Two romances, two mysteries, and two captivating heroines all in one book. Written as a letter game between Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer,...moreTwo romances, two mysteries, and two captivating heroines all in one book. Written as a letter game between Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, these two excellent young adult fantasy writers created a captivating Regency England where magic is a part of life and a misunderstood science.
Kate Talgarth and Cecelia Rushton are two Young Ladies of Quality who are cousins and were inseparable until this London Season. Split apart by their aunts, who fear for the safety of London if the two girls were unleashed on society at the same time, Kate goes off to London with her sister, while Cecy is left in the Country. The two correspond via letters as their stories unfold. In Town, Kate is nearly poisoned by a mysterious woman, while back in the Country, Cecy finds a charm bag under her brother’s bed and a new young lady becomes suspiciously popular in local society. When it seems like the new girl’s feared step-mother and Kate’s poisoner are the same woman, the cousins begin to piece together their oddly connected mysteries. Between London and the Country, the odd coincidences build up as the two girls are drawn into a deadly power play.
Cute, quick, and clever, the reader will enjoy this book until the last word. The use of language and description draws us into the time period. My only concern with the book is that the characters tend to blend together.
I must say, I don’t really like the cover. Or, more specifically, I don’t like the art of Kate and Cecy on the cover. The faces look odd, with a very nineties American comic art styling that seems out of place. Otherwise, the use of black and white, along with the blue chocolate pot, entices the reader. Another thing I do like about the cover is the fact that the spine looks like a fantasy book, incorporating gold and black, along with the chocolate pot. To me, that’s an important element, because at large book stores the most you get to see on the shelf is the spine. Unless the spine makes me want to pull the book out and take a look, I might accidentally walk by a really great book with an ordinary title.
This is definitely one of those books that I enjoy more and more every time I read it. I always have a memory of how rushed the ending is, and I still...moreThis is definitely one of those books that I enjoy more and more every time I read it. I always have a memory of how rushed the ending is, and I still think it’s pretty rushed, but I think I understood the book quite a bit more this time. The book builds to a climax, but the actual final battle barely seems to take up many pages and then we have a few pages to wrap up all the plots, via the narrator pointing out various things the audience didn’t know yet.
The complexity of Jones’s writing is one of her greatest skills as an author, but also leads to confusion. Every page of Howl’s Moving Castle is thick with hidden meanings, truths that will be revealed later, and she rarely tells you something that doesn’t have some future meaning. From Sophie’s seemingly unrelated days in the hat shop where she talks to hats as she works to the dog she saves from a bush. Nothing is without meaning. I highly recommend reading this book at least twice to truly understand it.
Howl’s curse still confuses me, no matter how many times I read it. It seems like Jones really liked a poem and thought it would make a good magic curse, so she makes the Witch of the Waste use it as a curse on Howl, but then the curse elements just seem to come true a bit random. Some of the pieces of the curse/poem are instigated by Sophie, but they still don’t quite make sense to me. There’s a sense of “why” missing. The rest of the book though is so wonderful and interesting that I’m willing to put aside my issues with the curse and just assume I’m not getting something.
Pacing seems to be the key to why I have to keep rereading the book. I love the depth of the plot, but Jones keeps such a fast pace, typically telling more than showing, so that I sometimes find myself becoming lost as I try to figure out which are the most important elements. On the second reading though, I already know the basic plot points, so I can enjoy the ride. It’s also important in all three books to know who might be disguised or cursed into a different form.
The newest release of this book includes an interview with Diana Wynne Jones, and I found it pretty interesting. Something I especially liked was how she talks about how many girls want to marry Howl. She tries to tell them they wouldn’t want to live with someone who drips slime whenever his hair color goes wrong, but they see it as a challenge. Personally, while I think Howl is adorable in that “yeah, as long as I don’t have to deal with him…” sort of way, I think only Sophie can really handle him on a day-to-day basis.
The amazing thing about Jessica Day George's dragon books (Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, Dragon Spear) is that neither of the sequel books *needed*...moreThe amazing thing about Jessica Day George's dragon books (Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, Dragon Spear) is that neither of the sequel books *needed* to be written, yet were delightfully wonderful additions to the previous books. Yet again, Dragon Spear wasn't *needed,* but I couldn't put it down from the second I got it. Once agian Creel's world comes alive as she fights to keep humans and dragons safe.
