Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Graceling (Graceling Realm #1)
By Kristin Cashore
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

To Sum It Up: In the world of the Seven Kingdoms, some children are born with extraordinary skills, called Graces. Katsa’s Grace happens to be killing, which her uncle, King Randa, exploits. He happily sends Katsa off to threaten/punish those who displease him. To most people, Katsa is Randa’s one-woman goon squad. Little does anyone suspect that she is behind the secret Council, which carries out covert missions to help hapless subjects throughout the kingdoms. It is during one of these missions that Katsa meets another Graceling, Prince Po of Lienid. Neither has any idea how entwined their paths are about to become.

Review: Graceling seemed like two different books to me. The story gets off to a rollicking start, with Katsa leading a Council mission to rescue a kidnapping victim. In the first few pages, she displays her legendary combat skills as she knocks out a succession of guards. She also encounters Po for the first time, although she does not know his true identity. Katsa does realize that he’s Graced, apparently in fighting. With such an exciting opening, I was a bit disappointed when the plot wound down. I thought that the pacing lost momentum during Katsa and Po’s journey. Meanwhile, the grammar cop in me was going crazy reading consecutive sentences beginning with “and.” I know that it’s become common to start sentences with conjunctions, but I found them distracting at times.

Fast forward to the second half of the book. The pacing is spot-on, and the prose flows much more smoothly. The various elements of the story (the mystery surrounding the kidnapping of Po’s grandfather, the truth behind Katsa and Po’s Graces, Katsa and Po’s relationship) clicked together; I think that before, they were competing with each other for the reader’s attention rather than forming parts of a whole. I really became invested in the book at this point and couldn’t put it down until I finished it.

The idea of being Graced was unique and interesting. I also liked the cast of supporting characters. I hope that Raffin has a larger role in the rest of the series; it looks like Bitterblue is definitely getting one in the third book. I absolutely loved Po; he’s the perfect counterbalance to Katsa.

As for Katsa herself, my opinion is mixed. I loved her strength, bravery, and determination. My gripe is with her treatment of Po. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to get married or have children. Katsa, however, takes this view to what I think is an extreme. She goes on at length about how she’ll never marry because it means belonging to another person. Po doesn’t want her to be his possession. I’m sorry, but when a guy literally lets you use him as punching bag, he’s earned some of your trust. I wish Katsa could see that.

Overall, I found Graceling to be an enjoyable fantasy novel. The beginning has some ups and downs, but the second half more than makes up for them.

All in All: This was a library borrow. Although I’ll definitely continue reading the series, I’m not sure that I would reread Graceling over and over again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
The Iron King (The Iron Fey #1)
By Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

To Sum It Up: Meghan Chase's life has never been exactly normal. On her sixth birthday, her father vanished without a trace. Ten years later and now living in a remote area in the Louisiana bayou, Meghan is about to experience an unforgettable sixteenth birthday. Her brother Ethan is kidnapped and replaced with a faery changeling, and her best friend Robbie Goodfell reveals himself to be none other than the legendary trickster, Puck. Together they set off for the faery world of the Nevernever in search of Ethan. Meghan soon finds herself face-to-face with the faery king, Oberon, who she is stunned to learn is her real father. When the fey courts edge closer to war, Meghan becomes caught in the middle, all while still trying to rescue her brother from an evil force that threatens the Nevernever itself.

Review: I loved the world of The Iron King. It seamlessly blended fairytale with reality. This is my favorite kind of fantasy book, in which the fantasy elements are written so vividly as to appear perfectly plausible. Why can't a talking cat with a wicked sense of humor and the ability to disappear at will exist?

