I SO loved Daughter of Smoke & Bone, particularly how atmospheric it was, although I did feel that it got way too romance-oriented for me towardsI SO loved Daughter of Smoke & Bone, particularly how atmospheric it was, although I did feel that it got way too romance-oriented for me towards the end. So it took me a little while to get to the sequel, Days of Blood & Starlight, and quite a while to finish it (it's somewhat of a long book, particularly for a YA novel). This time around, I listened to the audiobook, which I have mixed feelings about. The person who read the audiobook was REALLY melodramatic, which kind of heightened everything. I suppose the tone of the book is very desperate, but she just sounded like she was going to cry all the time. I kind of went through it thinking that I probably wouldn't continue with the trilogy, but it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I decided to read the third book, but I haven't decided whether it's worth listening to on audio again.
“Let’s see. You know how, at the end of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet wakes up in the crypt and Romeo’s already dead? He thought she was dead so he killed himself right next to her?”
“Well, imagine if she woke up and he was still alive, but…” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But he had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.”
Ok, you can see how melodramatic this book gets (and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone but teens or those who really like reading YA material), but I thought that it was interesting, if a bit much at times. Anyway, Karou, armed with the knowledge of her past, becomes the official resurrectionist and begins to work for the army of chimaera. Meanwhile, Akiva and his half sister and brother try to overthrow their father/king. There are a lot of parallels between the seraphim and chimaera worlds, and the rather heavy-handed interludes of Akiva and Karou/Madrigal dreaming of "a world remade." Ok, writing this is making me really dislike the book, but I'm still going to give it three stars because I really do want to know what happens next. What really saved it were actually the humans, Zuzana and Mik, who are pretty funny and add some much-needed levity to the proceedings. There's a lot of darkness to the book (and to the series in general), and I felt that it was more realistic (if you'd call anything with angels and chimaeras realistic) than others because the violence SHOULD be pretty strong if they're really in a war. I quite liked that about the series, and felt that it makes for one of the few YA fantasies I've read that's more appropriate for older teens.
My review for School Library Journal was published on June 1.
Here it is:
Gr 5-8--Karn would rather be playing his beloved board game, "thrones and bone
My review for School Library Journal was published on June 1.
Here it is:
Gr 5-8--Karn would rather be playing his beloved board game, "thrones and bones," than learning to become hauld of his father's farm, which has been passed down many generations. He meets Thianna, a half-giant, half-human girl who longs to fit in with the club-wielding frost giants, the only community she's ever known. When a tragedy reminiscent of Shakespeare's Hamlet occurs, the two pair up in order to survive. They soon realize the danger that they're in and that they need each other's unique skills to survive. Aside from the sometimes difficult-to-decipher Norse names, the language is quite easy to understand and that, coupled with the shorter-than-your-average-fantasy length, makes this an excellent choice for readers new to the genre. The themes of staying true to oneself, teamwork, and individuality will resonate with readers. Fans of Matthew Kirby's Icefall (Scholastic, 2011) who bemoaned the lack of magic in that book will enjoy this new series. A good addition to a fantasy collection with potential for future entries. Jessica Ko, Los Angeles Public Library. 320p. SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, c2014.
I don't know that I have much to add to this review. I'm not the biggest fan of Norse fantasy/mythology, but I tried to be neutral as I read it. I could definitely see this being popular with fans of the genre....more
My review for School Library Journal was published on May 1, 2014 (odd that they sent me the book so early).
Gr 4-6-Twins Gustavia and Leomaris live f
My review for School Library Journal was published on May 1, 2014 (odd that they sent me the book so early).
Gr 4-6-Twins Gustavia and Leomaris live fairly normal lives, so it comes as a complete surprise that their mother becomes mysteriously ill--because she's not really human; she's a Folk, part of a group of people who can turn into animals. Gus and Leo are about to turn 11, the age at which the Folk begin to Turn, and they start to notice peculiar things happening to them, like being able to hold their breath underwater for long periods of time. Their younger sister, Ila, is a selective mute and begins to speak for the first time. When their mother goes into a coma, the children learn that they are being hunted, and that their mother gave up her health and strength to protect them. What's more, they are the last of the Folk, and the only ones who can stop the Dobhar-Chu, the villainous King of the Black Lakes, from escaping his cave prison. The characters are complex and well developed, and the plot flows smoothly, apart from a slightly abrupt ending, and there is a great deal of interesting information about animals ("Killer whales are apex predators"). Raabe has created a rich and detailed world for fantasy fans.--Jessica Ko, Los Angeles Public Library
I guess I'm now months behind on writing goodreads reviews, but I really wanted to do justice to Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which I LOVED. I mean,I guess I'm now months behind on writing goodreads reviews, but I really wanted to do justice to Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which I LOVED. I mean, it's the story of a girl who works for a monster and lives in Prague? Sold! Except it's so much more than that. Karou is an art student in Prague who draws realistic and haunting pictures of chimaeras, beasts with parts of different animals, sometimes human. Her fellow art students and teachers are awed by Karou's creativity... not knowing that these creatures are very real, or that Karou's electric blue hair actually grows out of her head that way. When she's summoned to do so, Karou enters a secret portal into the monster world, where she meets with her boss/mentor/parent figure, and he gives her assignments to go all over the world, running errands. She collects human teeth, but she has never known for what purpose. All she knows is that her boss' collection of teeth is running very low...
At the same time, a war that has been going on for centuries, perhaps even thousands of years, rages on, between the monsters and the angels. The angels are finally ready to put a stop to it, and seal off the portals, disconnecting Karou from the only family she's ever had. She searches for answers, but the only person who can connect with is Akiva, a mysterious angel with a dark secret. From him she learns the angels' side of the story, and gets closer to learning who she really is, and what the teeth are really used for.
I was ALL over the world that Laini Taylor has built in this series. It's fascinating, and suitably dark for older teens. In fact, the mood that Taylor has created is pretty bleak, with undertones of rooted evil, and halfway through the book, that all gets blown open by the book turning into a full-blown romance, like an uneasy dark sensuality. I kind of felt like I had been duped, because there wasn't anything in the book description that let me know that this was a love story! Of course, if you're looking for that, then I'd definitely highly recommend this book. Like I said, I really loved this world, and it's probably one of my favorites in any YA fantasy I've read. But the challenge for me when I'm reading any fantasy series is: where do we go from here? Once the excitement and newness of this world goes away, will the plot and continuing character development be enough to hold it? I sure hope so!
