lives of the people in a book for quite some time. Finn and Petey in particular have my heart. They are both so odd and awkward. She is prickly and angry much of the time. He is confused and muddled. Together they manage to find peace and happiness, but even then things aren't easy. It's just so real. And I love how their relationship developed from the giddiness of first experiences to dealing with the harsh realities of fitting together two individuals with insecurities and problems. Sean and Roza have a similar dynamic with their own set of issues, and I like how the two relationships contrasted each other. Roza's story, for all its steeped in the magical, is all too real and harsh. They all have so much to offer as people, and so much to overcome to be able to do that. They are people I want to know, and this book makes me feel like I do know them. Like I'm part of their story.
This is my favorite read of 2015 so far and I've really liked all the books I've read this year so that's saying something. it is one of those books that I'm going to be telling everyone about and harassing them to read.
I read an ARC received from the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. Bone Gap goes on sale March 3....more
Christmas stories. I love them. I can't get enough of them. I spend most of mid-November through December desperately trying to do fit in as many new ones as I can find and doing rereads of old favorites. (This has been a particular challenge the past couple of years as I've also been a first round Cybils panelist.) Needless to say when I found out My True Love Gave to Me was going to be a thing, I was excited.
This is an anthology of short stories written by YA authors. As a whole, I would say it is definitely worth reading and that you can read it leisurely as each story is its own little gift. It is as diverse as the authors who contributed to it, and that is its greatest strength as a book. There are, of course, some stories I like more than others. I'm going to just say a couple things about each story. I've put asterisks on my favorites.
*"Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell: This is a compilation of the midnights celebrated on New Year by a group of friends over four years and the romance that comes grows between the two main characters. Sweet and short, it is all about a friendship to love relationship and is probably my second favorite thing Rowell's written next to Attachments.
"The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link: This is a Christmas Tam Lin retelling. It's not the most original Tam Lin story I've ever read, but it was such a delightful surprise to find it in a place I was not expecting to. I love Tam Lin stories.
*"Angels in the Snow" by Matt De La Pena: This is a wonderful story that highlights some troubling truths while managing to be fun and romantic at the same time. Too few books deal with the fact that people don't have enough to eat and are truly starving. I also l loved how this highlighted the transition that college is and how difficult it is to completey step out of the world you were born into and enter into something wholly different.
"Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han: Not one of my favorite stories. It is an Elf type story about a girl who is adopted by Santa and lives at the North Pole. Except there is no Will Ferrel, and this isn't funny. Kind of creepy in some aspects actually.
*"It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins: This book takes place in Asheville, NC. I used to live there and it was fun to actually get every single reference in this story to things I knew. Beyond that it's just a really good story about two young people ready to move on in life, but unsure how to get what they want. They know where they want to go, just not how to get there. Then they end up finding each other. And it's pretty awesome.
"Your Temporary Santa" by David Levithan: This story is nothing that I'm looking for in a Christmas story. While the end is sweet, it's actually kind of depressing. I know some people find Christmas depressing and they should have stories too. Just not my thing.
"Krampuslauf" by Holly Black: This story is a little strange, but I liked that it dipped into a mythology that few people really know anything about. That was fun.
*"What the hell have you done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman: Freshman year of college. So hard. Especially if you are a fish completely out of water. This is a story of two such fish finding each other and finding the spirit of the holidays they both needed. Lovely.
*"Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire: This is my FAVORITE. I have never read a book by McEntire but I think I need to change that. I could write an entire review on this one story. The character growth in a few short pages is remarkable as is McEntire's ability to convey much with few words.
"Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Keirsten White: This is cute, if completely predictable. I found myself wishing it would move a little faster.
"Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter: This is another fun yet predictable one that was good, but that I wouldn't ever feel the need to reread.
"The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor: Beautifully written as is everything Taylor writes, but also not at all my thing. Taylor and I seem to have that problem meshing. I love her writing but not what she writes about. Sigh.
I definitely recommend this if you are in the market for a fun compilation of Christmas tales. There is bound to be something that satisfies everyone here.
Note on Content: Some references to alcohol use; Some strong language...more
I read the first Wingfeather Saga book when it came out. It was okay, but not great enough to make me want to continue the series. I only read this beI read the first Wingfeather Saga book when it came out. It was okay, but not great enough to make me want to continue the series. I only read this because it was nominated for the Cybils. I have to say going into this one not having read the middle two was rather confusing. There are a lot of characters and place names to keep track of. It is epic fantasy so that is to be expected, but the fourth book in a series is probably not where you want to start. And this book is looooong. Too long. I won't lie: I skipped huge chunks of the middle. Like not just skimming but whole chapters. Honestly I wasn't any more confused doing that than I was reading every chapter. A lot of the text is superfluous. I know there is this general consensus among epic fantasy writers that if their book isn't long, they must be doing it wrong. But you know what? I'm going to say that even Tolkien could have used some better editing (gasp! horror!), and just because you think it is crucial to the world doesn't necessarily mean it is. More people need to go to the Megan Whalen Turner school of saying lots with fewer words.