The Iron King boasts a great cast of characters. Despite all of the trials that Meghan faces during her journey, she maintains her focus on saving Ethan and doesn't spiral into self-pity. Going into this book, I wasn't sure if I would need to reread Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which famously features Oberon, Titania, and Puck. I think that their depictions in The Iron King stand on their own and don't require the reader to have already been familiar with them. (Actually, most of what I know about those characters comes from their appearances on the 90's cartoon Gargoyles. That was a great show!) Julie Kagawa's Puck is especially interesting. He's as cunning as ever, but he also shows off some serious fighting skills. Most importantly, he genuinely cares about Meghan. Puck's rival in the sarcasm department is the sly cat, Grimalkin. Grim pulls double duty as comic relief and keen observer. I hope that Grim and Puck share many more scenes together in the rest of the series.

Of course, this review wouldn't be complete without mentioning the Winter prince, Ash. Now, I have a HUGE weakness for ridiculously handsome, brooding, male characters whose stony exteriors can only be cracked by the love of a good female protagonist, preferably after much squabbling. Does Ash meet those criteria? Absolutely. My only quibble is his shift from personifying “Winter prince” (resisting the urge to make a comparison with thawing ice here) to lowering his emotional defenses. At first the change was gradual, but then suddenly it seemed like it had skipped a few stages. As I said, though, this is a nitpick.

Finally, I thought that the story of how the Iron fey came into existence was very original. It added a creative, modern twist to faery lore that also makes the reader consider the potential consequences of our ever increasing reliance on technology.

All in All: I borrowed this from the library but definitely need to buy a copy of my own, along with the rest of the books in the series!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday (1): All Time Favorite Characters in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
This week's topic is:

Top Ten All Time Favorite Characters in Books

This is our first time participating in Top Ten Tuesday! We're list fanatics, and this one was really hard to make because we love so many characters. After much deliberation, we came up with the following:
  1. Jem Carstairs from Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices series: He's sweet, calm, intelligent, and musical, but he's as fierce as any other Shadowhunter. Speaking of Shadowhunters, our next favorite character
    is . . . .
  2. Will Herondale from The Infernal Devices: He's witty and sarcastic, but in a charming, endearing way.
  3. Ser Jaime Lannister from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series: Oh dear! In the beginning, we despised the Kingslayer. He was so evil and arrogant, but then he completely turned around. He realizes that he's made mistakes, and now he's trying to make up for them.
  4. Brienne of Tarth from A Song of Ice and Fire: She's an amazing warrior in a world that laughs at the idea of a female knight. Brienne has also played a huge part in Jaime's character turnaround. Those two need to get together!
  5. Sirius Black from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series: He's funny, smart, and roguishly handsome. He also wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even when it meant getting disowned by his family.
  6. Rose Hathaway from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy series: One of the strongest, wittiest, female heroines we know.
  7. Adrian Ivashkov from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy & Bloodlines series: We luuurrve Adrian! He's charming, sarcastic, and artistic. He has some problems, but he's trying to get better. Team Adrian!
  8. Valek from Maria V. Snyder's Study series: He needs the love, people! Valek has a reputation for being a silent and deadly assassin, but there's a sensitive side lurking beneath all of that cunning.
  9. Finnick Odair from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy: He'll do ANYTHING for the people he loves. Let's not forget that devastating charm, either.
  10. Fitzwilliam Darcy from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: 'Cause he's Mr. Darcy!

So who are your favorite characters? We'd love to compare lists!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Review: The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
The Summoning (Darkest Powers #1)
By Kelley Armstrong
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed

To Sum It Up: Fifteen-year-old art school student Chloe Saunders discovers that she can see ghosts. A terrifying encounter with one at school results in her being sent to Lyle House, a group home for troubled teens. Chloe is diagnosed with schizophrenia, but despite taking medication for her condition, she continues to see spirits. Soon Chloe learns that maybe the ghosts are real and aren’t just inside of her head. When some of her fellow residents at Lyle House reveal that they, too, seem to possess supernatural talents like Chloe, they all begin to wonder if more than coincidence has brought them together.

Review: I just couldn’t get into this one. The writing is solid, but I didn’t find the book to be a page turner. There seemed to be quite a bit of, “What’s really lurking in the creepy basement/creepy attic?” happening. Although there eventually is a payoff, it still wasn’t enough to really draw me into the story. I think that my general problem was that no particular character or event jumped out at me. Chloe is a likable enough protagonist, and brothers Derek and Simon have an interesting backstory, but I never felt compelled to find out what happened to them next. Perhaps this is a Young Adult book that appeals more to the audience for whom it was originally intended.

