Kristin Cashore's Bitterblue was one of the books I most anticipated for release this year. The previous two Seven Realms books -- Graceling and FiKristin Cashore's Bitterblue was one of the books I most anticipated for release this year. The previous two Seven Realms books -- Graceling and Fire -- were quickly added to my list of favorites, and I was certain that Bitterblue would be the same.
Bitterblue picks up eight years after the end of Graceline, and Bitterblue has been running the country with the aide of her late father's advisors. She realizes she is mostly a paper-pusher, and begins sneaking out of the castle to learn more about her kingdom. In the process, she finds places where people share stories of both her father's evil reign, as well as what happened with her friends Katsa and Po to help depose him. In her wanderings, she also meets Teddy and Saf, two men dedicated to the truth of her father's reign as well as making things right again. Bitterblue begins to sort through her memories as well as the history of the kingdom, trying to determine what the right way to rule is, as well as whether the decision to try to move on from her father's evil was the right one for the kingdom.
Bitterblue's story is moving as well as meaningful; it forces the reader to answer questions about our own history: Can we truly move on until we have understood things that were done badly and tried to rectify them? Her story is a true coming-of-age story, and I think it will still appeal to fans of the previous two books.
Where Bitterblue went awry, however, was in the romance department. Bitterblue's tale could have stood on its own, but it feels as if Cashore (or her editor) felt that a romance was necessary, as the previous two books also had one. Bitterblue's romance seems as if it was crammed in as an afterthought; it's neither crucial to the plot nor moves the story forward. The few scenes that involve the romance feel false and stilted, and I never connected with her romantic interest as a romantic interest. As a result, the book feels unfinished, like it needed that section smoothed out and blended better, or better yet, cut entirely. Bitterblue is a strong character, and she didn't need a man to get involved with her life as she was finding herself. ...more
After reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling, I was torn between wanting and not wanting to read the next book, Fire, because Fire is more a prequel.After reading Kristin Cashore's Graceling, I was torn between wanting and not wanting to read the next book, Fire, because Fire is more a prequel. Still, the writing in Graceling was so stellar it was a given I would read this, and quickly after Graceling.
::: The Plot :::
Fire takes place in a land beyond the Seven Kingdoms we learned of in Graceling, where there monster versions of every type of insect and animal exist. The monsters are so called not because of their looks -- they are actually more beautiful than the regular versions -- but because in addition to their great beauty, they are cannibalistic -- craving the meat of other monsters -- and because they possess mind-control. Most of the animals are limited to using it to lure prey to them, which is only exacerbated by their great beauty, but human monsters can control minds absolutely. Fire is the last human monster.
Fire is afraid of her power, having grown up with her father, Cansrel, as her example. Cansrel used his power ruthlessly, controlling humans in an insatiable pursuit of pleasure. Fire vows to only use her power for self-preservation, and after her father's death, she makes her way in the world as a music teacher. Still, when the royal family her father once advised calls on her to come to court to try to identify the mind of someone who may have been in her vicinity, she goes, trying to reconcile her beliefs about using her power with the wants and needs of the royal family: King Nash, who is drawn to her monster beauty; Prince Brigan, who commands the army and may hate her; the illegitimate twins Garan and Clara; and a host of others who alternately fear her monster nature or are awed by it.
::: Not Your Average Romance :::
Fire is not your average young adult romance, because it doesn't follow the usual pattern where a couple faces some adversity in getting together, finally comes together, is separated for a reason, and ends up together in the end. Ordinarily, I ignore most of the "trade" reviews of books, but the one from Kirkus for this book hit it spot on: Fire falls in love with a city (when she goes to the capital to meet with the royal family), the family itself, the life she makes there, and then beyond that, she may fall in love. This is a romance with more than just boy-meets-girl; it's about a girl finding herself and learning all about human nature -- her own as well as that of those around her -- along the way. The romance is second to Fire's development as a person, which is rare in this genre, and should be celebrated.
Fire is a very different book than Graceling, though it does contain some backstory for one of the characters in the first book, but is a standalone book in its own right, and a must-read one at that.
It took me forever and a day to get around to reading Wolfsbane, the second book in Andrea Cremer's Nightshade trilogy, mainly because my daughter reIt took me forever and a day to get around to reading Wolfsbane, the second book in Andrea Cremer's Nightshade trilogy, mainly because my daughter read it almost immediately on the heels of Nightshade and was unenthusiastic about completing the series. Still, I was going to give it a chance, especially after finding another second book recently that got better than the first.