My biggest problem with this book though is the problem I had with the first book. Who is this for? The absurdity of the villains and the lack of any true urgency makes me think it is intended for a younger MG audience, but there's no way that audience could access this text. A few of them could, but the majority wouldn't be able to. Is this intended to be a read aloud for that group? I just don't know.
That all being said, there is a good redemptive story arc for the characters, which is why this is getting two stars rather than just one. But honestly, there are books that do even that far better without the verbiage. Like these....more
I read Ask Again Later by Liz Czukas earlier this year and found it to be quite fun. However, I LOVE her new book Top Ten Clues You're Clueless. It's basically The Breakfast Club with Christmas thrown in. Because instead of serving Saturday detention, this group of unlikely teen companions are all working the same Christmas Eve grocery store shift.
Chloe is a list maker. She starts every day with a list and makes several more as she goes about her day. She has many running lists to which she continually adds. In addition to being a list maker she is a reader of mysteries, a red head, a girl with a massive crush on a co-worker, and a diabetic. On Christmas Eve she is required to work her regular job as a cashier at the grocery store. Many people are working including all of the young high school employees. All six of them. When there is a lot less money in the holiday donation box than is expected, all six of the teens are accused of working alone or together to steal the money and are held at work until the police can arrive to question them. In the interim they have to decide whether or not to trust each other and band together. In the process they begin to bond and get to know each other better than they ever thought possible.
This book is all about the characters. Zaina: the perfect, beautiful, Muslim, Lebanese immigrant who just wants the chance to figure out who she is outside of others expectations of her Sammi: the tough skater girl with an attitude and an interesting rapport with Gabe Gabe: basketball player, charmer, flirt, and golden rich boy who seems to understand Sammi better than she understands herself Micah: a sweet, nerdy, homeschool boy who loves science and is curious about the world and everyone in it Tyson: charming, fun, polite, and always willing to help out, he is just trying to save as much money as he can for college and is the object of Chloe's affections
Their story is narrated by Chloe and while she is ostensibly the focus, the reader comes to know all of them well as the narrative unfolds. The cast of characters here is diverse and yet there isn't a reliance on stereotypes or cliche's to mold them. Instead Czukas allows dialog and interactions to reveal each person's character and uses the other character's assumptions-assumptions most readers would have too-to challenge and bring out hidden details. All of these characters are so endearing. I loved every single one of them. I do think Chloe is the best vehicle through which to tell their collective story, but I find myself really wanting to have stories from all of the rest of them too, particularly Sammi and Zaina. I also enjoyed the wider observations of the world at large that came from seeing a grocery store through the eyes of the people who work there. Chloe's voice is genuine, a combination of cluelessness and wisdom that teens just starting to figure out the world often have.
The mystery isn't all that hard to figure out, but I completely bought how all of it came together. I could see the decisions that led to a bunch of mostly minors being held for hours at their job on Christmas Eve actually happening. I could also see why they all decided to cooperate and not give their parents the details of why they were staying late. The set-up is perfect in every way, and the conversations about life that came out of it were equally perfect.
There is a touch of romance, but it is not the focus of the book. It really is just the briefest of touches. And I love that this also turned out to be a Christmas story. It is one I will buy and enjoy every year now.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss. Top Ten Clues Your Clueless is available for sale on December 9th....more
So many people who I share reading tastes with loved this book, but I just couldn't get into it at all. It's hard for me to put a finger on exactly whSo many people who I share reading tastes with loved this book, but I just couldn't get into it at all. It's hard for me to put a finger on exactly what wasn't working for me, but I was bored and avoided it for days so just gave up. ...more
If I bought this book rather than checking it out from the library I would be MAD. I can not believe that the publisher has the audacity to charge a hIf I bought this book rather than checking it out from the library I would be MAD. I can not believe that the publisher has the audacity to charge a hardcover price for a book that is nothing more than a bloated prologue to Winter. This story could have been told in 1/4 the space and released as an e-novella or even just as an extra in the paperback for Cress. There isn't much here we don't already know, except for the details of Levana's relationship with her sister and her marriage to Winter's father. Again, this does not require 200 pages to make clear. I didn't need that much time in Levana's twisted head while she rehashed the same things over and over and over.