I’m still undecided about reading the sequel, The Awakening. Part of me is curious to see if the plot picks up, especially since The Summoning ended with a cliffhanger, of course.

All in All: Ally kindly lent me her copy. One read was enough for me, but I can understand its appeal to some readers (like Ally, who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t crazy over it).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races
By Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

To Sum It Up: In the annual Scorpio Races, riders not only attempt to cross the finish line but to survive the race itself. The capaill uisce, or water horses, are as likely to turn on their riders as they are on each other. As returning champion Sean Kendrick prepares to defend his title with his beloved water horse, Corr, Kate “Puck” Connolly is about to become the first female rider in the races. Hoping that winning the prize money will prevent the breakup of her family, Puck braves the impossible odds. In a contest as unpredictable as this, though, perhaps Puck’s chances are not as slim as they appear, just as a repeat victory for four-time winner Sean is not guaranteed.

Review: I had a really hard time getting through this book. It’s beautifully written, with exquisitely detailed depictions of life on the small island of Thisby. The descriptions of the magnificent yet lethal water horses are especially vivid. Given the caliber of the writing, I was disappointed with the book’s pacing. After about 100 pages, it felt like nothing significant had happened. After about 200 pages, I was still waiting for a plot twist. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision to have the book move at a trickle to further illustrate the stagnancy of Thisby life, but it didn’t work for me.

I didn’t find any of the characters memorable, either. Sean seemed like a decent enough guy, but aside from his love of the capaill uisce, he was just there. I didn’t find Puck very interesting, either, although her home life did make me feel sorry for her. The characters who caught my attention the most were Benjamin and Mutt Malvern, and that’s because they were two jerks who deserved to be eaten by the capaill uisce on Page 1. Like the book overall, the other supporting characters (Finn and Gabe Connolly, Peg Gratton, Dory Maud) were well written but failed to make me feel emotionally invested in any of them.

For those readers who appreciate books which build very slowly and without dropping plot bombshells, The Scorpio Races is a perfect fit. Unfortunately, I’m the type of reader who needs the occasional jaw-dropping moment to persuade me to continue reading.

All in All: This is the sort of book that you just have to pick up and read and then decide for yourself whether or not it’s your cup of tea. I’d never read any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books before; although I wasn’t crazy over this one, I still admired her writing talent and wouldn’t let my experience with The Scorpio Races discourage me from reading another of her works.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Random Rambles: Further Thoughts on Bloodlines

As its name implies, Random Rambles is the place for all of the stuff (book-related, of course!) that doesn't fit in anywhere else. Sometimes there isn't enough room in a review to express everything that's on our minds about a book.  Sometimes we need to vent about what a character has said or done. Sometimes we just want to babble about books in general.

This first installment of RR is about Richelle Mead's Bloodlines.  My original review (posted together with Lee's) ended up being quite long, so I decided to put the rest of my thoughts in a separate post. 

*Spoiler warning if you haven't read Bloodlines yet *

Okay, I’ll get all my comments about things which annoyed me out of the way first. Well, let’s start with some of the first people introduced into the novel: Sydney’s father, mother, and younger sister. The father annoyed the holy crap out of me. I’m sorry, but if I was Sydney, I would have run away years ago. Who does this guy think he is? He barges into Sydney’s room in the middle of the night and demands her to be presentable for a surprise meeting. What the jello?! Sydney is a legal adult, therefore he can no longer boss her around like that. I know there is a thing called tough love, but Sydney’s father was just a plain old gruff man who liked to boss people around. I liked the mother; she seemed pretty cool (even though we didn’t technically get to meet her because she was too busy sleeping while her daughter, Sydney, was getting tattooed and shipped off to God knows where). The younger sister was almost as bad as the father. The little brat is yelling at Sydney for making her “look bad” while the accused was really trying to save the accuser’s life! Talk about ungrateful.