On the front cover of City of Bones there's a blurb by Stephenie Meyer that says, "The Mortal Instruments world is a story world that I love to live iOn the front cover of City of Bones there's a blurb by Stephenie Meyer that says, "The Mortal Instruments world is a story world that I love to live in. Beautiful!" Now, as much as I hate to agree with Ms. Meyer, I do really like, if not love this world. Ok, so it's paranormal, but at LEAST it's not ABOUT vampires or zombies, which clutter the YA shelves, even if both creatures do populate this world. Instead, the Mortal Instruments series is about demon hunters, or Shadowhunters as they're known in this world. Clary Fray has always been a normal teen who's lived with her mom, an artist in New York City. She has the guy best friend who's secretly in love with her, and her mom has a male friend who's just a friend who's also a surrogate father figure to Clary. Everything is fairly normal until she goes to this club with her friend and starts to see people who no one else can see. Clary is even more shaken when her mom abruptly announces that they will move away, and when she runs away, she returns only to find that her mother has been kidnapped, and violently. Slowly Clary starts to befriend these people whose existence she has only recently been made aware of, the Shadowhunters, and she learns that everything she thought she knew about herself, her mother, and her life, was a lie.
I really haven't read a ton of paranormal series, so it's hard to compare The Mortal Instruments to anything, but I did like this first book, and while I won't be rushing out to read the second, City of Ashes, anytime soon, I do plan to read it eventually, perhaps in a lull in my reading list. Yes, there is a love triangle (which I don't love), but it's pretty much disintegrated at the end, and shouldn't reappear in any of the rest of the books in the series, unless something weird/shocking happens. (Can't explain that particular twist without being really spoilery, but I liked it, in a perverse kind of way.) I don't think that City of Bones is aspiring to be great literature or anything, but it's a fun story, and the characters are kind of campy, practically licking their fangs. One weakness I see is that Clary herself is more or less useless and relies on the paranormal sort (or sometimes her mortal best friend Simon) to help her out of jams, which unfortunately reminds me of Bella in Twilight. Let's not see yet ANOTHER protagonist who relies on hot superhuman guys to save us while we stand in a corner and wring our hands. Still, it's nice and long and juicy, and it has the added bonus of recently having been turned into a movie, so it's worth a read if you like the genre.
Jack is the oldest kid in Hokey Pokey--a place where kids don't grow up. Except that they do. Jack is starting to see the signs that he may be moving on, and soon. In Hokey Pokey, there's Cartoons, where kids watch Bugs Bunny. There's a cuddle station. And there are herds of bikes that roam the land. Jack has a beloved bike named Scramjet. Jack and Scramjet are always associated with one another, and the two are rarely seen apart. But one day Scramjet is taken from Jack--by a girl. All of Hokey Pokey takes place on this one day, where Scramjet is stolen, and Jack grows up.
It's not that I didn't think that Hokey Pokey was well written. It's very ambitious in its allegory for nostalgia, childhood, coming-of-age. It's also very poetic in its depiction of Jack moving on. (no spoilers, but reminded me of a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. But I just didn't *enjoy* it. It's a little (maybe a lot) too weird for me, I wasn't into the characters (and especially not Jubilee, the girl who steals Jack's bike). And that counts for a lot with me.
Wow. I can't believe that Goblin Secrets was the 2012 winner of the National Book Award (category-Young People's Literature). It just does not compareWow. I can't believe that Goblin Secrets was the 2012 winner of the National Book Award (category-Young People's Literature). It just does not compare to previous winners like The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Holes, or The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian--brilliant books, all of them. It's not that the story was bad. In fact, it was mildly intriguing. It's the story of a young orphan named Rownie who lives in the land of Zombay, where acting is illegal. However, goblins, because they are "changed," are exempt from this law and may put on plays. Rownie's older brother disappeared a while ago while acting in an illegal play, and Rownie's "grandmother," a witch with gearworked chicken legs, is looking for him. One day, Rownie meets a troupe of goblin actors and gets to wear a mask and perform himself. He ends up joining them to learn more about their crafts, and, hopefully, his brother's whereabouts.
So... somewhat interesting, right? But I was almost in disbelief at how poorly this story was paced. The general plot of the book doesn't really emerge until about halfway through, and the climax played out in the last 20 pages. Also, just as I was surprised that The Diviners was a part of a series (because it could really stand alone), I was surprised that Goblin Secretswasn't a part of a series. All the characters could and should have been developed A LOT more, and there's just so much back story that needed, in my opinion, to be told.Edited: Ok, so I just found out that Goblin Secrets IS part of a series, but the second book is about a different character entirely. Consider the previous couple of sentences redacted. Although I still think that so much more of Rownie and his brother's story should've been told. So I REALLY don't understand why the book is only 220 pages, and the font is pretty large, too. I guess my only explanation is that it's supposed to be like a play (the chapters are actually in play format--Act II, Scene II, that sort of thing), so that's why it's short, but it could still have been so much better. Disappointing first book of the New Year, but hopefully my reading choices will improve. :)
It's Ohio and the height of Prohibition, and Evie O'Neill is a seventeen-year-old girl with teetotaling parents and no such personal convictions of heIt's Ohio and the height of Prohibition, and Evie O'Neill is a seventeen-year-old girl with teetotaling parents and no such personal convictions of her own. She's just gotten into some trouble at a party from using her gift: she can "read" an object, and tell bits and pieces of its history. She has defamed a young man and accused him of getting a girl pregnant, one who isn't his girlfriend. Because Evie refuses to apologize, and yet can't explain how she knew what she did, her parents send her to New York City as a "punishment," to live with her Uncle Will, who runs The Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, more popularly known to the public as "The Museum of the Creepy-Crawlies." Evie is thrilled with her "punishment," and sets about going to parties and clubs. But soon it becomes evident that a serial killer is on the loose, and Uncle Will gets roped into helping out on the case. The crimes seem occult in nature, and somewhat related to Revelation, and the coming of the Beast. Evie knows she can use her ability to help out on the case, but she's not sure if she wants to take the risk of using them again. In the meantime, there are others like her in the city, who have abilities they don't quite understand. Most of them are alone and afraid of showing anyone their power to anyone, but an age of a group of people called Diviners is said to be coming.