Things I did like: I like that Levanna was explained without attempting to excuse her. She is cruel. She did terrible things for which she is not at all sorry. She had terrible things done to her too. I also liked that we are able to see (view spoiler)[how gosh darn awful Cinder's mother was. Holy cow. (hide spoiler)]
This series started, if not strong, than well. I really thought it had the potential to just keep getting better. Instead I feel as though this and Cress have been too long and not edited well enough. ...more
Over a quarter of a way through this book it still hadn't gotten to the point. (By point I mean the girls still didn't know about the shape shifting.Over a quarter of a way through this book it still hadn't gotten to the point. (By point I mean the girls still didn't know about the shape shifting. If it's in the synopsis, it should show up and get the plot ball rolling earlier than that.) In addition I just wasn't caring enough about any of the characters. I'm very sad about this because I usually really like Jessica Day George's books and I was looking forward to this one. ...more
This is a fun end to what has been a nice fluffy YA fantasy series. This one contained a little more angst than I was in the mood for, but it does fitThis is a fun end to what has been a nice fluffy YA fantasy series. This one contained a little more angst than I was in the mood for, but it does fit well with Dusty and Eli's story and personalities. ...more
I read and throughly enjoyed Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan a couple weeks ago and immediately checked out Maid of Deception, the second book in the series. I enjoyed this one even more.
Lady Beatrice Knowles has worked hard to reach her wedding day. She serves Elizabeth well even though she doesn't like the queen, and the queen doesn't like her. Beatrice has lived her life playing the games of the court, being a pawn of monarchs, and trying to keep her family's secrets from ruining them. She plotted to become betrothed to the perfect Lord of the realm only to have her wedding day ruined when the queen orders a postponement, and then orders Beatrice to play the flirt with a young Scottish Lord named Alasdair. Caught between the queen's politics and plotting, her family's troubles, her own plans, and her unwanted feelings for Alasdair, Beatrice increasingly feels caught in a game she can't win. And that she may be heading toward a disaster of her own making.
I enjoyed the way McGowan dealt with Beatrice's character in the first book. She is the beautiful, well established, popular, and snotty one. Yet she is never simply a stereotype and she really showed how nuanced she was by the end of Meg's story. And here in her own story she truly shines. I loved how she is so vulnerable and yet projects an image to the world that is unbreakable. She is always outwardly in control even when she is desperately trying to hold together all the strands of her life and keep them from unraveling. The queen, who sees most things, sees this. And she uses it to mess with Beatrice. I really liked the antagonism between Beatrice and Elizabeth. They have a history. Beatrice knows something about Elizabeth the queen wishes she didn't. Beatrice, being quite savvy, went to great lengths to protect herself from Elizabeth doing anything nefarious to silence her. Elizabeth can, and does, strive to make her as miserable as possible though. In the first book the way McGowan showed Elizabeth was historically accurate. She is wise. She is cunning. She is insightful. She is generous. She is dangerous. In this book Elizabeth is seen as all those things still, but also petty, vindictive, and spiteful. There is historical data that backs up both versions of Elizabeth. She was a complicated woman, made out of a combination of great intelligence, a horrific childhood, too little trust in her life, and a desire to maintain her own power. I find it fascinating that McGowan is using the maids' feelings and interactions with her to highlight different aspects of her personality. The Elizabeth Beatrice must contend with is quite different to the one Meg contends with, but she is the same Queen. And despite the way Elizabeth treats her, Beatrice is still fiercely loyal. And it isn't entirely due to fear or the machinations of a mind bent to the most convenient political ally, Beatrice is bravely serving her monarch in the best way she can. I find this truly admirable since she doesn't like her as a person.
The plot of this book isn't as sinister as the last Maid of Secrets. That was a murder mystery complete with all the danger that entails. This is quieter in many ways, full of the politics that go on behind closed doors, the careful dance between serving both your country and yourself, and the wider intrigue of the court in general. Again, I felt that there was a little too much detail and that the book should have been shorter. This aspect is better than in the first, but still needs some work. I also felt that the romance wasn't particularly exciting. I LOVE Alisdair (the same way I loved Rafe), but something is lacking in the development of the relationships to make me that invested. I'm okay with that though because all the other relationships are done so well.
My favorite aspect of the book is the relationship between Beatrice and her father. I just adore Lord Knowles for everything he is. He is a man greatly flawed, but he is also a wonderful person who tries hard to do what right he can given his position and weaknesses. Beatrice is quite dismissive of her father, but as the story unfolds and she begins to see his hand at work-and how it's always been at work-in her life, her perspective changes. Good father/daughter dynamics are not run of the mill inYA literature, so this is a rare treat.
Of course, Beatrice's fellow maids also play a major part in her story. I adore the friendship and camaraderie that has developed between these five and how they have each other's backs no matter what. I absolutely can not wait to get every one of their stories. I think that's likely, though as far as I know Sophia's book (coming out next year) is the only other one yet scheduled. I really hope Anna and Jane get books too because they are my favorites.
In the meantime, there is also a prequel Christmas e-book that looks like a lot of fun. ...more
I started reading Forbidden by Kimberly Griffiths Little a half hour before I was planning to go to bed thinking I could get several chapters read. After just one chapter, I had to stop because I knew if I kept reading there would be no be sleeping. It seemed like a book I wouldn't be able to put down. This was true. Not that I'm throughly in love with it, but it was hard to put down.