Guess who’s next on my rage-filled ramble? Keith the freak! This creeper gets a whole ranting paragraph to himself. First off, he is a complete dweeb to Sydney. Even Sydney The Calm and Collected wanted to punch his remaining eyeball out. Haha, I laughed so hard when I pieced together the fact that Abe was behind Keith's "accident." It was even funnier that Keith thought he survived a Strigoi attack (I would be surprised if he survived a tricycle attack). It made me happy to see that he got what he deserved. He was such an arse; how can he justify in his head what he did to Sydney’s older sister? And it gets funnier folks! Even though Keith The Creep took advantage of Sydney’s older sister, Sydney’s bossy father loves Keith The Creep like the son he never had! This is where the phrase "bad parenting" comes into play. Arrgh!!  I hated how Keith kept trying to get Sydney in trouble for the littlest things. And then he would take credit for all the things Sydney was doing while he’s performing an illegal activity! You know what really got me mad? When he was all like, “Jill can stand a little sun.” Ummm, she’s a Moroi vampire, you spineless gelatin! And then he blamed Sydney for not getting Jill out of outside activities in physical education! I can go on for ages about Keith, but I would rather spend my time ranting about Adrian and other beloved characters. So let’s get to the good stuff!

WHO just walked in the door?!
I flipped out when Rose, Abe, and Adrian showed up in the beginning of the book! I was just so happy to see Rose again; she is one of the greatest heroines I have ever read about! Speaking of reappearing characters, how many of you guys flipped out when Dimka walked in at the ending of the book?!  I freaking flipped out!! I was reading it like at midnight, and I had to stuff my flipping fist in my mouth to stop me from screaming. I was so happy, and I had no one to tell!  It was killing me until I could finally talk to Lee about it.

So this last little paragraph on thoughts and theories is dedicated to our two favorite lovebirds, Sydney and Adrian. I luv, luv, luved their relationship. There was the perfect amount of drama, hate, embarrassment, tension, and . . . love! I really want those two to get together. But, I’m afraid that Dimitri (God bless his soul) is going to cause a lot of trouble.

So tell me what you think! Whether you agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter. Feel free to express your thoughts and theories!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Review: Bloodlines by Richelle Mead

Bloodlines by Richelle Mead
Bloodlines (Bloodlines #1)
By Richelle Mead
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased

To Sum It Up: This spin-off of the Vampire Academy series picks up where the events of the final VA book, Last Sacrifice, left off. Alchemist Sydney Sage, who made her first appearance in VA’s Blood Promise, provides the narration for Bloodlines. Sydney and guardian Eddie Castile, another VA character, have been assigned to protect Jill Mastrano, half-sister of the recently elected Moroi queen Lissa Dragomir. Under current Moroi law, Lissa’s reign depends entirely on her having at least one other family member. Until this law is overturned, Jill is a target for Lissa’s enemies. Sydney and Eddie accompany Jill into hiding among humans at Amberwood Prep, a boarding school in Palm Springs, California. Once there, Sydney finds herself investigating some increasingly disturbing developments, all while trying to keep Jill safe and avoiding being sent to a dreaded Alchemist re-education center.

Lee's Review: I loved the Vampire Academy series, so it was a no-brainer that I was going to read Bloodlines. I wasn’t sure how I would like Sydney as a narrator because I didn’t find her character especially compelling in VA. Plus, assuming narrating duties from VA’s indomitable and ever witty Rose Hathaway is no easy task. Although there’s no substitute for Rose’s copious quips, Sydney manages to hold her own in terms of keeping the story interesting. I think that her best scenes are with another familiar, and very welcome, VA face, Adrian Ivashkov, who turns up here in all his charming, arrogant, snarky glory. Yes, Adrian’s back! He provides the perfect foil for Sydney, and the interaction between these two pretty much forms the basis of my five star rating. Before reading this, I couldn’t have pictured them finding common ground with each other, but there’s DEFINITELY chemistry there. I can’t wait to see how that develops.

