Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Just Ella
by Margaret Peterson Haddix
September 1999
Simon & Schuster

I was cold.  I was lonely.  I was engaged to be married in two short months to the most handsome man I'd ever seen - the prince of the land, the heir to the throne.  But I had never felt so alone in all my life, not even shivering in rags in my garret the day they came to say my father was dead.  This was happiness?

Most people know the story of Cinderella, but we seldom get past "and they lived happily ever after."  Well what if she didn't live happily ever after?  What if promising to marry a prince was only the beginning of her problems?  For Ella, it is.  She may be living comfortably in the palace, waiting to marry the local stud muffin, but her days are filled with endless lessons on manners and propriety, and absurd restrictions.  Is this what she wanted?  Is Ella doomed to live happily never after?

I love that this story continues a tale that we almost never hear more about.  The premise of the book was definitely interesting as the love at first sight story that we all know has always seemed a bit silly to me.  The awkwardness of that encounter can definitely be felt throughout this book as Ella and the Prince rarely have anything to say to one another except "Boy, you are SMOKIN' hot!"  But the book also got a little ridiculous at times with the insane restrictions placed upon Ella and the other ladies at court.  I'm no historian (and yes, I know we're in fairy tale land here) but the world is definitely more strict than is traditional.

*SPOILER*  The book also gets a little darker at the end, when Ella faces the possibility of being raped and murdered.  But the number one thing that bothered me happened near the end.  Ella has been imprisoned in a cell until she can come to her senses about actually going through with the wedding to the prince.  Happily, her servant friend brings her a shovel, with which she is able to dig her way to freedom through the crap hole in her cell.  That's all fine and plausible, but what did she do with the dirt?!  Surely someone would have noticed all the dirt piling up in the cell, so she can't have put it there.  Did she hide it under the bed?  Fill her empty food dishes with it?  I don't know!  Perhaps Ella really did have a fairy godmother who magicked it all away.  In any case, this question of what happened to the dirt bothered me so much I was nearly incapable of enjoying the rest of the story.  *SPOILER END*

If you're a fairy tale fanatic like me then this book (which only takes a few hours to read) is definitely worth your time.  Or, try these other fairy tale retellings!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Lorien Legacies by Pittacus Lore ★

I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, Book 1)
by Pittacus Lore
August 2010

Three are dead.  I am number four.

I knew when they were making this movie that I was going to have to read the book first.  What I cannot believe is how long I had to wait for it to be available from the library.  This has been a seriously popular series in my town!  Happily, having to wait forever for book one meant I got to read the first TWO books in the series and I only have to wait a few more months for book three.  See?  Bet you wish you'd waited to read these too.  (I'm under no delusions.  There can't possibly be anyone else out there who hasn't read these who wanted to.)  But for those who saw the movie and loved it, or have never heard of this series, get ready for an extraterrestrial action/romance/suspense that kept me so entertained I never stopped to question the logistics.  (Unlike other alien reads . . . )  But let us not speak of unpleasant things.

Number four was marooned on earth with eight other children when their home planet, Lorien, was destroyed by Mogadarians.  Luckily the Loriens look completely human (again, this really didn't bother me) and they have spent years hiding on earth, developing their special talents and abilities in preparation for the day when they can strike back at those who took their home.  But the Mogadarians know they are coming, and have begun hunting the children, who are now in their teens.  A spell that was cast on them makes it so that they must be killed in order of their numbers, or they will not die.  Number four has three scars on his leg that tell him the first three are dead.  Which can only mean one thing . . . number four is next.

I highly recommend these books for reluctant readers, and anyone looking for a different kind of paranormal series.  The Lorien Legacies are among the few books out there that successfully deal with aliens;  a subject which secretly fascinates us all.