Jayden is a young girl in a desert tribe, betrothed to the son of her tribe's King. She is destined to be a princess, but is repulsed by her future husband, Horeb. On the day the tribe is to move for the last time of the year, Jayden's mother goes into labor dying in the process. Her family is left to bury her mother and try to catch up to the rest of the tribe. After the burial a young man named Kadesh approaches Jayden and begs assistance. Injured and alone, Kadesh is taken in by Jayden's father and assists in the journey across the desert. The journey is full of hardship and heartache for Jayden. She is forced to give up the things most precious to her in order to survive, and every day she loses her older sister a little more to the goddess worship Leila finds so fascinating. Upon reaching their tribe things do not improve. Horeb is as vicious and leering as ever and Jayden can't stand to be near him. Convinced of their love for each other, Jayden and Kadesh make promises of the future. Promises that are difficult to keep with treachery lurking around every corner.
Jayden is exactly the kind of heroine I love. She is fierce and independent. She has a great sense of family loyalty. Her strength and planning fit her historical context well, and she acts in ways that make sense for her life and time. Her character's emotions and growth are organic and make sense in terms of the story. The other characters are not fleshed out nearly as well, and that includes Kadesh. Given the time period he and Jayden are not given a lot of time alone together which makes their devotion to each other seem rather sudden and is not well developed. He is shown as honorable, good, and pure, but I never really got a sense of him as a person. Just a character sketch. The same can be said for all the other characters. Mostly people are just shown as how they are inferior to Jayden. Her sister and Dinah, her nemesis, are shown as spoiled brats. Leila was developed a bit beyond that, but not sufficiently. Horeb is a mean bully and going to make the worst sort of king, but I could never see him as anything more than a characterization of a bully. Even when he was at his most violent with Jayden, I didn't feel any real fear for her, which is usually a given in situations similar to that one.
The setting of the book is where Little truly excels. We don't have much Ancient Mesopotamian historical fiction, and Little paints a vivid picture of what nomadic desert life was like. It is also clear that she did her research and knows her geography of the time. The story takes place during the time of Hammurabi and is a fascinating look at warring cultures. Jayden's tribe are "children of Abraham", an allusion, I assume, to the descendants of Ishmael. (There is another reference to the nation of the twelve tribes of Jacob.) Their tribe travels the desert and eschews the cities, yet the cities are growing up everywhere and the hold an allure for the younger members of the tribe. The idol worship of Baal and Asherah are also tempting to the younger members. Several of the girls, including Jayden's sister, wish to be temple prostitutes. The temple sends recruiters out to convince these desert girls that this is a life to crave and envy. I'm really hoping this is touched on more as this trilogy continues because I can't believe that life as a temple prostitute is all that it's cracked up to be. I think that not showing the perils and disillusion of a life of sexual servitude in a book aimed at young girls would be negligent, but I'm hoping its going to come up. Here Little does do an excellent job of showing the lures used to pull girls into actually desiring such a life. Leisure, riches, and the promise of always being cared for are difficult things to turn your back on when you are a girl with nothing. I did like the way that Jayden is shown to be fascinated by the idol worship herself, but sticks to what she has been raised to believe. She truly wants to be a dedicated servant of God and to be a wife and mother. She wants to choose her husband and father of those children though. There are a lot of interesting themes about womanhood and choice explored and that was my favorite part of the novel.
I was rather annoyed to reach the end and realize this wasn't a stand alone novel. I thought it was. There was no series information on Goodread or Edelweiss (that I saw). When I reached the end, I suspected there would be more, and sure enough the author's website calls it a trilogy. Sigh. I will read the next one, but find myself irritated by the end here. Not every story NEEDS three books to tell it. I'm so over this.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Harper Collins, via Edelweiss. Forbidden is available for purchase on November 4....more
Last year's Cruel Beauty was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I had rather high expectations for Crimson Bound as a result, and they were well and truly met.
Rachelle was her aunt's apprentice, learning the trade of a woodwife and how to protect her village from the forestborn. Rachelle is obedient but also restless and annoyed with her aunt's lack of determination to fight the Devourer she knows is rising again. Overconfident and thinking she can control the situation, Rachelle strays from the past and begins conversing with a forestborn. This leads to her downfall and her becoming a bloodbound-a murderer with blood on her hands bound to become a forestborn herself. Before that fate can befall her, Rachelle is determined to take as many forestborn down as she can and joins the King's elite guard of bloodbound soldiers. She immerses herself in fighting as many forces of the forest as she can, but she knows time is running out. The world is growing dark. The Devourer is returning. When she is put in charge of one of the king's illegitimate sons and discovers there is a chance to recover a fabled sword that can defeat the Devourer forever, she knows this is the final chance there is to free the world of the Devourer forever and atone as much as she can for the sins of her past.