I really, really, really liked this book. I didn't really care for Libba Bray's last book, Beauty Queens (about a group of teen beauty pageant contestants stranded on a seemingly deserted island), but that seems like a particular taste. The Diviners, on the other hand, was fantastic. I love the Prohibition-era slang, which under a lesser writer would seem gimmicky and forced. It's such an atmospheric book, and was scary and chilling, but not so chilling that I couldn't sleep or anything like that. The diviners storyline reminds me a little bit of the TV show Heroes (everyday people with special powers), except set in the 1920s, and with an occult-themed serial killer instead of one who's just stealing people's powers. It really seems like The Diviners could be a stand-alone book... I certainly wasn't left wanting. So I was kind of surprised when I got to the end of the book and realized that it was the start of a series. I do want to know more about the rest of the diviners and learn more about their back stories, so I'm very much looking forward to the next book, but all that to say that it was a very satisfying book that could be read on its own. It's also somewhat long (over 500 pages) but it never gets boring. I read every page hungrily, wanting to know what happened next. I actually read it twice! I was a little uncomfortable with some of the subject matter, to be honest. It's completely fictional, but some of the occult/Revelation/coming of the Beast stuff was a bit off-putting at first. It didn't bother me in the end, and I really enjoyed the story, but it's a major reason I knocked off half a star from this review (if we could do half-stars, I'd give this 4.5 stars). Still, if you aren't offended by that content, and don't mind some of the violent stuff, I'd highly recommend this book, as I think it's one of the best YA books of 2012.
Blue Sargeant is the daughter of a psychic. She lives at 300 Fox Way with her mother and a few other psychics in a small town called Henrietta, closeBlue Sargeant is the daughter of a psychic. She lives at 300 Fox Way with her mother and a few other psychics in a small town called Henrietta, close to an exclusive boys' school called Aglionby. The boys of Aglionby are known as the Raven Boys, because of the ravens stitched on all of their jackets. The Raven Boys are known to be impossibly rich, the bastard sons of wealthy men. Blue has always been told to stay away from them, and from boys in general, because all her life, she's heard that if she kisses her true love, she will kill him. Unlike her mother and her mother's friends, Blue doesn't have any clairvoyant abilities. She does have the ability to increase the energy in the atmosphere, though, and her mother and aunt, a famous television psychic, use her to make what they hear louder. One night, St. Mark's eve, Blue goes with her mother and aunt to the church to watch the spirits of all those who will die that year parade past them. Blue doesn't expect to see anyone there, but she does: a young Raven boy named Gansey. As her aunt explains, there are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark's eve: "Either you're his true love... or you killed him." Blue unexpectedly gets to know Gansey and his friends: Adam, who's on a scholarship and lives in a trailer park with his abusive father, Ronan, who is brilliant but never goes to class, and Noah, who has a secret to hide (like all of them). Gansey is looking for the ley line, or corpse road, to find where Glendower, the ancient king, is buried. Blue gets wrapped up into their adventures in this fantasy friendship tale.
I really liked Maggie Stiefvater's book The Scorpio Races, which is admittedly a little weird, but The Raven Boys was just a little weirder than I'd like. At least they acknowledge in the book that the name Blue Sargeant is totally weird (Gansey starts calling her "Jane"). But the whole "you can't kiss your true love or else you'll kill him!" storyline is kind of cheesy, at least for my taste. Still, I thought that the characters were well-developed, and it answered enough questions, while leaving a satisfying amount for the next installment(chiefly: who is Blue's father and what happened to him?). It was very intriguing and it had a few surprising moments that made me gasp. Not one of my favorite series, but I'm still interested to know what happens to Blue and the gang next.
Several years back, I was talking to some colleagues who were lovers of epic fantasy, and complaining about how I didn't like that genre. Chief amongSeveral years back, I was talking to some colleagues who were lovers of epic fantasy, and complaining about how I didn't like that genre. Chief among my complaints was (is?) how long it takes to read epic fantasy. Even if I'm really into a high fantasy book (which isn't usually the case), it's still not the kind of book that I can stay up all night reading. I was told by these colleagues that the extended period reading a book is one of the things that they most enjoy about the experience, in fact. In the past couple of years, I've read quite a few fantasy books, enough that I can no longer say that I don't like fantasy. Some of my favorite books that I've read in the past year or so have been fantasy. But I still tend towards books that have a bridge between our world (the "Muggle world," if you will) and the magical one, with a strong footing in realism, that aren't written in some approximation of Middle English, and especially don't have dragons (and dwarves, and elves and the like). So I was surprised, and pleased that I actually finished, and enjoyed Seraphina, which is very much epic fantasy, about dragons (and in fact has a blurb by Christopher Paolini, author of the Eragon series, on the cover), and that it took me a veeeeery long time to finish (over two months, though I was reading lots of other books in that time). I really did enjoy it, and maybe, just maybe, I'm starting to get the appeal.
Seraphina is a gifted musician who is selected to be the assistant to the court composer and to teach young Princess Glisselda music. Seraphina arrives at court at a tumultuous time: the kingdom of Goredd is getting ready for the arrival of the Ardmagar, or the leader of the dragons, to celebrate the anniversary of Comonot's treaty, the agreement that ended the Tanamoot-Goredd war and brokered peace between humans and dragons. It's definitely an uneasy peace, and both dragons and humans are unhappy with the treaty, since they deeply distrust each other. As for humans, they also greatly fear dragons, who are able to transform at will into human shape (called saarantrai), and thus pass into human company without detection. Seraphina has insight into the draconian world because she has a lifelong teacher named Orma who is a dragon himself. A new war seems to be on the verge of erupting, and Seraphina has her own secret to hide...
Well, goodreads just timed out while I was writing a super long review, so I'll just say 1) I don't know what the audience is for this and 2) I felt lWell, goodreads just timed out while I was writing a super long review, so I'll just say 1) I don't know what the audience is for this and 2) I felt like I was supposed to LOVE this book and see it as a masterpiece, but I just liked it and it was terribly predictable. For a plot summary, click on the link for the book.
Well, I just don't know what to think of Grave Mercy. On one hand, I absolutely loved most of the book (the first 500 pages, I'd say). I love the heroWell, I just don't know what to think of Grave Mercy. On one hand, I absolutely loved most of the book (the first 500 pages, I'd say). I love the heroine and the setting and mythology of the fantasy was great. But the last 50 pages I just hated. I felt like I was duped into reading a romance when I expected action/fantasy. I was really disappointed and kind of upset at the book, actually. I think I'm alone in that (the book has four starred reviews), so it's probably a case of expectations.
Ismae grows up knowing that she is a child of Death himself. She was an unwanted child, and her mother drank poison to rid herself of the child in her womb. Proving that she was sired by Death, the poison doesn't kill Ismae, but leaves an ugly scar on her back, proof of her lineage. When she is forced to marry a grotesque man so that her father can be rid of her, she is cast into a basement when the man learns, to his horror, of her scars, and infers that she must be a child of Death. Ismae is rescued and sent to a convent where she and other girls, also sired by the god/saint of death, Mortain, learn to kill those who who Mortain has marked for death. Ismae trains in poisons, weaponry, and feminine charms (for that is how the daughters of Mortain get close to their targets) for three years, yearning for the day that she can destroy men, since they are the ones who have mistreated her all her life. She finally gets her opportunity after three years of training, when she is sent to spy on a nobleman in the duchess of Brittany's court, trying to uncover potential treachery. Ismae is excited for the opportunity to seek vengeance for her god, but she is less excited about having to pose as the nobleman, Duval's mistress. As she lives in the duchess' court, however, she starts to suspect that Duval may actually be acting in the interests of the duchess and Brittany, and that someone else may be betraying the duchess in favor of France. At the same time, she starts to develop feelings for Duval, and starts to question the purpose of her convent and killing those who Mortain has marqued.