The Lorien Legacies
I Am Number Four
The Power of Six
The Rise of Nine (TBR August 2012)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons ★

The House at Tyneford
by Natasha Solomons
December 2011

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free.  We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.  ~ Notice pinned to the door of Tyneford Church by departing villagers, Christmas Eve, 1941

It has been a long time since I last read a book that brought me this much joy while simultaneously causing me to sob uncontrollably upon finishing it.  A friend recommended this one and I started it thinking "I'll just read it slowly in between my other more exciting young adult fantasy books."  Well within about ten pages it was the only book I was reading, as fast as I could, desperate to completely immerse myself in the beautiful English countryside and the stately house at Tyneford.

It is 1938 and nineteen-year-old Jewish Elise Landau can no longer stay in the glittering city of Vienna.  But visas are extremely hard to come by, and Elise is forced to find work as a housemaid in an English home in order to escape Austria.  Now, rather than attending glamorous parties with her friends, Elise is serving drinks.  When she would have once donned beautiful gowns, she is now hemming them.  Instead of meeting new and exciting young men, Elise is, erm, still meeting new and exciting young men.  The young master of the house to be exact.  (nudge nudge wink wink)  But no place is truly safe, and war is coming to Tyneford.

I don't want to give much more away.  Yes, the characters are a little cliche.  Almost to the point that I was using characters from Downton Abbey as points of reference.  But that was perfectly forgivable seeing as how I love Downton Abbey and don't currently have any new episodes to watch.  The story itself wasn't groundbreakingly original either, but the background story that deals with a novel in a viola was powerful and mysterious.  Elise endured so much in order to love not just once, but twice in her life (I have to admit to being a little disgruntled about the love story, but never mind that).  The House at Tyneford is a beautiful, romantic tragedy set against the backdrop of Jane Austen's English countryside, right before it disappeared forever.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, Book 1)
by Patrick Ness
September 2008

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."  ~George Eliot, Middlemarch

I recently read an article that outlined fifteen young adult books that could be the next big movie (that teens would willingly do chores to go see).  The Knife of Never Letting Go (which has an impressive collection of awards) was one of the books listed that I had never heard of.  This offended me on a very personal level.  How dare anyone consider making a book into an enterprise without me knowing about it?!  To correct this gross affront, I read the book.  (Whew!  Crisis adverted.)

From the very first sentence of this book I was completely engrossed in the strange new world where Todd lives.  A world where Todd's parents and their friends settled after leaving their homes on a former planet that was dying.  A world where you can hear everyone else's thoughts and the endless stream of internal chatter that accompanies it.  It's never quiet.  You always know what people think of you.  They will always know what you think of them.  And it is all but impossible to escape their plans for you.  How do you run from someone that knows your every move?

I'm surprised this book was listed in this article, as it is nothing like most of the other titles.  No one falls in love with any paranormal creatures (aliens included).  There is no love triangle.  (There go all the "team" t-shirt businesses.)  Have I mentioned the absence of romance?  That's not to say there isn't some potential for a cute romance in the future (there are three books, after all) but for the most part the relationships in this book are based on friendship and a mutual fear of the insane murderer who is chasing them.

Even without a "so hot it's practically flammable" love story, this book is thought-provoking and disturbing in a way that keeps you turning the pages.  There are no black and white characters here.  Everyone makes decisions in shades of gray.  But it is these choices that will ultimately shape the destiny of their new home on this alien planet.  Lionsgate has already purchased the rights to make the Chaos Walking Trilogy into a film series.  To claim full bragging rights, be sure to read these books now so you can snottily turn to your friends in a year or so and say "Oh that old thing?  Yeah, I read it before it was a movie."

If totally messed up societies are your thing, give these other books a try.

Chaos Walking
The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer
Monsters of Men

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton

Blood Magic (The Blood Journals, Book 1)
by Tessa Gratton
May 2011
Random House Books for Young Readers

I pushed the knife against my skin, puckering it but not breaking through.  My whole body shivered.  I was about to find out if magic was real.  The electric thrill of terror was sharp on my tongue.  I cut deep.