Rosamund Hodge has a way of just sweeping me into her story and world that is rare. This was definitely a read I experienced every emotion and element of. My children found themselves quite neglected. The world-building here is fantastic. It's not quite as complicated as the world of Cruel Beauty, but it's no less intricate. There's a magical forest overlapping the known world made of myth and shadows and ruled by cruel, heartless beings who hunt humans for sport and delight in tricking and coercing them into their dark world. It brings to mind the best and darkest stories of the Fae. The world of the humans is very like that of France in its royal heyday with vain, selfish royalty hidden away from the harsh realities of the world, bastards fighting for the throne, a bishop warning against coming judgement, and revolt on the horizon. There is intrigue, treason, betrayal, and horror waiting around every twisted corridor of the palace and gardens.
Rachelle is a focused and determined heroine. She is overcome by guilt for the sins of her past, but determined to help as many people as she can before she is forever damned. She desperately wants to be removed from everyone and everything, but she just doesn't have it in her. As much as she wants to be cynical and heartless, she desperately clings to what human companionship she has and any sense of belonging and love she can find. And this is completely her story. It's the story of a girl desperate for redemption even though she believes herself to be far beyond its reach. The far reaching consequences of the deeds she has committed separate her from everything she ever knew and loved, but she is resourceful, clever, and strong-willed. All these traits serve her well as she goes on her quest to rid the world of evil. She is a well rounded heroine as well, making plenty of mistakes from trusting the wrong people to not fully trying to understand the workings of the court around her and how important it is.
Despite being a bloodbound with an unhealthy dose of self-hate, Rachelle is not without people she feels close to. Amelie is a girl whose life Rachelle once saved. The girl made her a friend and is quite an amazing one. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story and how their friendship was so solid despite how little they could truly share with each other because of Rachelle's position. Justine is another female friend, a fellow bloodbound, but one who works for the Bishop. Justine is determined to help an save Rachelle because she sees more in her. Both of these friendships reflect different aspects of Rachelle's personality and play important parts in her journey. In addition to these three girls, the books has several other very powerful women who do not shrink from doing what they need to do even when it is incredibly difficult and requires a hardened strength.
Then there are the two main male characters in the story. Erec is the captain of the King's bloodbound, one of his illegitimate sons, and the person who trains Rachelle in fighting and gives her the will to keep living. Armand is another of the King's bastards, sainted for not becoming a bloodbound when marked, and the person Rachelle is assigned to guard. Rachelle and Erec are friends but she doesn't completely trust him. They have fundamental philosophical differences that don't allow for them to be close despite Rachelle's attraction to him. Rachelle doesn't like or trust Armand at first, but gradually learns to appreciate and understand him. I have a feeling some may not want to read this due to fear of the dreaded love triangle. There is nothing to worry about there. Love triangle is not what this is. There's a fair amount of lust, confusion, treachery, and conflict in a tangled web of lies and double-crossings, but little of it has anything to do with love. There is a romantic love element that develops with one, which is my one major quibble with the book. Unfortunately it rather largely impacted my full enjoyment of the story. I didn't complete buy the romantic love aspect of this. There was too little organic development of it for me to completely believe it, which is unfortunate given that it is rather important to how the plot works out. I do like how that wrapped up though and how much confusion surrounded it for both characters.
What I really loved about this book were the themes of redemption, mercy, and justice Hodge worked into the story. Rachelle's story is mostly about that. It's hope overcoming despair, light overcoming darkness, emptiness being filled. It completely captured me.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Crimson Bound is on sale May 5th....more
I have established that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. You know what else I love? Books written by Sarah Prineas. Both her MG series are great favorites of mine. When she happened to mention on Twitter long ago that she was working on a YA, I followed closely eager to read whatever the result was. Ash & Bramble is a fabulous work of genius.
(I consider Sarah a friend as well as an author I love, and she sent me the ARC I'm reviewing here.)
Pin lives in the Godmother's fortress sewing clothes with the other seamstresses tasked with producing the beautiful one of a kind ballgowns the Godmother uses for her mysterious purposes. Pin has no memories of her life prior to the day she begins her work as a slave to the Godmother's will. Everything that came before is a blank nothing. While she has no memories, she is still a person with a will and a fierce defiance to live her own life. She gets a chance to plan an escape when she is used as a foot model for the shoemaker tasked with creating a glass slipper. Shoe has learned his lesson. He knows the cost of disobedience to the Godmother. Yet he still finds himself drawn to the daring seamstress and her plans for escape. But escape is not easy. The Godmother is impossible to outrun. Pin finds herself caught up in a whole new type of prison bound by the power of story and the drive for happily ever after. The more she fights, the more she feels trapped in a life that she doesn't want that leads to a prince, a clock at midnight, and a missing shoe. Her only possible means of escape lie in the devotion of a boy willing to risk himself to break her story and her own determination to decide her own destiny.