For anyone who’s read the Vampire Academy novels, the plot of Bloodlines is pretty straightforward. The puzzle pieces join together rather quickly, but I enjoyed the process all the same. The novel ends with one of those moments that makes you want to run out immediately and get the next book in the series. Tragically, that isn’t possible at the moment. The Golden Lily will be released on June 12, 2012. I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom the wait seems unbearably long!

All in All: This one’s definitely a keeper for my shelf. I’ll probably pick it up frequently just to brush up on some Adrian quotes.

Ally's Review: Bloodlines is the ever-amazing continuation of the beloved Vampire Academy series. And obviously, if you have read VA, you know that Richelle Mead has done, yet again, another fantastic job of pulling readers into a world filled with fantasy, blood, and yes, Adrian! Bloodlines centers around the minor characters of the original series. Alchemist Sydney Sage is charged with the task of helping and watching Jill Mastrano, also known as Jill Dragomir. Jill’s half-sister, Lissa Dragomir, is now queen of the Moroi. To keep her title, Lissa needs one living relative. After an attempt on Jill’s life, Jill is sent to Palm Springs, California to attend a boarding school. The ever loyal Eddie Castile accompanies Jill as her dhampir bodyguard. The witty Adrian Ivashkov also accompanies Jill and Eddie in their “exile” for reasons unknown. In Palm Springs, the new group faces the regular doses of danger, drama, and . . . love triangles.

In an unbiased (not!) opinion, Bloodlines was a great read. It was intriguing from the start and kept readers going. The lovable characters were very dynamic. Their small story lines from Vampire Academy really developed in Bloodlines. At first, I wasn’t as thrilled as I could have been with Sydney having the point of view. I mean, who could live up to Rose Hathaway?! Surprisingly, Sydney provided a fresh, intelligent look on people and ideas which had already been introduced. I felt myself feeling sorry for Sydney. She had such a deep, internal struggle with believing in what she knew was right and what she was raised to believe. Although sometimes whiny, Jill was a very interesting character. I loved the fact that she wanted to learn how to defend herself; that earned her a bunch of bonus points in my book. Eddie was all right. I found myself caring for him more in the other series than in this one. I guess he was too adult-like and worrisome. I know that guardians are supposed to be mature and focused, but I couldn’t help comparing him to how he used to be.

And then we have Adrian. Adrian, Adrian, Adrian. I luv Adrian! Ever since we first met him in Frostbite, I have been in love. He is like the most perfect and not so perfect character you could ever find in a book. He is artistic, sarcastic, witty, wealthy, handsome, powerful, caring . . . shall I go on? On the other hand, Adrian is also plagued with personal demons which he has to overcome. Things like smoking, drinking, partying, and insanity really hold him back. What can we do, though? Adrian comes as he is, and I would rather live with him than without him! I really, really loved Adrian’s relationship and dialogue with the other characters in the novel. Let’s be honest, Adrian played a large part in the five star rating. He really brought Sydney out of her “professional” bubble and played the loving big brother role to Jill.

In the end, Bloodlines was a really great read. The book had an interesting plot and amazing characters. The only downside, if that’s what you can call it, was that I found myself figuring out secrets and plots too easily. I did not know if those secrets and plots were supposed to be that evident or were just poorly hidden. Besides my minor issue, I wholly and completely recommend this book to anyone who has read the Vampire Academy series. I am not confident that someone who has not read the VA series could comfortably read Bloodlines.

All in All: A definite Get! I feel ashamed that I don’t already have my own copy. Lee kindly lent me hers and as soon as I come into some money I will go straight to the store and get my own copy of Bloodlines!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The First Post

Hi everyone! We’re very excited to finally launch our blog! We live and breathe books, so we decided to start this blog so that we could share our book obsession with our fellow avid readers. Our focus is on Young Adult fiction, although we may occasionally feature some adult books as well. Thanks for stopping by, and please come back to visit us soon!