Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Hola from Spain! Both Nathan and I are abroad with spotty internet connections. We'll post whenever we can (I'll try now that I'm settled with my host family), but thing might not be happening frequently. It will get better... I promise.

A great deal is happening in London this season.
For starters, there's the witch who tried to poison Kate at Sir Hilary's induction into the Royal College of Wizards. (Since when does hot chocolate burn a hole straight through one's dress?!)
Then there's Dorothea. Is it a spell that's made her the toast of the town--or could it possibly have something to do with the charm-bag under Oliver's bed?
And speaking of Oliver, just how long can Cecelia and Kate make excuses for him? Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn't bothered to tell anyone where he is!
The girls might think it all a magical nightmare . . . if only they weren't having so much fun.

Beth says 5 Stars...

This is very possibly the cutest book in existence. It's simply oodles of fun, and it makes ME, the chemistry loving feminist that I am, want to debut in London. Plus it has two possible titles. Come on. The format of the book is part of its appeal; it's written in the form of letters between two cousins, one who is at home at the country estate and the other who is having her season in London. Of course, various hijinks and balls ensue. All of this leads to a delightful plot, which flows well from both perspectives. The magic is present, but isn't in the forefront. The world is full of gentlemen wizards who do things like work with the Duke of Wellington instead of slaying dragons.

The characters are simply delightful. Kate and Cecy are warm and funny while taking you on their adventures. It really feels like you are browsing through the correspondence of some friends instead of reading something that doesn't exist. The leading men are fantastic as well. I show a preference for the hilariously sardonic Thomas, but there's nothing wrong with James. I simply like a bit of cynicism with my mysterious (or odious) Marquis. The aunts are so much fun, and I love how their personalities are so distinct. They fill the same role in completely different ways.

This is the perfect book for summer. It's light and fluffy, but won't do anything to bring down your IQ. Take it to the beach, or anywhere, but just read it. It's a fairly quick read so then it's time for the next two in the series. This one is definitely for girls and would make a great gift as well. Basically, it's awesome and is a summer must-read.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Before I Fall

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

from harperteen.com

Beth says 4 Stars...

This was an interesting novel. It was definitely not at all what I expected. From what I'd heard I expected something much more fantasy laden. Yes, the whole crux of the story depends on being able to suspend belief. However, I was expecting something more akin to Melissa Marr or Cassandra Claire. It took me a little time to adjust what I'd been expecting to the reality of the book. Once I'd done that, it ended up being an enjoyable read. The book basically developed what Sam was supposed to do on the final day of her life. She lived out the same day different days, with different knowledge and results. The plot moved along interestingly, particularly with the device of having Sam relive the day 7 times. Slowly information was revealed, but it felt odd at times. Sometimes the facts seemed rather random, which detracted from the forward movement of the story.

The characters were fine. They weren't extraordinary, but then they didn't drag everything down. The thing was that you got to know them, but didn't see them grow. Because the plot didn't move in a strictly linear sense, it made character development of everyone except the main character, Sam, pretty much impossible. They never got a chance to change; in fact all that happened was that we were allowed to get inside their heads to know them as they were at that moment. That's no small thing, but I guess I just wanted a little more. I love seeing characters become something else; transform.

Overall this was a good book. It wasn't what I expected, but it was good despite my preconceived notions. It isn't the best debut this year, but it wasn't bad. It was definitely captivating, with a story that really pulls you in. This would make a good, yet serious beach read. Just light enough to be okay, but not so light to feel like fluff.

Friday, June 18, 2010


When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back -- if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie's own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her -- until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.
from amazon.com

Beth says 4.5 Stars...

This book was very good, but not the best retelling of this tale that I've read. Everything shall always be compared to Jessica Day George's magnificent Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. What I loved about this interpretation was that it was just that; it took the basic plot points that make the story what it is, and then changed everything else about it. The concept of the munaqsri was very original and not what I expected. The book was fairly well paced, but ever so often it lagged. I also felt confused once in a while when the dropping of information was improperly times. There were a few things that needed to be explained earlier then they were. These were just minor issues, as neither of them were present often.

I initially really liked Cassie. I felt a camaraderie with her in how rational and scientific she was. As a scientist I understood how and why she was thinking and saying the things she did. During the middle of the book, she began to annoy me with her angst. It was irritating when she whined and complained, not knowing what she wanted. Luckily, that didn't last terribly long. Bear was lots of fun, and the relationship, though more than a little strange, developed nicely. There weren't too many major supporting characters, which I think worked in the book's favor. It made the sparse Arctic landscape more believable, and carried that atmosphere into the rest of the novel.

This is a very good book. It's a good rendition, and the ending is a lovely combination of ordinary and unexpected. If you want a little Arctic chill to help temper the sweltering summer heat, this is for you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Blue Sword

Harry Crewe is forced to move to the Darian colony after the death of her father. She then is kidnapped by the Free Hillfolk where she has to face her destiny.

Beth says 5 Stars...

I'm going to preface this by saying that this is possibly my favorite book of all time. I just reread it because I'm a bit stressed, and so I immediately reached for it. This is the kind of book that won't leave you alone; it sticks in your mind, or that's at least what's happened to me. I've read it more times than I can count, and even after over seven years it still remains fresh and meaningful. I now even embrace the orange juice chapter. If you pick the book up, just make it through the first chapter. I know it's a bit tedious at first, but it's so beyond worth it. I'm really not sure what makes me love this book so much. One of the key factors, perhaps, is McKinley's astounding writing. Her prose is so lovely and lyrical that it's impossible to break away from. The plot is moved along masterfully, with nothing being revealed at an inopportune time. Besides its construction, the content of the novel is fantastic. The world of Damar is fascinating, with the people and cultured so developed. Everything is so layered, and it feels as though the pages are steeped in a history that feels real.