Ash & Bramble isn't so much a retelling as a complete shaking up and flipping around of the old fairy tales. And I was not exaggerating when I used the word genius, because much of this novel is dystopian in nature. And what world is better set up to be an actual dystopian hellscape than the world of fairy tales? (Really. Think about it.) While I will never get enough of fairy tales, my patience for dystopia is long gone, but the presentation of it here completely worked for me. I can not stress enough how well the two ideas work together and how brilliantly Prineas wove them into one. It's a commentary and celebration of both while also being an engrossing, moving, and satisfying tale in its own right. I really appreciated the way Prineas used the tropes of both types of stories to twist her own dark tale and highlight the themes.
Pin/Pen (she goes by both names) is a girl who wants to determine her own future, a goal she fiercely holds on to even when she has no sense of her past or even her own self. Her complete loss of memory and history make it difficult to connect with her as a reader at times, but it serves to make her sympathetic. The panic she feels over this is easily experienced by the reader who enters her world as clueless and searching for the familiar as she is. Pin's lack of memory does not leave her an empty vessel for the reader to use as a placeholder. She is very much her own person, which is part of what makes it difficult to get into her head. She is an enigma to both herself and the reader through much of the book. She has a lot of amazing qualities, but a lot of faults as well. Her headstrong stubbornness results in both positive and negative actions and motivations. Even in the end I felt like I was just getting to fully understand who she was, which works well because she is only just figuring that out, and there is still so much she doesn't know. While frustrating at times, it's perfect for the story being told. And I found myself loving her even when I wanted to yell at her about some of the choices she was making. I can see why she does what she does, and a lot of what she does is truly amazing. She has to be a leader and make hard choices that have mixed consequences. She makes mistakes and is not as careful with other people's feelings as she ought to be. She is also a true hero and steadfast friend. She is unlikeable at times (who isn't) and that only serves to make her more real.
The story here belongs just as much to Shoe as it does to Pin. He isn't as forceful as Pin. He isn't as flashily confident as the prince. He has a quiet strength and stubbornness that is just as important though, and it is his determination to see Pin free to make her own decisions that allows her do to the work of freeing herself. But she does the same thing for him too, giving him the courage to embrace freedom in the first place. At times he is hesitant and giving to a fault. They complement each other well. Their relationship develops under incredibly fraught circumstances. I liked the realism in that. Dangerous and stressful events tend to magnify and accelerate the development of feelings and relationships. There are a lot of complications thrown into it too including Pen's role in Story and her relationship with the prince. I know that so many people are going to instantly think "love triangle" and not want anything to do with this. That would be a mistake. Love triangle does not always necessarily equal terrible development. They can be done well, and in this case it is a trope that is fundamentally important to the ideas of choice and happily ever after Prineas is exploring and questioning through her story. The prince, Cor, is a loyal, brave, and dedicated person. He is also smart and able to question the reality of the world around him. He is often a little to oblivious to his privilege and inclined to demand his own way, but he has a good heart. I really loved the interactions between all three of them together too. They are working as adults in their world and in leading a rebellion, but they are also very much teenagers in dealing with their feelings.
The book's numerous secondary characters are all wonderfully rendered as well including the Godmother. I'm going to say little else about that to avoid spoilers, but I loved what Prineas did with her and the fairy tale concept of the Witch. The plot gives a nod to host of tales beyond the obvious reworking of Cinderella and catching them all was part of the fun of reading it.
My favorite part of Ash & Bramble was how it explored the power of ideas, words, and Story. I always love it when books do that and do it well which this one does. I loved the dark twists that took and the ambiguousness of what was right and wrong in some of those cases. It is complicated and a lot of it left open to interpretation with unanswered questions. Yet it also has hope and looks to the future.
Ash & Bramble is everything I want in a fairy tale retelling and in books in general.
I read an ARC received from the author. Ash &Bramble is available for purchase on September 15th....more
I probably would have skipped Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan completely if it weren't for Shae singing its praises so loudly. And that would have been so sad because this is a fun and exciting beginning to what I hope is a five book sequence. (I know that it has a sequel and another book scheduled for 2015. But that will still leave my TWO FAVORITES without books. They better get books.)
Basically? Yay for smart girls who spy, study, actively train, and come together to run circles around the men trying to control them! I mean really. It has everything that you could possibly love if you are a character loving reader of adventurous political intrigue. This book focuses on Meg, who is an actress and has been for almost all of her life. The Queen insists that means Meg doesn't truly understand who she is and in many ways the Queen is correct. But Meg yearns to know and discover. She is proud of her talents and determined to win her freedom from the gilded prison she finds herself trapped in. This book as the first in the series also introduces Meg's four fellow Maids of Honor, Beatrice, Jane, Sophia, and Ann. All of the girls have issues. They all have different strengths and different weaknesses. They don't always get along or like each other. But what develops between them is a true bond of friendship and common purpose. I love how they come together to go over the heads of their superiors and outwit them.