"All the blood with none of the vampires" is how this book is being marketed to fans of Stephenie Meyer and Carrie Jones' dark paranormal teen romances.  (And for a good reason!  Vampires will weep and tear at their parched throats when they see the amount of blood that is causally spilled and let go to waste here.)  After finding her parents brutally murdered in their own home, Silla has a hard time fitting in at school and pretending not to see blood everywhere she looks.  When a mysterious spell book arrives in her father's own handwriting Silla must try even harder to act "normal" as she discovers that her blood has the potential to create magic.  With the help of her older brother Reese and Nick, the handsome new boy in town, Silla is willing to drain every last drop of her blood in order to find her parents' killers.

This was definitely a bloodier novel than most, though not unmanageable for young adults.  It did concern me, however, that the characters had no problem cutting themselves in order to perform their magic spells.  They almost didn't seem to understand the price that they were paying to simply watch leaves dance around the yard.  Instead, they took pleasure from the act and enjoyed the way the magic made them feel.

I also didn't appreciate all the kissing.  Now I do love me some kissing (both in actuality and in my fiction) but the making out was seriously getting out of hand.  And not even in a too hot and heavy kind of way.  It's simply inappropriate for the scenes in which it occurs.  The characters found every possible excuse to shove their tongues down each others throats, even in situations where I couldn't possibly imagine ever feeling like kissing someone!  To demonstrate what I mean, here is some actual dialogue from the screenplay I've decided to write for this book.

Silla:  Nick!  Everyone I love is dead!
Nick:  Nooooooo!  We should kiss!  (smush smush smush)
Ten Minutes Later
Silla:  Oh my darling Nick!  I missed you so much while I was around the corner talking to that other character about our plans to murder someone.  (flings herself into his arms)
Nick:  Dearest Silla, never shall we part again.  (loud kissing noises)
One Minute Later
Silla:  I just figured out who the evil witch in our town --- (Nick grabs her and starts kissing her)
Silla: mmph Nick mphh what are kiss kiss you mphh doing?
Nick:  I just love you that much baby.  Now what were you saying about the evil witch that we've been running from this whole novel who is probably killing everyone we know and love as we stand here wrapped in each other's arms?
Fifteen Minutes Later
Nick:  Are you going to eat that sandwich?
Silla:  No, but I am going to KISS you!  (Silla flies across the table and lands gracefully in Nick's lap.  She proceeds to eat his face.  Nick finishes sandwich during breaks for air.)

Are you starting to get the picture?  I have a man in my life that I absolutely adore.  But I'm almost positive that sucking on his face would be the last thing on my mind if I was running from a psychopathic witch while digesting the news that my father was a sorcerer and everyone I loved was dying while I knelt in an ever growing puddle of their blood.  But I suppose we all have our own ways of coping . . .

The good news is that even though this is part of a series, the book is a standalone!  So feel free to indulge without fear of attachment or the anxiety that today's authors constantly produce with their so-called bestselling series.

Check out this list for other books that run on the side of paranormal.

The Blood Journals
Blood Magic
Blood Keeper (TBR August 2012)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Darkness Rising by Kelley Armstrong ★

The Gathering (Darkness Rising, Book 1)
by Kelley Armstrong
April 2011

The world seemed to dip and darken, and I smelled wet earth and thick musk and fresh blood.  The wind whipped past, like I was running.  Running so fast the ground whizzed beneath me, the wind cut across my skin.  Exhilaration filled me.

Dear Kelley Armstrong,

You'll have to forgive me if I come off a little too strong but there's something I've been meaning to tell you . . . I absolutely love your young adult books!  Last year I spent two glorious days engrossed in your Darkest Powers trilogy.  Two truly magical days in which my child had to fend for himself until my husband got home because I couldn't go a single moment without the story.  How pleased I am to be able to tell you that once again my son had no mother while I read the first two books in your new Darkness Rising series.