::: The Plot :::
When we left Calla Tor at the end of Nightshade, she was injured by Searchers, her kind's mortal enemies, having fled from her union ceremony with Ren Laroche, the other shapeshifting wolf alpha -- the wolves are called Guardians -- who was supposed to join his pack with hers. Instead, she fled to save Shay Doran, a human she changed into a wolf and is something they have discovered is called the Scion, although what exactly that means, she doesn't know.
When Calla comes to, she discovers she has been captured by the Searchers, who are now trying to convince her -- and Shay along with her -- that everything she has been raised to know is a lie. They want Calla -- and by extension, her pack -- to join with them, fight the Keepers, and bring an end to the war that has been waged for ages once and for all.
A whole bunch of new characters are introduced, including Monroe, who is more knowledgeable about Guardians than he initially lets on; Ariadne, whose ties to Monroe will tie her closer to Calla as time goes on; and another handful that are difficult for me to keep track of since I didn't learn the names of all the Guardians and Keepers the first time around (in fact, I still confuse who's a Guardian and who's a Keeper when they appear in Wolfsbane.
::: Why POV Matters :::
This book should be used as the quintessential example for MFA writing programs of why it's dangerous to begin a series in a first person point of view. This could have been a great book but for one thing: It was limited by the author's choice to keep it in first person. As a result, we have a nearly 400-page book with two action scenes and an awful lot of sitting around and talking. Why? Because all the exposition for the huge back story and mythology and world-building has to be explained, and with a first-person POV, it has to be explained TO Calla, who funnels information for the narrator.
Had Cremer used third person here (i.e. had her editor forced her into third person here), we could have seen and experienced things as flashbacks. Felt Monroe's pain at losing Corinne. Understood the horrors firsthand that the other Guardians went through at the hands of the Keepers after Calla and Shane fled. Instead, everything is filtered through a whole lot of telling and almost no showing, which dulls the impact for the reader. For a book in which characters are tortured and there are rescue missions going on, there shouldn't have been so many scenes taking place with characters sipping coffee in meeting rooms or kitchens or sitting areas. It should have been jam-packed with action, and it ... wasn't.
As a result, at the end of the book, which it has the same type of cliffhanger ending as Nightshade, my daughter didn't even ask when the next book was coming out, and since its release, hasn't even put it on her "must have" list. I'd have to say, having finally read this one, I agree with her....more
I have purchased Back in the Habit twice: first, the week it came out, and the second time at a book signing with the author, Alice Loweecey, after mI have purchased Back in the Habit twice: first, the week it came out, and the second time at a book signing with the author, Alice Loweecey, after my father read and loved my first copy. As my taste in books is usually at the opposite end of the spectrum from my father's, that's probably a sign of how fun this book is.
::: The Plot :::
Giulia Falcone has been an assistant investigator for P.I. Frank Driscoll for only a few months, and out of the convent only a short while longer than she's been an assistant investigator. When the order she left needs help, though, she agrees to go back into the convent undercover as her former self, Sister Mary Regina Coelis, to find out whether a Novice's suicide was really a suicide, and if so, how it could possibly have happened.
Giulia finds more than she bargained for in a convent full of secrets and a personal struggle with who and what she is now compared to her time in the convent.
::: Mystery and Mayhem :::
Loweecey has a great voice as a writer, and keeps the mystery fun and light, even when it deals with darker subject matter like corruption in the Catholic Church. Her own experiences as an ex-nun lend a reality to Giulia's predicament. While the story could have seemed completely farfetched, Loweecey wrangles an impressive cast of characters, and gives life to many bit players who may have gotten lost as cardboard cut-outs with a less deft hand.
Back in the Habit is a fun follow-up to Loweecey's first book -- Force of Habit -- and the unresolved sexual tension between Giulia and her boss is a terrific subplot I hope will be resolved in future books....more
For those of you looking for the tl;dr version of this review: Wonder is brilliant; I'm recommending it to every middle-grader parent I know, parentFor those of you looking for the tl;dr version of this review: Wonder is brilliant; I'm recommending it to every middle-grader parent I know, parent of a boy or girl regardless; you need to read this right now.
I picked up a galley of R. J. Palacio's Wonder from NetGalley on a day it was promoted simply because I'm always looking for middle-grade books for my fourth-grader; he gets bored easily and he's drawn only to male protagonists. I'm also working with both my third- and fourth-graders on stopping the name-calling prevalent at their ages, and thought this might be a help.
Boy, was I blown away.
::: The Plot :::
The book opens with Auggie, the main character, describing his facial deformities: "Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." At a break in the incessant reconstructive surgeries he's undergone, Auggie's mother finally thinks he's ready to start school, and his parents start him in a private middle school in New York City. He's assigned students to show him around the school and he seems to make a couple of friends. But as any parent of middle schoolers know, it's not easy in the best of situations, and if you are in any way visibly "different," middle school is bound to be a nightmare.