I'm rather picky about my historical fiction and am happy with what McGowan does with the historical setting here. It is clear she did her research and knows her stuff. She manages to stay mostly true to historical accounts of real people while bringing their personalities to fascinating life. Of course, she has taken liberties here and there, but none that the history major in me who took a semester long class on Tudor/Stuart Britain was upset at. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of Elizabeth for many reasons, most notably how manipulative yet vulnerable she is.
There is also a touch of romance, which was lovely but not at all the focus. There is just enough of it and it's level is pitch perfect for the sort of work Meg does and the kind of things she's involved in. I did feel that the fervor of the boy was a little extreme for the brief acquaintance but it was done so well that it worked for me. I also liked the realism of the resolution there.
This book has so many fun elements to attract and keep readers: adventure, mystery, intrigue, romance, and smart girls who have each other's backs. I can't wait to read the sequel, Maid of Deception. ...more
For whatever reason I had a harder time getting into this one than I have Echols' other novels. I still enjoyed it, but felt myself more distanced froFor whatever reason I had a harder time getting into this one than I have Echols' other novels. I still enjoyed it, but felt myself more distanced from the characters than I usually do in her novels. I wasn't completely convinced of either of their motivations for their behaviors which was a big part of the problem for me I think. I'm still looking forward to reading the rest of Echols' backlist though as I have pretty much LOVED everything else by her I've read. ...more
I usually like LaZebnik's Austen retellings. Even the ones that I don't love (like Epic Fail), I at least enjoy. But this was so really boring and didI usually like LaZebnik's Austen retellings. Even the ones that I don't love (like Epic Fail), I at least enjoy. But this was so really boring and didn't capture enough of what I think is important about Emma. Will anyone ever update Emma better than Clueless did though? I doubt it. Still this could have been way better. ...more
This is one of those books that is great for both upper MG and younger YA readers and I'm glad that it's out there for me to recommend to readers whoThis is one of those books that is great for both upper MG and younger YA readers and I'm glad that it's out there for me to recommend to readers who are looking for these books. I enjoyed the elements of science and technology and the unique twists on the Cinderella story (particularly the end). The book has a great feminist message and wonderful things to say about friendship. It's sad to say that the writing isn't as good as the concept. There is a lot of exposition and info-dumping and I found myself bored by the middle of the story....more
This was fun and cute. It seemed more an interesting writing exercise than a fully fleshed out novel though. I could have done without narration fromThis was fun and cute. It seemed more an interesting writing exercise than a fully fleshed out novel though. I could have done without narration from a bench and a squirrel. Also, I feel as though I was kept too distant from the main characters since their entire story was told by other people. But it was fun and I would recommend it to my teens with no problem. ...more
Last year I read The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston and fell in love. I fell in love with the characters, the town of Trondheim, the world Johnston created, and the voice that told the story-Siobhan. I immediately began looking forward to the sequel, Prairie Fire. Now that I've read it, I'm sort of wrecked but only the best of ways.
Prairie Fire is very much a sequel in the strictest sense of the word. It is the second half of Owen and Siobhan's story. While you could probably read it first, the emotional pay off will be far greater if you don't. If you haven't read The Story of Owen, go and do that. I don't know what's been holding you back anyway.
Spoilers for The Story of Owen ahead. You've been warned.
Siobhan, Owen, and Sadie have graduated from high school and are beginning their service to the Oil Watch. Siobhan has mostly recovered from her encounter with the dragon that left her hands burned, but she will always have limited mobility. She is learning to cope. She has found a different instrument. She still feels a strong sense of purpose. Siobhan is Owen's bard, and she does not take that commitment likely. Hailed by much of the populous as heroes, Siobhan and Owen are not looked on quite as favorably by their government. They find themselves stationed in Alberta on the edge of the Canadian prairie-an assignment that's kind of a slap in the face given Owen's talent and proven ability. But their support team is top-notch and they've bonded. They find the other two novice teams, one American and one Japanese, easy to work with. All three teams forge new ties and friendships, bonds needed living in the realm of the most dangerous dragon species alive with an instructor who is a frowned upon rule-breaker and a general who scorns all the things Owen and Siobhan stand for.
"When Lieutenant Porter said 'it's our busy season', what he'd meant was 'Shit there are dragons everywhere. Duck.'"
This quote sums the book up nicely. There are a lot more dragons, dragon slayings, and close encounters with dragons in this book than the first. There was quite a lot of set-up in the first book. It was a time to get to know both Owen and Siobhan, time to get to know the world, and to fully understand what it was the Thorskgards were fighting for. True, there were plenty of dragons to be found too, but in this second half they're everywhere. Also in this book the reader is introduced to the mother of all dragons-nearly unbeatable and scary as everything. The pace is much faster than the first book. It feels like a head long rush to the explosive and shattering end.