Grave Mercy has a lot of great suspense, and I really liked that almost all the characters in the court other than Duval were historically accurate. I guess I just expected that this would be an action/adventure story where Ismae kicked butt, not a romance. I was not a fan of the way that the story resolved. I'd be giving away too much to tell you the ending, but suffice it to say that it turns into a romance novel, and I really don't like romance novels. So I guess I might recommend this book (and it does have four starred reviews, after all), but it's always best to manage expectations.
I'm not sure why the Books of Beginnings series isn't more popular than it is. I really think it's the best kids fantasy series out at the moment. TheI'm not sure why the Books of Beginnings series isn't more popular than it is. I really think it's the best kids fantasy series out at the moment. The characters are well-written, the action is well-paced, and the audiobook is narrated by the inimitable Jim Dale (he of the Harry Potter audiobook fame). What more could you want? The Fire Chronicle, which is the second book in the series, the first being The Emerald Atlas, continues the story of the first book and begins with the three children once again at an orphanage. They haven't heard from Dr. Pym in a long time, and he finally shows up just as one of the Screechers has arrived. The Screecher grabs Kate and she uses the Emerald Atlas to take the Screecher into another time period to rescue her siblings but finds herself unable to get back when she wakes up in 1899, with neither Screecher nor book in sight. Meanwhile, Dr. Pym takes Michael and Emma on a search for their parents, who were seen twelve years ago heading for a location rumored to be connected to the books of beginning. This begins to separate storylines over a century apart, with one character in common, but it's easy enough to tell them apart and not confusing at all. There are a lot of similarites to Harry Potter, specifically the first and seventh books, but it didn't bother me... it was similar but didn't feel like a rip-off or anything. The only thing I didn't like is that it seemd that some actions weren't fully explained or were rushed. Still, a great adventure fantasy book, and I'm looking forward to the next book. I really like Emma, so I'm excited for it (it seems that each book focuses on one of the sibling and the book whose power they wield a bit more).
Like Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, The Tale of Despereaux is a recent Newbery Award winner that I listened to on audioboLike Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, The Tale of Despereaux is a recent Newbery Award winner that I listened to on audiobook. I've never read it as a physical book, but it was an enjoyable audiobook. The narrator has a great theatrical style that works well for this pseudo-fairytale. Actually, it's as close to a fairytale as you could get in this day and age... it has a sweetness and optimism that's missing from most modern day fairytales, which are usually satires in the tradition of Shrek & Co. It's the tale of three primary characters: a mouse named Despereaux, a servant girl named Miggory Sow, and a rat named Chiaroscuro (I'm going by the goodreads spelling on that, since I didn't actually see the spellings of any names or places--something I really don't like about listening to audiobooks!). Despereaux is a very small mouse who can read and falls in love with fairytales--and with the princess, Pea. Miggory Sow is a girl sold by her father for a red tablecloth, abused by her master, but who dreams of becoming a princess. And Chiaroscuro is a rat, who lives in the dungeons, but who, unlike other rats, dreams of the light, and of beauty. All are seeking to be something they're not, and all will interact with each other, using one another, and coming up in opposition to each other, in their quests.
It all sounds like a rather simplistic fairytale, and that's the beauty of this book--it can be a simple, straightforward story, or you can read more into it. For example, there's a lot of contrasting the darkness and the light, and as an English Lit major, I loved the complexities explored therein. The characters, with the exception of Despereaux, were all complex, and each had faults and strengths. Smart kids and good readers who like learning new words from their books (ie The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, Lemony Snicket books, or the Mysterious Benedict Society series) will like this, and it actually encourages you to look up words like "perfidy" in the dictionary (which, by the way, I hated doing when I was a kid). All in all, it's a great book that just manages to add a touch of realism to an unabashed fairytale.
Ages 8-11 Newbery Award winner, 2004 Great for bedtime stories, classroom reading, booktalks...more
It's so hard to describe The Night Circus, but I'll try nailing down a few words: lovely, magical, mysterious, lyrical, dark, romantic, sensual. It'sIt's so hard to describe The Night Circus, but I'll try nailing down a few words: lovely, magical, mysterious, lyrical, dark, romantic, sensual. It's the story of two players, Marco and Celia, bound at a young age into a competition that they don't know the rules of. In fact, for a long time they aren't even aware of their opponent's identity. What they do know is the stage, a black and white circus that travels throughout the East Coast and Europe, that opens from dusk til dawn. Marco and Celia keep adding to the circus, including a maze that has corridors that snow, and they fall deeply in love. But, unbeknownst to them, the competition will continue until a victor is chosen. And the victor is chosen by surviving the competition......more
I think it's time for me to retire the phrase "I don't really like fantasy." I can still say that about sci-fi, or horror, or westerns, but looking baI think it's time for me to retire the phrase "I don't really like fantasy." I can still say that about sci-fi, or horror, or westerns, but looking back over the books in my "read" folder on goodreads, quite a few of them are fantasy. And most of them I really, immensely enjoyed. I think I still can say that I don't care for high/epic fantasy, particularly anything with elves and the like, but I think that I've put my finger on the subgenre of fantasy that I really do enjoy, and that's character-driven fantasy. Fantasy where the magic and folklore and the world that's created are all wonderful in their own right, but where the characters are so well-developed and rich that it doesn't even matter that they can do magic. If that sounds like something up your alley, I'd highly recommend The Magicians series to you.
Note: This review does not contain spoilers for The Magician King (the second book in The Magicians series. However, if you have not read The Magicians, and plan to, you should not read any further because it will spoil that book for you. Plus, you won't understand what/who I'm talking about.
Quentin Coldwater and his friends have been living in Fillory for a while, and are now kings and queens there. But one day, after a hunt for the Seeing Hare, a magical beast of Fillory, ends in tragedy, Quentin impulsively decides to undertake a quest of sorts, to retrieve two years' worth of unpaid taxes from The Outer Island. I liked this line to describe his 'quest': "It wasn't the Fellowship of the Ring, but then again he wasn't trying to save the world from Sauron, he was attempting to perform a tax audit on a bunch of hick islanders." He charters a magical luxury liner, hires a bodyguard and brings along a talking animal... and Queen Julia, his high school crush turned Brakebills reject turned hedge witch (self-taught on the streets) turned Queen of Fillory. When something goes wrong on their The Voyage of the Dawn Treader-esque quest, Quentin and Julia find themselves back in the real world, and trying desperately to get back. Gradually, they find their mundane 'quest' turning into a real one, with reality setting in cold and hard.