Beginning with Auggie and then going through various points-of-view of his sister Via, schoolmate Jack, sister's boyfriend Justin, and schoolmate Summer, Auggie goes through the school year. I'd challenge the Grinch himself to not be moved to tears at various points when reading Wonder.
::: Lessons Without a Hammer :::
So many middle-grade books attempt to teach children life lessons, but drums them over the head with them. Wonder isn't too subtle for middle graders to pick up on, but it doesn't need to drum the lessons over and over again: It has a main character that allows the author to impart the lessons without a megaphone. Auggie's own inner (and sometimes spoken) dialogue provides many of the most poignant moments, like his assessment of Halloween: "I wish every day could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks."
The book's lessons -- of kindness, of accepting people who are different, of standing up for what's right instead of what's popular -- are something every parent wants their middle grader to learn. To have it written in such a beautiful and moving book is truly remarkable, and I hope my kids enjoy the book as much as I did. I'll update this review after they read it, but I really believe this one is going to be a universal win in this house....more
When I spotted Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory in a list of titles I could request at NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. What novice costumer hasn't wantedWhen I spotted Sew Iconic by Liz Gregory in a list of titles I could request at NetGalley, I jumped at the chance. What novice costumer hasn't wanted to recreate some of Hollywood's glamour in his or her own home? I devoured the galley in a single evening, and will, in all likelihood, be purchasing the real thing when it comes out this June so I can have the patterns; at the list price, the patterns for six dresses is a steal.
::: Like Crack for Costume Nuts :::
Gregory takes 10 dresses she deems iconic, from one of Audrey Hepburn's dresses from Breakfast at Tiffanys to the green gown Keira Knightly wore in Atonement and breaks them down for the at-home sewer, providing patterns as well as a synopsis of the movie the dress appeared in, interesting trivia about the costume designer, and directions for sewing the dresses. Each section has pictures of the dresses as they appeared in the movies as well as the recreations that should result from the book's directions, with multiple views of each. Gregory also includes basic sewing instructions before the reader even begins getting into the dresses (including how to alter each pattern for your own size) as well as suggestions for updating the dresses or changing them up to match your own wardrobe.
::: If There's a Sequel ... :::
... and I hope there is, there are a few things I hope are changed. As the dresses get more complicated (Rose's gown from Titanic, anyone?), they begin to look less like their movie inspirations, simply because it costs thousands to make some of the more complicated movie costumes. I'd rather have seen Gregory pick other, simpler dresses that are less expensive to recreate and look closer to the real thing; with so many popular movies to choose from, there have to be more than the 10 she chose. Branching into television, you can go even further, and venture into cosplay ideas. I'm more likely to make the iconic Lucille Ball polka dot dress than Rose's from Titanic with all that beading, and if Gregory is shooting for accuracy, simpler is better.
Still, the book is a quick read and has helpful tips for even experienced sewers. I'm excited to see how the actual patterns work out....more
I came to sci-fi author Piers Anthony in a roundabout way, discovering the Mode series before any of his other, more well-known series. I read the firI came to sci-fi author Piers Anthony in a roundabout way, discovering the Mode series before any of his other, more well-known series. I read the first three books when they were released, and then the series seemed to never be completed, and it was only by accident that I stumbled over DoOoon Mode several months ago and added it to my huge to-be-read pile. I finally got around to reading it this past weekend and am left wishing I'd never known the series had been completed.
::: The Plot :::
DoOon Mode requires you to have read the first three books in the series, and read them recently. While Anthony does go back to give some background, he does so sporadically throughout the book (the very opposite of the dreaded infodump) and if you haven't read the first three books, you will have absolutely no idea what is going on, especially since the book opens right in the middle of the action, where readers were left at the end of the previous book -- Chaos Mode which would have been fine were it not published eight years after Chaos Mode and I wasn't reading it 18 years after Chaos Mode.
Colene, the 14-year-old girl at the heart of the series; her now-husband Darius, who multiplies joy in his home world; a floating slug sort of creature, Burgess; and Nona, the would-be queen of another magic world, have been dumped back into a world they know to be hostile and have to somehow escape and make their way back to Colene's beloved telepathic horse companion. Now, even for a sci-fi book, that's a lot going on in 370 pages, but Anthony also has to resolve Colene's sexless marriage to Darius (she was raped before she met him; never mind her being 14), Nona's lack of desire to rule her own world, the well-being of the 10 null servants assigned to their party in the hostile DoOon Mode in which they find themselves, ruled by the Emperor Ddwng, Darius' need to have a wife in his home world from which he can draw joy which he multiples for his people as well as someone to have sex with afterward to complete the ceremony...