I am seriously in love with the characters and the premise of this follow up series to Darkest Powers.  Maya Delaney has always lived a somewhat carefree life with her adopted family in a small town on Vancouver Island.  But strange things are happening; such as the mysterious drowning of Maya's best friend, visions of cougars, her friend's spot-on intuition and premonitions, and a scrappy new bad boy who comes to town and seems particularly interested in her birthmark.  Maya is about to discover that her forest, home, and friends all have secrets that they're not sharing.

These books suck you in completely from the very first paragraph.  The characters don't waste time being idiotic and uncertain.  Instead, as revelations occur and the mystery is pieced together everyone is quick to process and move on.  I love this assumption of intelligence and strength!  I read so many books where the characters are unwilling to accept that someone has special powers or who feel betrayed by their friends and take off without waiting for an explanation.  The dialogue and revelations all feel very natural and the characters never forget the friendship and loyalty they have built from childhood.

I also really appreciate Maya's mistakes with love.  Very rarely do authors address the imperfections of falling in love, especially young love.  Rather, they choose to emphasize love at first sight, or throw a perfect man at the teen protagonist so there is never anything to forgive or accept.  And speaking of love . . . please, please, please let her end up with Daniel!!!  *swoon*  With a scorching pace, intriguing mystery, and a romance that never gets in the way of the story, Darkness Rising is a series I will be recommending!

Love from one of your biggest fans,

PS - Please write fast!  I needed book three yesterday!

Darkest Powers
The Summoning
The Awakening
The Reckoning

Darkness Rising
The Gathering
The Calling
The Rising (TBR 2013)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter ★

Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, Book 2)
June 2011
Hyperion Book CH

This time, Katarina Bishop is making up her own rules.

Recently I've been so disappointed by sequels that I almost decided not to read this one.  I am SO glad I did!  It is very rare for a book to not only live up to the first one in a series but to exceed it!

In Heist Society, Katarina Bishop shocked her friends and relatives by leaving the family "thieving and conning" business.  Unfortunately, old habits die hard and Kat finds herself back in the game, only as a sort of modern day Robin Hood.  Stealing from those who've stolen and returning the items to their rightful owners is what we find Kat doing at the beginning of book two.  But when she's asked to steal the Cleopatra emerald, a cursed gemstone that even her uncle failed to lift, Kat must reevaluate her ideas about being a one man show.  Now she must once again pull together her team of teenage super thieves and set out to do what no one has ever succeeded at before.  This is such a fun series and I highly recommend it to both teens and adults for the non-stop action and adorable romance.  2013 and the release of book three can't come too soon!  (Neither can a film version.  Oh and cast this man as the incredibly sexy, always dependable W.W. Hale please and thank you.)

Heist Society Novels
Uncommon Criminals
Book 3 (TBR 2013)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake ★

Blood Ninja (Blood Ninja, Book 1)
by Nick Lake
August 2010
Simon & Schuster

Real adventure involves pain, loss, and blood.  Sometimes all at once.

I absolutely love discovering a new series just as the last book is about to be published!  Sadly, my library doesn't own them all yet, leaving me with only one book to share.  But that's okay!  Because there is plenty to say about this marvelous book with a premise that sounds like a train wreck but is in fact a masterpiece!

Premise: Ninjas are stealthy, creatures of the night.  It therefore follows that all ninjas are actually vampires!  Cheesy and preposterous are just two of the words that come to mind, right?  Well Nick Lake is a genius because not only did this work, but vampires in general make so much more sense now as a plausible fictional creature.  Lake explains so many of the things that we wonder about vampires.  "Why do they drink blood?" and "Why can they only come out at night?" are two questions that Lake addresses beautifully as he combines vampires and Japanese mythology.