Without a doubt, the best part of The Magician King is that about every other chapter is about Julia's backstory, covering roughly the same time period as The Magicians. We saw her briefly a few times during that book, but I always wondered what was going on for her. And now, here's the juicy story. We learn how Julia saw through the memory charms placed on her and realized that she had sat the Brakebills exam, how she went about learning magic on her own, how she eventually found a magical family and educational system of her own, and the terrible price she had to pay for this. Unlike some male fantasy writers, Lev Grossman writes his female characters really well. Even though Quentin and Julia's adventures were pretty interesting, I found myself struggling to stop myself from skipping ahead to the next Julia chapter. It's a little bit disjointed, there's the Fillory story, then "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" story, then the real world story, then the "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" part II, with Julia's story in between. It's not too bad, but it's not exactly a smoothly-told story. Like a friend said, it does seem like it's missing a chapter towards the end, but with good character development, interesting stories, and a great setting, it's hard to fault the book much. It's fantasy with a shot of adrenaline. I love that Grossman draws on the magical traditions of The Chronicles of Narnia. If the last book was a cross between The Magician's Nephew and the Harry Potter series, this one is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader meets His Dark Materials, with references to The Lorax and Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned thrown in to remind you just how much this takes place in our world. I'm eagerly awaiting the third book in the series, which hasn't yet been announced....more
My usual disclaimer before reviews of books in a series: No spoilers here if you've already read the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but defiMy usual disclaimer before reviews of books in a series: No spoilers here if you've already read the first book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns, but definitely spoiler-y if you haven't.
Elisa is now the queen of Joya d'Arena, and a popular one at that, after having defeated the Invierno using the power of her godstone. However, that popularity won't last for long, since many crave her godstone for their own. After a few threats on her life, in which she feels powerless and her kingdom starts to turn on her, Elisa realizes that she needs to find the source of the godstone's power, and learn how to use it. At the same time, she starts to develop feelings for her bodyguard, Hector, just as she realizes that she must marry to consolidate power for the good of her kingdom.
I thought that the story of The Crown of Embers flowed pretty well, but it definitely got a little (ok, a lot) cheesy at times. It also didn't answer any of the mythology questions that The Girl of Fire and Thorns raised, which was really disappointing. That said, I still liked the characters, setting, and plotline, and do plan to read the next book in the series when it comes out.
Note: This review is slightly spoilerish, not because I give away the ending or any plot twists, but because what I really like about the book is thatNote: This review is slightly spoilerish, not because I give away the ending or any plot twists, but because what I really like about the book is that you know very little about the characters, setting and plot at the outset of the book, and learn more as the story progresses.
Liesl is a small, delicate girl who lives in the attic, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Will is an alchemist's apprentice sent to deliver the most powerful magic in the world to the Lady Premiere. The alchemist abuses him, hardly feeding him and calling him worthless, so when Will makes his deliveries and pick-ups in the middle of the night, he stops to stare at a beautiful girl he sees in an attic window. The world where Liesl and Will live is similar to ours, but very bleak. Because the alchemist has drained the sun for use in his magic, farms can no longer prosper, food is scarce, and darkness is perpetual. Children are sent to die early deaths by working in harsh factories.
One day, a ghost appears in Liesl's dark attic. It's (for at some point, ghosts no longer know their gender) name is Po, and it has slipped through the crack to get from the Other Side into Liesl's world. Po's pet/friend, Bundle, has also come, and together they help Liesl to escape from her stepmother and to put her father's soul at rest. Gradually, Liesl, Po, and Will's stories all intertwine, and they find a sense of belonging in each other, comforting one another's deep loneliness.
I wasn't expecting to love Liesl and Po so much. In fact, I picked it up on the day before it was due at the library, and ended up reading it all night. It's such a profound story of death, loss, friendship and meaning. Though it takes place in a bleak world, nearly hopeless, you can't help cheering on these characters.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns opens on Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza's sixteenth birthday... and her wedding day. The second daughter of the king ofThe Girl of Fire and Thorns opens on Princess Lucero-Elisa de Riqueza's sixteenth birthday... and her wedding day. The second daughter of the king of Orovalle will be marrying King Alejandro of Joya d'Arena, a neighboring kingdom. She will be leaving everything she knows to become a queen. But why is this handsome king marrying her? She is only sixteen years old and the younger daughter, fat and lazy. Could the godstone, a jewel embedded in her navel since her Christening Day, have anything to do with it?
Every century, someone in Joya d'Arena or Orovalle is born with a godstone, chosen by God for acts of service. Nearly all of the bearers have died at a young age, mostly related to their service. Some bearers have not been recorded, and some died without completing their service. Elisa doesn't know what service she's destined to perform, but she knows that her godstone is a great secret she must hide from everyone in her new home.
I LOVED this book. It could really be a standalone, but I was happy to hear that it's the first in a series (trilogy?) because there are so many unanswered questions, mainly relating to the theology/fantasy of it all. Are the godstones even given by God, and are they really related to His service? What are the secrets King Alejandro is hiding? I'm really looking forward to the next book and highly recommend this one to fantasy lovers.
I always like reading new genres, and meta-folktale is a new one for me. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the story of Minli, a poor girl with livI always like reading new genres, and meta-folktale is a new one for me. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the story of Minli, a poor girl with lives with her Ma and Ba by Fruitless Mountain in China. As the name would imply, the land they live on is barren, and they are very poor. Minli is still happy, and loves to sit at her father's feet and hear the Chinese folktales he is so skilled at telling, but Minli's mother's sighs grow great over how poor they are. One day, Minli goes to the market with only a few coins, and decides to buy a goldfish instead of food. Minli's mother grows angry with her, complaining that their fortune will never change. Remembering Ba's stories about the old man on the moon, who will answer any question, Minli decides to leave Fruitless Mountain to ask the old man on the moon the question of how to change her fortune. Along the way, she meets many characters, like a poor orphan boy with a buffalo, a dragon who was born from a painting and can't fly, and even the king.
So how is this "meta-folktale?" Well, the main story (about Minli) is told in the style of a Chinese folktale, with traditional Chinese folktales woven throughout. It actually took me a while to figure out that these were real Chinese folktales retold by Grace Lin, because they fit really well into the story.