I love the politic undertones in these books, and how much court intrigue has made its way into a book that is really billed as a kid's book. And in this book, we got to see dragon politics! Always fascinating, and I think Jessica did a great job of working out a new society.
My biggest complaint about this book is the same complaint I've had about the other two. The cover art was badly choosen. It looks like it's aimed at a younger audience than those who actually enjoy it, and this time they got the wrong dragon on the cover by the eggs. And that just bugs me.
Silver Phoenix is an exquisite Asian fairytale, something I’ve been hoping for for some time. Of course, my knowledge of ancient China is pretty limit...moreSilver Phoenix is an exquisite Asian fairytale, something I’ve been hoping for for some time. Of course, my knowledge of ancient China is pretty limited, but it felt very authentic to me, and we can chalk up any problems to the fact that this is fantasy, and not exactly China. I especially loved how Pon stayed true to restrictions and prejudices toward girls, but worked around them in a way that didn’t make me go "But.. but… one girl is not going to change the gender prejudices of a whole nation!!!!!" It was great to see a fairytale style story that is very distinctly set in a non-western country, and one that doesn’t feel like it was just transplanted there without regard for all the little nuanced differences that come between western and eastern societies.
Another element I found well done was the topic of sex. The book opens on Ai Ling pretty much getting a sex ed lesson from her mother, about her duties as a wife, and throughout the book the topic of sex and purity is artfully and realistically woven into the story. Of course that makes me hesitate to say it’s appropriate for kids under 13, without knowing the kid, but I must commend the author on her good usage of the subject. I’m tired of books that use sex as purely a "look, kids, we’ve got smut!" or where girls are constantly threatened with rape ’cause they are girls in a male dominated society. The issues of sex, rape, and purity, though, were of great importance in earlier societies, so I also dislike it when authors glaze over them or pretend "oh, let’s have a medieval society, except everybody is openly promiscuous and the guy totally won’t care if he doesn’t know if he’s the father of the kid." Those kind of social changes take a lot more background history modification. But I’m digressing, and my grand debate about women’s roles in older societies can be left for a different day.
My least favorite thing about the book? The ending. Darn those open endings that need a sequel! It’s always been a pet peeve of mine when I get towards the end of the book and start realizing "wait a sec…. the author wants me to hang around for a sequel before she wraps things up, doesn’t she???" (Un?)fortunately, this was an excellent book and I will be eagerly awaiting the sequel to see how things turn out, especially with the unspoken promise of getting to see some other countries in this world. I’m not sure how to feel about the fact that the author told me on Goodreads that the book would have ended there even if there hadn’t been a sequel coming, but I probably would have felt a tad let down. I like my fiction to have what I consider happy endings. Life has enough ambiguity for me.
Well-worn. Dog-eared. Falling apart at the binding. These are all ways to describe my poor copy of Crown Duel. Once published as two books, Crown Duel...moreWell-worn. Dog-eared. Falling apart at the binding. These are all ways to describe my poor copy of Crown Duel. Once published as two books, Crown Duel and Court Duel, Firebird Fantasy reprinted them in 2002 as one, a very wise decision as the two stories are only halves on their own. Together the two books create a heroic tale of Mel as she leads a rebellion as a bare-foot countess, to her attempts to survive the deceptions of royal court life. I must admit, though, to loving the second book the most, and have often been tempted to just reread Court Duel, but in the end, I always want the full tale, and begin at the beginning, as any great journey should.
The first book chronicles Mel, as she and her brother, Bran, fight off an invading army sent by their greedy king. Leading a group of hastily-trained villagers, Mel employs sneaky tactics (such as harassing all night or flooding the enemy camp) to hold off the invading army. When Mel ends up injured and captured by the enemy, she is taken by the Marquis Shevraeth to the king, and sentenced to die if she doesn’t surrender. Escaping, she leads them on a cross-country chase, is rescued by the Marquis, and forced to realize that while her ideas might be noble, her methods are less than successful. Feeling defeated, she retreats back home after the king dies, convinced she lost the battle.