::: Lost? You Aren't Alone :::
In an author's note at the end, Anthony reveals the series was pretty much DOA at the previous publisher, Ace, and he wrote it for himself. However, even with all that plot to tie up, the last 40 or so pages are spent dealing with Colene's rape as well as what was apparently a repressed memory of childhood sexual abuse -- in detail.
It was a let-down ending for a let-down series ender that also involved a Xanth tie-in with the Demon Metria (who refers not to Xanth, but to her location as a "Demon Mode" ARG). The relationships between the characters seemed flat and often mere caricatures of themselves from previous books. It's the opposite of what you think a labor of love should feel like, especially since Anthony reveals in the note he was going to self-publish the book if it hadn't found the home it did with Tor.
DoOon Mode left me wishing for a real ending for this series I loved so much. Maybe I just got too old for it. But it felt like an improper closure....more
**spoiler alert** I was not a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins' debut novel Anna and the French Kiss, finding it saccharine-sweet and full of the unearne**spoiler alert** I was not a huge fan of Stephanie Perkins' debut novel Anna and the French Kiss, finding it saccharine-sweet and full of the unearned angst that drove me nuts even when I was a young adult, and have even less patience for as a real, bona fide, serious-business adult. But when my daughter, who loved Anna, told me Perkins' second book, Lola and the Boy Next Door was even better, I gave it a try, and was delighted to find her second effort was much improved.
::: The Plot :::
Lola Nolan lives in San Francisco's Castro District, the daughter of two gay men who sternly disapprove of their 17-year-old daughter dating 22-year-old musician Max. While they regularly put Max through every obstacle they can think of while not demanding Lola break up with him, Lola asserts her independence and personality with an array of costumes and wigs, displaying a quirky flair for the dramatic. When next-door neighbors from the past reappear -- nationally ranked figure skater Calliope Bell and her two brothers -- we learn Lola hasn't always been the confident girl she appears, and Max doesn't seem to treat anyone in her life with respect. Will she stay with Max or does she still have feelings for boy-next-door Cricket Bell?
::: Boys to Swoon Over :::
While friends swore Etienne St. Clair from Anna and the French Kiss was a boy to make you wish you were 17 again, I'd be willing to relive all that horrible teen angst (and possibly my divorce) to have had a boy like Cricket Bell around when I was a teenaged girl. While Cricket may have made mistakes the first time around with Lola, he's more than willing to wear his heart on his sleeve the second time around, and even a girl with a bad-boy bent like Lola begins to get worn down after a while. If any book can cure young adult of the dark-and-dangerous trend brought about by all the vampires, it's clean-cut Cricket Bell. I think I might even have sighed typing this paragraph.
My daughter read this one first, and when we talked about the book, she agreed that Cricket was way more impressive than St. Clair, and I think she sighed about 100 times. If that doesn't sell you on this book, nothing will, because this is a child that's currently reading mostly manga and vampire novels....more
I jumped at the chance to obtain an advance reader copy of Margaret Overton's Good in a Crisis: A Memoir via NetGalley; as a divorce survivor myself,I jumped at the chance to obtain an advance reader copy of Margaret Overton's Good in a Crisis: A Memoir via NetGalley; as a divorce survivor myself, the opportunity to read someone else's version of how it goes, especially when the book is being compared to Nora Ephron's Heartburn, was a must-read.
Good in a Crisis: A Memoir starts out as a compelling read; Overton has a witty voice that's easy to read, and her ability to laugh in the face of just about any embarrassing event, including the discovery of the aneurysm that followed her separation from her husband, is to be envied. Overton is blunt and succinct, and usually able to sum up in one sentence what many of us discover during a divorce: There are no winners, only bigger jerks. Her tales of online dating and friend fix-ups had me near tears from laughing so hard, because they were so familiar an experience to those friends have gone through.
About halfway through, however, Good in a Crisis: A Memoir suddenly becomes an entirely different book. Where it began as what felt like witty banter among friends, it becomes, for the second half, a far more serious and reflective book, focusing on death and sorrow and depression. The second half was much harder to read, possibly because it felt like a completely different book than the one I'd thought I was reading. It was still good, and still had much to say about life and loss, and rated separately, I'd probably have given it a four-star rating, but the jarring transition from the first half to the second was a difficult one to make. It may have been a different read for me had I known what to expect going in, but as it was, I was somewhat disappointed in the second half, which seemed to drag.
Overall, it was still a very worthwhile read, but at this point in my life, I'd have preferred to read more of the first half and less of the second.