I listened to this on audiobook, thinking that since it's a folktale (and thus, part of an oral tradition), it would translate well to audiobook, but I didn't like it at all, and will not be listening to Lin's follow-up, Starry River of the Sky on audiobook (but I do plan to read it). The narrator and the format of the book are the type where you need to be hanging on every single word, which doesn't lend itself to changing lanes and the like. I had to listen to each disc a couple of times at least to make sure I got everything, so I didn't feel as much like I enjoyed the story. Plus, I just read that Lin has full-color illustrations in the book, so I guess I missed out on that.
I don't often read books of the "paranormal" sort, so I thought I'd try something different, and since the film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: VampireI don't often read books of the "paranormal" sort, so I thought I'd try something different, and since the film adaptation of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is about to be released (have you seen the trailer? It actually looks kind of awesome.), I thought I'd try it. And although it's paranormal/horror, it's also a parody, and a weird version of historical fiction and biography, so it's not rooted enough in horror to turn me off. For those who haven't heard of the parody paranormal genre, author Seth Grahame-Smith first wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, in which he inserted zombies into the classic story of P&P. He even shares the writing credit with Jane Austen. In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Grahame-Smith takes the life of Abraham Lincoln, as we know it, from being born in a log cabin to Mary Todd to his assassination by John Wilkes Booth, and, well, inserts vampires into it. Although some of it feels forced, it does kind of make sense that slavery be a vampire institution, and that Lincoln's endeavors to eradicate it stemmed from his hatred of vampires. Nearly all the significant deaths in Lincoln's life are attributed to vampire attacks. A clever use of photoshop adds fangs, all-black eyes (a sign of being a vampire, apparently), and other features to historical photographs. Real historical quotes are used, as well as fake or altered ones, and it's hard to separate the two. (Although some of Lincoln's dialogue feels a little too 21st century.) I'm not sure if I'll end up reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I wasn't in any way disappointed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter....more
Every October, on a small island off the coast of North America, the water horses emerge from the sea. These beasts may resemble the horses that liveEvery October, on a small island off the coast of North America, the water horses emerge from the sea. These beasts may resemble the horses that live on land, but are two parts monster, one part animal. They're huge, savage, and wildly violent. Everyone on the island fears them, for everyone has known and loved someone destroyed by these beasts. But they are also a source of livelihood for the island, because every November, tourists from the mainland gather to buy horses (the regular ones, because the water horses are prohibited from leaving the island) and place their bets. Because every November the Scorpio Races take place, an event in which locals get on these monsters... and ride them.
Puck (real name: Kate) Connolly's parents were killed a year before by these water horses. Like many on the island, the horses have destroyed her family, and left her and her three brothers working back-breaking jobs that pay very little, with little return on which to survive on. When she learns that her oldest brother Gabe wants to move to the mainland, like so many others, she impulsively decides to enter the races as a way to get him to stay, if just a little longer. To honor her parents' memory, she decides to race on her little mare (not a water horse), Dove. No woman has ever raced before, and she'll face a lot of stigma, not to mention the stiff competition.
Sean Kendrick is the favorite to win, as he has already won four out of the last six races. As lead trainer of Malvern Yard, he has trained many of the horses who will be running in these races, and he has a special connection with them that enables him to communicate with them in a way that no other can. But there is no horse that he is closer to than the one he rides, Corr. Sean has proved his worth to Malvern Yard, but Corr is not his own. Will he be able to win the Scorpio Races AND call Corr his own?
Maggie Stiefvater tells the story of The Scorpio Races through both Puck and Sean's narratives, but only one of them can win. Gradually their need to win becomes more and more compelling. I found the story, and particularly the last 100 or so pages to be very engaging. It's a bit light on the water horse mythology, if that's what you're looking for, and the romance element is more of the tension sort than the "full-blown-relationship" sort, which I prefer. It's a thrilling tale where the water horses are not the only monsters, with a heart-stopping climax. Loved it.
John Stephens, author of The Emerald Atlas, was an executive producer and writer of Gossip Girl, and a writer for Gilmore Girls and The OC. Although IJohn Stephens, author of The Emerald Atlas, was an executive producer and writer of Gossip Girl, and a writer for Gilmore Girls and The OC. Although I loved Gilmore Girls, Stephens' pedigree doesn't exactly make you think of middle-grade fantasy. But I was really impressed with, and loved, The Emerald Atlas. It has all the elements of a great fantasy series: plucky heroines and hero, a powerful wizard, an unbelievably beautiful but evil Countess, with some time travel thrown in for good measure. But don't mistake it for your run-of-the-mill fantasy series: The Emerald Atlas does something that truly great books do, and that's fill you with emotion. Not just sadness, or joy, but triumph and thrill. I couldn't get enough of it, and I was truly upset to learn that there's no release date for the second book yet. Argh!!!
Anyway, to the book summary: On Christmas Eve, on the East Coast in sometime around the early to mid 20th century (although the book has a Victorian England feel to it), three children, ages 1, 2, and 4, are taken away from their parents by a mysterious man. The children will be hunted by a dark force yet to be revealed, and this man seeks to protect them by taking them to an orphanage and changing their names to surname "P." (The absurdity of having a single letter for a surname is pointed out and bemoaned by the three main characters.) The children are shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, eventually ending up in an "orphanage" where they are the only wards, in a bleak and imposing mansion atop a craggy mountain covered in mist. The eldest, Kate, discovers a book that allows the children to travel through time and space by placing a photo on an open page (it takes you to the time and place when the photo was taken). By using this book, they travel back 15 years in the past, before they were born, to the very town that they are in, where they meet an evil Countess who is imprisoning the men, women, and children of the town and searching for a book of great power, rumored to be hidden there (sound familiar? yes, time travel is a confusing thing). All depends on the children as they seek to stop the Countess from reaching the book, and to get back home.
Highly recommended for ages 9-12, especially those who love fantasy, including Harry Potter and Narnia....more
I'm totally jazzed about A Monster Calls, because it's unlike anything I've seen before. It's fantasy, because there's a monster, but the monster is vI'm totally jazzed about A Monster Calls, because it's unlike anything I've seen before. It's fantasy, because there's a monster, but the monster is very much a symbol for the real monster, the disease rapidly deteriorating Conor's mother's body. She's barely conscious from the painkillers, constantly throwing up, and bald from the treatments, which are never named. Conor feels alone at school, where his family friend Lily has told everyone that his mother is dying. As a result, when he's not being bullied, he's being pitied or shunned. He resents his grandmother, who's stepped in, and longs for his father, who lives in America (this takes place in the UK), and spends all his time with his new family.