Into the second book we go, as Mel is dragged off to court by her brother, still feeling defeated for not keeping her promise of making the kingdom a better place. At court, she finds a new kind of battle, navigating the graces and deceits of those who have been schooled as courtiers all their life. As the former king’s sister and family make trouble and Mel deals with her ‘enemy’ the Marquis being decided as the new king, Mel still manages to save the kingdom and realize love in a place she was afraid to look.
Sherwood Smith has created a world full of tiny details that form a living world. From the unique hour keeping, using colors and candles to keep time, to the detailed language of fans that the courtiers use to display their true words while trapped in the court of a corrupt king, the reader will find themselves in a vivid setting, experiencing Mel’s journey with her.
I’m rather indifferent towards the cover of Crown Duel. In some senses I like it, but I also feel that it isn’t all that interesting. It certainly wasn’t the main element that led me to read the book.
Here’s a quick lesson in cover design. Look at the books that you own, note how many have people on the cover. Now note how many of those people are looking straight at the reader. That’s a way to get an instant connection with the potential book buyer while at the store. Take a look at the books facing out next time you go. I have also noticed that many YA male/non-gender books feature symbols or abstract covers, while ones aimed at girls more often use a female looking to the reader.
Miri has always felt unwanted, the only girl in her mountain village that doesn’t work in the quarries. Her world suddenly grows when the king’s pries...moreMiri has always felt unwanted, the only girl in her mountain village that doesn’t work in the quarries. Her world suddenly grows when the king’s priests determine that the prince’s bride shall come from her mountain, and all the girls in the village are required to attend a Princess Academy.
Life at the academy is hard. Mountain girls are made to feel stupid by their teacher, uneducated in the workings of the kingdom. Miri learns to read and write, as well as teach others, as she grows into her self-confidence thanks to the Academy. Eventually she will learn enough to transform her life and the lives of those around her.
Like in all of Hale’s books, there is an amazingly creative magic, a sort of “stone-speaking” that the quarry workers have learned to use to talk to each other over the noise of stone working. Miri, however, dissects how the speaking works so that she can use it outside of the quarry, a talent that will of course come in very handy. Hale has mentioned that she imagines this takes place on the same world as the Goose Girl books, but in a different time and continent, and that makes sense. All of her books have such amazing and unique magics, setting Hale outside the norm of blasting magic spells and words that make people fly.
Growing up and finding your inner strengths is also central to this book, as Miri struggles with feeling useless to those around her. Like most girls in their early teens, she can’t see what makes her special, only what she lacks in relation to the rest of her village. She is a wonderfully nuanced character that the reader will feel an immediate connection and empathy with, as I think it’s often easier to see your own faults than your strengths. I know that it doesn’t matter how good I might be at writing or web design, I’ll often focus on my lack of organization and the fact I can’t run a mile without wanting to die.
Hale also did a wonderful job of creating the world that Miri lives in, from the detailed life in the quarry to the social feelings of the rest of the country versus those who live in the mountains. All of these details come together in Hale’s writing and reflect back on the characters’ actions and the final solutions that Miri devises.
Apparently I have a love for girls kicking ass lately. Katsa is a great, realistic heroine that has the power to kill, but the complexity to fear her...moreApparently I have a love for girls kicking ass lately. Katsa is a great, realistic heroine that has the power to kill, but the complexity to fear her own power. The premise of Katsa having the power to kill and her feeling like she is a wild child (which she is to some degree) could have come off as horrid and unbelievable in another author’s words, but I found this story to be utterly believable and Katsa to be a sympathetic and understandable character.
My only complaint is that I wanted some back story for the main villain. He seems to have mysteriously appeared in the kingdom some time ago, done evil things, then is eventually killed by our heroes. But that’s pretty much all the back story or motivation we really get. The author seems to fall back on the "he’s a bad man" explanation, even as she’s making the point that Katsa can be a good person even though others have used her for killing. So much effort is made to show that Katsa is not defined by her Grace, yet that seems to be what the villain boils down to.
I can’t say this book exactly wowed me, but I couldn’t wait to keep reading every night when I went to bed, and I was enticed the whole way through. It was a solidly good book, but as I said above about the villain, it seemed like it lacked a level of complexity I would have liked - though I can’t pinpoint what exactly I felt was missing.