The characters are striking. They have such astounding depth and now feel like old friends after so many reads (I've REALLY read this one a lot). Harry is simply fantastic. She isn't the typical heroine, bookish and awkward, but with a beautiful strength and resilience. She and Corlath have a lovely relationship that moves from one emotion and stage to another without ever feeling contrived. Corlath himself is a delight, walking the line between being a haughty ruler and a man fighting for his country. The supporting characters are phenomenal as well, with my two favorites being Jack and Mathin. Jack is just too much fun, bringing his wry humor to the table. Mathin is almost the opposite, but suffers not from it. They both serve as fatherly types and show how different the position can be, even when done properly.

Overall this book is astounding. I simply adore it, and will love it for the rest of my life. I think that it's something that everyone should read, regardless of genre tastes. If you haven't picked it up yet, do so now. Just remember, don't give up on the orange juice chapter; the adventure begins just a bit later, and will keep you spellbound for years to come.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Dragon Book

Whether portrayed as fire-breathing reptilian beasts at war with humanity or as noble creatures capable of speech and mystically bonded to the warriors who ride them, dragons have been found in nearly every culture's mythology. In modern times, they can be found far from their medieval settings in locales as mundane as suburbia or as barren as post-apocalyptic landscapes-and in The Dragon Book, today's greatest fantasists reignite the fire with legendary tales that will consume readers' imaginations.

With original stories by New York Times bestselling authors Jonathan Stroud, Gregory Maguire, Garth Nix, Diana Gabaldon, Tamora Pierce, Harry Turtledove, Sean Williams, and Tad Williams as well as tales by Naomi Novik, Peter Beagle, Jane Yolen, Adam Stemple, Cecelia Holland, Kage Baker, Samuel Sykes, Diana Wynne Jones, Mary Rosenblum, Tanith Lee, Andy Duncan, and Bruce Coville.
from amazon.com

Beth says 4 Stars...
So, I know this isn't strictly YA, but there are a few heavyweights with stories in this anthology. Reading a short story collection is a completely different monster than dealing with a novel. The theme of dragons was taken in a multitude of different ways, some were very classical and others less so. The worlds were all as diverse as the writers who created them.

Now, to move onto the stories themselves. There were a few authors who disappointed me. I expected a great deal from Garth Nix, and while his story wasn't bad, it certainly wasn't good. Jane Yolen's story was really really long, and just didn't capture my attention. At times I really wasn't clear on the point of the story, and it was a flat out drag. The final story by an author I knew that let me down was Jonathan Stroud's. It was just strange, and not in a good way. However, the good outweighed the bad. My favorite by far was Tamora Pierce's story, which centered on Kitten, a familiar young dragon. It was so interesting to hear things from her point of view. There were also cameos by characters that I love; Spots, Daine, and Numair all play a part. This made picking up the book worth it, but it wasn't the only good one. Dianna Wynne Jones and Gregory Maguire both had fun stories.

Overall, the anthology is fun. There are some good, some not so good, and a whole lot of dragon stories. This is a great read for any lover of fantasy!
book from library

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Radiant Shadows

Hunger for nourishment.
Hunger for touch.
Hunger to belong.
Half-human and half-faery, Ani is driven by her hungers.
Those same appetites also attract powerful enemies and uncertain allies, including Devlin. He was created as an assassin and is brother to the faeries’ coolly logical High Queen and to her chaotic twin, the embodiment of War. Devlin wants to keep Ani safe from his sisters, knowing that if he fails, he will be the instrument of Ani’s death.
Ani isn’t one to be guarded while others fight battles for her, though. She has the courage to protect herself and the ability to alter Devlin’s plans—and his life. The two are drawn together, each with reason to fear the other and to fear for one another. But as they grow closer, a larger threat imperils the whole of Faerie. Will saving the faery realm mean losing each other?

Nathan says 4 stars...
So...this is a bit embarrassing. I could apologize and tell you how I've been busy, but honestly there's no excuse. Regardless, I'm posting a review now.

I love Melissa Marr. She's amazing. Having said that this is my least favorite book by her thus far. It's still a four star book, so that's not really disparaging Radiant Shadows so much as praising the rest of her works. But this review isn't about those.

Radiant Shadows focuses on Ani, the half-mortal, half-faerie child of Gabriel, the leader of the Dark Court's enforcers, the Hounds. Ani is coming into her Dark Court heritage, but feels trapped by her father's protectiveness. Her blood is telling her to run, but her family won't let her. This is where Devlin enters the story. He offers her an escape, and a whirlwind of adventures begins.

The story is a bit of a romp. There are the ever-thorny problems of Faerie Court politics blended with the problems facing an emerging half-faerie teenager. Needless to say, drama abounds.

My problem with this book lies with Ani and Devlin. For some reason, I can't love them. I want to, really, but they don't have the same appeal as Marr's other characters. I've never dealt well with teenagers who lash out and are angsty, and Ani kind of walks a fine line.

Overall, it's a great book. Face-paced and engaging, with Marr's trademark sensuously dark edge, Radiant Shadows continues one of my favorite series in the Young Adult world.