One evening, at exactly 12:07, the old yew tree by the churchyard rises up, arranges its massive branches into a face, and comes to Conor. The monster initially tries to scare Conor, but when Conor remain nonplussed, the monster starts to tell him three tales. These tales aren't what you'd expect, and force Conor to think about who "the bad guy" really is. In the end, the monster expects Conor to tell his own tale, and although it's exactly what you'd expect, it's no less heartbreaking.
I really love Jim Kay's illustrations, which are dark and abstract, but really show how powerful and huge the monster is, and how small Conor is in comparison. They don't overshadow the writing but they add to it really nicely.
Anya is your typical angsty teen-she has only one friend, an annoying little brother, an unrequited crush on the hot guy who has an equally hot girlfrAnya is your typical angsty teen-she has only one friend, an annoying little brother, an unrequited crush on the hot guy who has an equally hot girlfriend, and, as a Russian immigrant, she doesn't really fit in despite how hard she's worked to lose her accent. But everything changes when she inadvertently falls down a well in a park (just go with it) and encounters a seemingly friendly ghost, Emily Reilly, who died a hundred years ago. Emily is happy to have someone to hang out with and helps Anya with her studies, and even connecting with the boy she likes. But she quickly becomes malevolent, and Anya discovers that she may not be who she says she is...
I was drawn to Anya's Ghost because of the illustration--it reminds me a lot of one of my favorite graphic novels, The Complete Persepolis--simple, clean, and muted so you can focus on what's going on the the text. Both the story and the illustrations are quite good, and have a lot of teen and adult appeal. The fact that Anya is a Russian immigrant at first felt superfluous to the story.. although it adds to her feeling like an outsider, but I'm sure it's semi-autobiographical, since Vera Brosgol was also born in Russia. In any case, it has a great mixture of relatable (social outcast, unrequited crush, angsty teen) and fantastical (ghost) elements to it.
Why are there so many fantasies set in the Midwest? Perhaps it's the image of idyllic nature, farming and being one with the earth. This simple backdrWhy are there so many fantasies set in the Midwest? Perhaps it's the image of idyllic nature, farming and being one with the earth. This simple backdrop, free of modern distractions like smartphones, ipads, and DVRs, allows the magic to take center stage. Of course, I'm being facetious--but perhaps that's the image of the Midwest that those of us on the coasts like to project. In any case, I'm happy with this alternative to "urban fantasy."
Jack has always been invisible. He has no friends in school, an older brother who overshadows him, and parents who barely talk to him or look him in the eye. When his parents decide to split up, he leaves San Francisco to move to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with an aunt and uncle he's never met. Jack quickly learns that Hazelwood isn't like San Francisco at all. He is singled out by the town bully, who is also the son of the richest man in town. And this man, Mr. Avery, takes a special (sinister) interest in Jack as well. One of Jack's newfound friends, Frankie, has deep, knotted scars that remain from a time several years ago, when he mysteriously disappeared for a few months, and hasn't spoken since. Jack starts to have a problem with his ears, and to feel itchy all over. It's an expectant itch, a sense that something is coming. And under the earth, a Lady stirs, ready to wake again...
The Mostly True Story of Jack is a creepy and slightly weird story, which I loved. I don't like sleep-with-the-lights-on scary books, but Jack had great elements of mystery, creepiness, surprise and a little bit of sadness. Equal parts rural fantasy and redeeming tale of friendship, The Mostly True Story of Jack is a great, well-written book that is well worth a read.
I absolutely love the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and even more so their sensible governness, Miss Penelope Lumley. I haven't read a seriesI absolutely love the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, and even more so their sensible governness, Miss Penelope Lumley. I haven't read a series while it was still being published since the Harry Potter series, and now I'm left impatiently waiting for 2012, when the third book will be published (as well as subsequent books, since The Hidden Gallery (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #2) provided little to no answers, but only raised more questions.... boo!).
In book 2 of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, Lord and Lady Ashton move to London while their estate is being repaired due to the events of The Mysterious Howling (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #1), taking their servants (including Miss Lumley) and the three Incorrigibles with them. Miss Lumley is overjoyed, as the visit coincides with her headmistress (from the Agatha Swanburne School for Poor Bright Females), Miss Charlotte Mortimer's visit. She looks forward to showing Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia the theater, Buckingham Palace, and the British Museum, using the guidebook Miss Mortimer sent her, Hixby's Lavishly Illustrated Guide to London: a Compleat with Historical Reference, Architectural Significance, and Literary Allusions. But enigmatic warnings from a Gypsy fortune-teller (not a very PC character, now, is it?) and Miss Charlotte Mortimer hint at danger ahead for both Penelope and the Incorrigibles. Luckily, the charming and dashing Simon Harley-Dickinson is very helpful...
It goes without saying that I adore the mock-Victorian names, and the droll Lemony Snicket-esque wit. Another thing that I love is that you can learn a lot while reading (a reminder of my childhood, when my friends used to make fun of me for using big words that I learned from novels). Just in this book, a child will no doubt learn the words/phrases "high dudgeon," "bon mot," "faux pas," etc. all of which are defined wherein (page 2: "As you may know, 'dudgeon' is a word that describes feeling cross, and to be in high dudgeon means feeling very cross indeed. (Do not be one of those careless speakers who says 'dudgeon' when they mean 'dungeon.' Being locked in a dungeon might well cause a person to be in high dudgeon, but that is the only real connection between the two.)" Love it!
Of all the words and phrases bandied about in anticipation of Wildwood's release, "hipster Narnia" seems the most apt. Wildwood is the first novel ofOf all the words and phrases bandied about in anticipation of Wildwood's release, "hipster Narnia" seems the most apt. Wildwood is the first novel of The Decemberists' leader singer, Colin Meloy, and beautifully illustrated by his wife, Carson Ellis. This dynamic duo live and work in Portland, where the book is set. I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this is a children's book for (adult) hipsters, and that it wouldn't have much in the way of kid appeal. I was wrong--to an extent. I think that kids will love this book--maybe not every kid wants to read a 500+ page book, but precocious kids, ok, maybe children of hipsters? Like from Portland or Brooklyn? will like it.
Twelve-year-old Prue is watching her baby brother, Mac, for the day when he is inexplicably captured by a murder of crows (did you know that a grouping of crows is called a 'murder?' Well, you will if you read Wildwood.) and taken into the Impassable Wilderness, a large patch of forest on the border of Portland. No one has ever been there--and lived to tell the tale. But the next day, Prue decides to venture forth into the Impassable Wilderness to rescue her baby brother. On the way, she picks up her classmate, a misfit who hasn't quite figured out the whole middle-school thing; he's still obsessed with drawing comic book characters and hasn't moved on. Once in Wildwood (the expanse between North Wood and South Wood, all of which are the Impassable Wilderness), Curtis is immediately captured by a pack of coyotes, who are working for the beautiful and sinister Dowager Governess. Prue, in the meantime, goes on a wild goose chase trying to find anyone who will help her. There are talking animals, humans, and mystics, all of whom help or hinder her in her journey.