From railroads and ley lines, to a mute girl and a peculiarly enchanted dog, and topped off with spell-casting children and unexpected visitors, cousi...moreFrom railroads and ley lines, to a mute girl and a peculiarly enchanted dog, and topped off with spell-casting children and unexpected visitors, cousins Cecy and Kate, along with their husbands, James and Thomas, certainly have their hands full. Letters chronicle their investigations as Cecy and James investigate a missing magician, while Kate and Thomas stay at their home to watch over both families’ broods of children.
Continuing the adventures of Cecy and Kate (whose adventures can be found in Sorcery and Cecelia, and The Grand Tour) this book makes a charming sequel. When I first heard there was a new book, I was a bit worried as The Grand Tour didn’t feel like it needed a continuation to me, and indeed, it didn’t. A good sequel adds on to the original story, drawing on earlier events, but still creating a complete adventure. Unlike some books which tend to be injured by more tales (my eyes are immediately drawn to all the Princess Diaries books past number three that are sitting on my shelf), this only adds to the already complex and fascinating world and characters that Wrede and Stevermer have created.
In all fairness, I must warn that this book should not be read before reading Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour . While this book could probably be muddled through without reading the prior books, the details and returning characters will be missed if one does not have the correct context. As a result, I reread The Grand Tour before reading this one, and I will refer to that book in relation to this one. Also, in rereading I noticed something I would have passed over before, but at the end of The Grand Tour , they are discussing what they will be like in ten years. Which, coincidently, is when The Mislaid Magician takes place.
Back to the letter format of the first book, Wrede and Stevermer have crafted another excellent story. Much like the first book, this one has two seemingly unrelated sets of events that weave together through magical mayhem and odd discoveries. This time though, James and Thomas are also exchanging letters. Many of the characters introduced in the first two books find their ways back in the current events. The Grand Tour had taken a different story style, as the two couples were traveling together and had no need of letters to each other. Instead, the story was told through Kate’s journal and Cecy’s official recounting for their British contacts. Personally, I think I liked the more intimate style of Kate’s journal in the last book, but the letter game is also a great deal of fun, since as a writer I can see where the two authors picked up and dropped off hints to each other. Writing a book to begin with is a large maze of details and subplots, and working with another writer’s imagination has to be difficult, but also a great deal of fun.
Since I mentioned the cover of the first book, I do think that the cover to both the second and this third book are much better. While they are nearly the same, the change is that the girls are drawn as more of a photo image than the stylized art of the first cover. Now if only they would release the first book with some new art.
Another interesting thing I noticed about this book is the fact that it does something not very common in the genre. The characters are far older than young adults–Kate and Cecy are in fact twenty-eight in this book. Off the top of my head, I can think of no other young adult books with central characters of that age. Usually the convention is to have the narrator characters be about the same age as the intended reader. This really was only able to be pulled off though by the fact that it is a sequel book to two other books when the characters are actually in their teens.
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee was born the Crown Princess of Kildenree, but her mother didn’t feel she was fit to rule and instead arranged a marria...moreAnidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee was born the Crown Princess of Kildenree, but her mother didn’t feel she was fit to rule and instead arranged a marriage with a neighboring kingdom, passing the title on to Ani’s brother. Ani was always a strange child, she didn’t open her eyes for the first three days after her birth, and her aunt taught her to speak with birds. It’s no wonder her mother didn’t feel that someone who could be considered a witch should sit on the throne. So off Ani goes with her Lady-in-Waiting Selia to be married to the prince of Bayern, in order to bring peace to the two neighboring kingdoms.
On her journey, Ani is betrayed by Selia and soon finds herself alone in a foreign land, with Selia’s guards hunting for her and her former Lady-in-Waiting stealing her name. Taking a job as a goose girl (a girl who cares for the king’s geese) puts a roof over her head and allows her to save up money to return home and tell her mother of the betrayal. That is, until she finds out war’s coming and she no longer has time to return home, but must instead take back her name and her heritage to protect her kingdom.
This is the first Shannon Hale book that I’ve read, and I now understand why everyone’s been singing her praises. The story was well-crafted and captivating, and I immediately wanted to go out and buy the next two books that take place in this world. Happily, she’s the not the kind of author who feels the need to rehash a finished story, and the other two books are about secondary characters from The Goose Girl, and I look forward to reading them.