Siobhan's recovery is rather skipped over. Her emotional recovery happens much faster than seems reasonable until you remember how young she is. And young people often can bounce back and find new routes quicker than adults. She still has her music. It's just different. I think too that her being a rather even tempered individual from the start helps the believability of this. The story becomes Siobhan's more than ever as she and Owen are separated for quite some time. The government is trying to keep Siobhan's influence over public opinion to a minimum. They want the people to forget Owen's a hero. Owen's presence is still felt even in his absence though, and Siobhan still works on ways to get what he is capable of out there. These two have an amazing relationship, a friendship that is truer and stronger than average. I love how much they give to each other and complement each other. Siobhan gave Owen a voice. Owen gave Siobhan a story. And it is absolutely beautiful.
There are a number of new characters introduced in this story and I loved them all-Courtney the engineer and Porter the lieutenant especially. The other two dragon slayers add so much to the story as well and I love the interactions between them. (Nick, the American from NYC, was a particular favorite and I wished we had just a bit more from him.) The characters in the first book are all back though we see far less of them now that Siobhan and Owen are away from home. Sadie is present for much of the first half, but is assigned to the UK while Siobhan and Owen remain in Canada. I enjoyed her when she was there though. She is a perfect balance to both Siobhan and Owen.
Thematically this book is even more brilliant than its predecessor. The slayers and their teams are all so young. All serving their countries and the world in a noble pursuit. But bureaucracy and politics being what they are, they can't always do it effectively. They are dedicated, bold, and brilliant. What they do has a high cost though and Johnston shows that beautifully.
Basically this book left me sort of wrecked, but in a brilliant way.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Carlolrhoda Books, at ALA Midwinter. Prairie Fire goes on sale on March 1st....more
I waited too long to read this book. Seriously. When it came out back in March, I was intrigued. Many people I trust said read this. It's good. Why did I wait so long? The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston is a perfect blend of myth, reality, sly humor, and exhilarating action-adventure.
As the title implies, this is the story of Owen, a teenage dragon-slayer-in-training who helps guard the small town of Trondheim from dragons while trying to pass Algebra. Yet this isn't just the story of Owen. In fact, it isn't even mostly the story of Owen. It is really the story of Siobhan, the gifted musician who Owen encounters on his first day at his new school when they are both late for English. Like it was fated. Except not that kind of fated. Siobhan's talent makes her the perfect partner for Owen. Even though the tradition has long since died, every good dragon-slayer needs a good bard and Owen and Siobhan are about to resurrect the art. Siobhan is the one telling this story, in a voice that is both straightforward and trickily slides away from the telling the whole truth at the same time. The Siobhan telling the story is telling it from somewhere in the future. The writing is well done and has a dry wry wit that is subversive and oh so well balanced. I like both Siobhan and Owen, but I really like their partnership and how we see it unfold and grow. Their loyalty towards each grows in a natural way as the book progresses as does the strength of their companionship. And I love that is all their relationship is. I hope it stays that way in the future volumes. I love romance and am hopeful that there will be some eventually, but not between the two of them. One other thing I appreciated about both of them is that they are not super-heroes. They are kids who are talented yes, but who work at what they are good at to make themselves even better. And they work hard. I also really liked the supporting cast of characters, particularly Owen's aunts, Lottie and Hannah. I do feel that Siobhan is lacking in emotional depth enough that she kept me too removed from the story. I think that is probably due to the device of her being a bard and telling the story from the future, carrying we only know what baggage, wounds, and heartache. But it felt as though she didn't feel strongly enough about anything or anyone. Even the descriptions of her music have a vaguely detached air (which makes a bit more sense at the end), but the effect of all that was I wanted to know everyone and feel this story more deeply than I did. That is my one and only complaint though.
The world-builiding here is excellent. It is our world set in modern times with all our modern gadgets and technology. The difference? Dragons. Dragons have been a scourge on humanity in this alternate world for all of history but with the beginning of the age of modern industrialization they became an even bigger scourge. Dragons, you see, crave carbon fuels. It's like candy for them and they instinctively seek out anywhere they can find it. Cities with factories, roads with cars, water with boats, if you are anywhere these things are chances are you will be attacked by a dragon. The political ramifications of this are so well done, and Johnston raises so many provocative questions about our own world and how things are managed through them. Siobhan, Owen, his family, and some of their friends are trying to change the way the world works, but change does not come easy or free. I enjoyed how the world-building was so detailed throwing in so much history, not only maintaining my interest as a reader, but heightening it. It is also through the world-building that the major themes are developed. One thing that is highlighted is how easy media and history are to manipulate and I appreciated that aspect particularly. Siobhan is not just there to be a cheerleader for Owen, she is in charge of shaping perception not just about him, but dragon-slayers in general, and advancing the political and social causes their group deem important. It's fascinating stuff.
The writing brings this world to vivid life. What I felt it was lacking in character emotion, it more than made up for in terms of top rate plotting. The humor in the book is dry and tongue-in-cheek, something else I truly appreciated.
I highly recommend this for all fans of fantasy, particularly if you enjoy a good Nordic tale retold. It has all the feel of Beowulf, while being set in the present time. Truly excellent. ...more