I thought that Wildwood was imaginative and fun, but what really MADE the book for me were Carson Ellis's illustrations, which were delicate and intricate. Ellis does the artwork for The Mysterious Benedict Society series (which I just started reading yesterday!), as well as the album art for the Decemberists (of course), but she shines here like never before. I wanted to make a print of every single one of her images. The story was great as well, and I felt myself being drawn into it. My one quibble with the book, though, is that it moves at a snail's pace sometimes (particularly in the end). I thought that this could just be me, because I get bored during battle scenes (I know, I'm weird), but I've read other complaints of this. I really didn't think this needed to be as long as it was. Therefore, I'd only recommend this to a child who could persevere through some boring sections. But it's a fantastic first novel, nonetheless, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Curtis, Prue, and the citizens of Wildwood in the next book (it's a planned trilogy)!
"Harry Potter meets Hunger Games," eh, Kirkus Reviews? Then again, you can say that about a lot of middle-grade/YA books these days, since the popular"Harry Potter meets Hunger Games," eh, Kirkus Reviews? Then again, you can say that about a lot of middle-grade/YA books these days, since the popularity of these two have brought about the rise of books about magical kids (and schools of magic), as well as dystopian novels. I suppose you could make the comparison when it comes to subject matter, but The Unwanteds was somewhat of a disappointment when it comes to quality.
In a land called Quill, thirteen year olds are "Purged" every year (a bit like a morbid "sorting ceremeony") into three categories: Wanteds (government officials and other favored positions), Necessaries (cooks, animal-keepers, etc.), and Unwanteds. The Unwanteds are sent to a "Death Farm" for various infractions, mostly for doing something creative, like drawing in the sand, or singing a song. You see, Quill is a drab and dull place, where I can't imagine (although Quill doesn't allow imagining) anyone would want to live. No art or creativity is allowed, and it's all gray and austere. Anyway, when thirteen-year-old Aaron, is named an Unwanted (while his twin brother, Aaron, is made a Wanted), he is understandably scared of being sent to his death. But he is surprised to learn that the Unwanteds AREN'T killed, but instead, they are taken to a land called Artime, in which a magician named Marcus Today teaches all of the Unwanteds about their creativity and how to harness it into magical abilities... and magical defense/fighting.
Although you could call Alex the protagonist, the perspectives of several characters are told, including Alex's twin, Aaron, who's moving up the ranks in Quill. By far, though, Alex is the most sympathetic character, and the one readers will identify with.
I felt that The Unwanteds couldn't decide if it was a children's or a YA book (so maybe it's a tween book?). On one hand, it has the tenuous romance, and the coming-of-age tale of a YA novel. But overwhelmingly, I felt the black-and-white simplicity of a children's story. As I read about the world Marcus Today was creating in Artime, I was struck by how... perfect it seemed to be. Personal dorm rooms with clothes according to your personal style and coloring, chalkboards that tell you your schedule and give you advice, portals to easily get from place to place... it seemed like a scary "utopia" and I automatically suspected Marcus Today of having a dark side. It just seems a little too perfect... eerily so.
Although The Unwanteds was enjoyable, I don't quite find that it's found its footing. I don't think I'd recommend it, especially in light of how much fantastic fantasy has come out this year.
Breadcrumbs was one of the most anticipated books of the year for me. I absolutely loved A Tale Dark and Grimm and it was one of my favorite books ofBreadcrumbs was one of the most anticipated books of the year for me. I absolutely loved A Tale Dark and Grimm and it was one of my favorite books of 2010, so I expected Breadcrumbs (another fairy tale update with awards buzz) to be just as good. Reading over the reviews, it seems that most people agree. But unfortunately, Breadcrumbs didn't live up to my (admittedly impossibly high) expectations.
Breadcrumbs is based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. (Note: I haven't actually read The Snow Queen, just the Wikipedia entry.) Hazel is an eleven-year-old girl whose father has moved away and seems to be planning a new wedding. This has caused a series of life changes, including Hazel and her mother having a lot less money, and Hazel having to leave her private school where she calls teachers by their first names and go to her new public school, where she feels different and alone.
The only good thing about Hazel's new school is that she now goes to the same school as her best friend and neighbor, Jack. For years, Hazel and Jack have played together, exploring the Arctic, Narnia, and other realms with their imaginations. But Jack's school friends, all of them boys, have to adjust to being replaced by an interloper, and they don't take kindly to it. One day, Jack stops being Hazel's friend, and she doesn't understand it. Everyone tells her that this is normal and part of growing up; at some point, boys and girls just aren't friends with one another anymore. But despite all this, Hazel just knows that there must be something else. And she's right. A shard of magical mirror has lodged itself into Jack's eye, reflecting only the worst in things/people, and a witch, made of snow, and who can travel to all snowy climes, has taken him. Without knowing what to do, she goes after him, because that's what a friend does.
Despite this, Breadcrumbs is really about Hazel, and isn't a friendship story. The character of Jack isn't developed very much, and even the Snow Queen is pretty one-dimensional, and isn't even really necessary to the plot. Hazel encounters several fantastical and modern characters in her journey to rescue Jack, and although some of them are interesting or even scary, their interactions are brief, and there isn't a lot of tension between any of the characters. You'd expect a book based on The Snow Queen to revolve around that character, but instead she didn't provide any drama at all. I think that this is intentional on Anne Ursu's part ("He left because he wanted to") but I felt that the Snow Queen character was a knock-off of Narnia's White Witch. When Jack gets into the Snow Queen's sleigh, she even asks him, "Would you like some Turkish Delight?" There are a lot of references to classic children's literature, new and old (The Phantom Tollbooth, The Golden Compass, A Wrinkle in Time, When You Reach Me), but it felt too self-referential for its own good.
One interesting aspect of Breadcrumbs is that it addressed some contemporary issues, such as loneliness and divorce, as well as cross-cultural adoption (which is a personal interest of mine), which I don't think I've read about in any middle-grade novels (for picture books, check out: Allison or Orange Peel's Pocket). Hazel is Indian, adopted by white parents, and this is one of many reasons that she feels out of place. I tried to make the connection between the things that Hazel struggles with in the real world, and what/who she faces when she goes into the cold, but couldn't see much there.
I feel terribly guilty about giving Breadcrumbs when it's getting such positive reviews. Surely, something must be wrong with me! Perhaps it's the state of mind I was in when I read it. I'll give it another shot should it win any awards in a couple of weeks, but it really felt like a let-down in a lot of ways for me.