Here’s another fine book with a strong heroine who didn’t exactly ask for her position, but rose to it none the less. Ani as the Crown Princess never really felt like she could fulfill that role—she simply thought she would have to. When she loses her role as the next ruler of Kildenree, she finds herself unsure of who or what she will become next. Even though she’s betrothed to a prince, she knows she’ll never be the ruler, just the wife of one. Still, she doesn’t really think about all of this until she finds herself alone in the woods without her name or royal identity. She redefines herself, becoming a goose girl and finally stepping up and becoming a princess in action, not just in title.
The magic in this book is well worth mentioning. Instead of traditional “wave a magic wand” or have a fairy godmother appear magic, Hale crafts a world of people-speaking, animal-speaking, and nature-speaking. These rare magics allow Queens to command attention and for Ani to learn to talk to the wind. It’s great to see such unique magic woven into an already excellent story. The animal talking was also well crafted; Hale stayed true to the way animals would talk, not letting Ani have long conversations with them, but more getting ideas and things like “danger” or “good grazing land” across. The geese were especially well-written, as anyone who’s been around geese knows that they’re both truly evil and incredibly loyal animals. A goose would make a good attack animal for an evil overlord, now that I think about it.
When Rapunzel turned twelve she defied Mother Gothel and climbed over the walls of her home, curious about what lay on the other side of their beautif...moreWhen Rapunzel turned twelve she defied Mother Gothel and climbed over the walls of her home, curious about what lay on the other side of their beautiful gardens. Outside the walls she found desert wasteland and enslaved people, one of whom was her true mother. Angered, Mother Gothel locked her away in a tower, leaving her to outgrow her rebellion. But instead of staying put, Rapunzel grew more determined, nearly as determined as her hair was long.
So when she breaks out of her tower, she discovers that her hair makes mighty fine lassos and sets off to save her mother and take down Mother Gothel. Teaming up with her new ne’er-do-well friend Jack, the two become outlaws as they fight wild beasts and make their way to Mother Gothel’s garden, to have revenge for all the folks she’s hurt.
The only thing better than a Shannon Hale book appears to be an Shannon Hale comic book. Rapunzel’s Revenge is Shannon’s western take on the tale of Rapunzel and benefits with an amazing comic book style and imagery. Everything that one expects to get from Hale is delivered.
First off, Hale has a wonderful voice and pulls off the great contradiction of image and words that comics can give us. By this I mean things like the narration being "At last we rescued the girl and carried her home while she gratefully sang our praises…" while the image is a bratty little girl kicking and screaming until she gets carried by Jack.
Then there are the characters. Rapunzel and Jack (can you guess his tale?) are both wonderfully charming and delightful characters who I immediately took a liking to and whom I would love to read book upon book about. The villains and side characters were all equally interesting, and the world itself was well done.
As Hale often does, she mixed and blended different genres and tales until she came upon something unique. Rapunzel and her story are central, but it is against a western backdrop with Rapunzel using her braids as a lasso, giving a Zorro-like feel to the book.
Wow. This book blew me away. And I had gone into it thinking I probably wouldn't enjoy it that much.
One aspect I really loved was how well Grant was a...moreWow. This book blew me away. And I had gone into it thinking I probably wouldn't enjoy it that much.
One aspect I really loved was how well Grant was able to make the teenagers/kids really act their ages. Sure, there were lots of moments I wished they would act older, that they wouldn't be such *kids* but that was one of the best done elements of the book. No adult ideas on how kids should act, these where kids dealing with a crisis.
I did wonder though, why 15 was the cut off for an "adult". Seems like 16 or 18 would have made more sense. Maybe we'll find that out as the books go on.(less)
Not only was this a good example of a movie novelization that actually adds something to the story, but I'd recomend it heavily for writers. The use o...moreNot only was this a good example of a movie novelization that actually adds something to the story, but I'd recomend it heavily for writers. The use of language and first person is very well done, with each new first person feeling like a completely new person.
In TV dialouge there is the challenge to make sure the line sounds like the way only that character would say it, and in novels that challenge needs to exist in the first person voice especially. I hate reading a book that attempts to switch between multiple narrators, yet each narrator reads nearly the same as the last.(less)