Fans of Japanese culture and history will absolutely love all the historical references and the Japanese terminology throughout.  This is definitely a book for young Japan enthusiasts and manga readers.  I can't imagine anyone with a love of Japan not enjoying young Taro's adventures as a vampire ninja during one of the country's most defining moments; that of the rivalry between Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

If that isn't enough to convince you, here in the author's own words is his reasoning for the outcome of a fight between Twilight's Edward and Blood Ninja's Taro.
Absolutely no one at all has asked me who would win in a fight between Taro, the vampire ninja hero of BLOOD NINJA, and Edward, from those obscure, hard-to-find books by Stephenie Meyer.
Which is a shame, because I could answer them very simply: Taro would win. Why? Dude is a NINJA. As we all know, thanks to the mine of valuable information that is the internet, a ninja can whale on anyone's *ss. Even a pirate's. And yes, even Edward's. ESPECIALLY Edward's. Even if Taro wasn't a vampire, he'd win. Has Edward got throwing stars? No. 
I see no flaws in his logic.

For more books about Vampires, check out this reading list!

Blood Ninja Trilogy
Blood Ninja
Blood Ninja II: The Revenge of Lord Oda
Blood Ninja III: The Betrayal of the Living (TBR August 2012)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed (Matched, Book 2)
by Ally Condie
November 2011
Dutton Juvenille

Rules are different outside the society.

For reasons beyond my comprehension these books continue to enjoy raging popularity.  Don't get me wrong, this is a great series.  But there are so many other wonderful dystopian young adult novels that follow a similar premise that one might think the success would be more evenly spread . . . In any case, I've finally read book two in the Matched Trilogy, which began (unsurprisingly) with Matched.  If you haven't read Matched, you should.  (Before you're the only one left on your block who hasn't.  Even the 11 year old boy next door who plays video games all day and eats dirt has read it.)

Crossed picks up close to where Matched left off.  Ky has been shipped off to who knows where and desperate to find him, Cassie takes on jobs in the outer provinces.  But before Cassie can go bounding into the wilderness in search of Ky, Xander shows up (Yes of course he's in this book.  What?  You thought the love triangle was completely resolved and tied up nicely in the first book?  Silly you.  Didn't you realize this was a trilogy?).  Cassie knows she needs to find Ky because she loves him.  But does her heart still long for her childhood friend Xander?  How does she keep them both?  And will she stay alive long enough in the wilderness to choose between them?

So many questions raised . . . that mostly went unanswered.  Crossed builds a nice bridge between Matched and what shall be the conclusion of the series.  This book takes you away from The Society and allows the characters the opportunity to get to know themselves and each other better than they were able previously.  Having gotten this far I will definitely be reading the last book in this series.  But if you haven't already, I do recommend that you try other dystopian novels such as Divergent or Legend in addition to the Matched Trilogy.  (Even if the other books don't have the same visually rockin' covers that these books do.)

The Matched Trilogy
Reached (TBR November 2012)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce ★

by Jackson Pearce
August 2011
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

"Where's your sister?"  They asked us questions.  They wanted to know why we had let her go.  What we last heard.  What we last saw.  They didn't believe me when I said it was a witch. 

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love two things:  1. Dark Chocolate and 2. Fairy Tale retellings.  Sadly, my passion for both leads to similar misfortune in the form of decreased supply and an ever increasing demand.  With fairy tale retellings especially, there never seem to be enough titles or authors to satisfy my craving.  Which is why I was particularly pleased to find this book!  Not only is Jackson Peace a new author for me, but the retold fairy tale is also new to me!  And I bet it'd be new for you too as it is none other than . . . wait for it . . . Hansel and Gretel!!  I know, right?  Jackson Pearce just blew your mind.  How in the world does one take a twisted story about a cannibalistic old crone and greedy children and make it into a young adult book with action, mystery, and even (gasp) romance?!  (Oh and there are also some werewolves thrown in for good measure.)  Like this of course:

Ansel and Gretchen don't like to talk about the day that their little sister disappeared.  But Gretchen swears it was a witch who stole her twin in the dark forest behind their home.  Years later, Ansel and Gretchen try to make a new life for themselves by moving to a sunny beach with no creeping woods to remind them of their past.  When their car breaks down, however, they find they are deep in the forest, at the mercy of a kind, and beautiful young woman who owns a chocolate shop.  Sophia is the most warmhearted person that Ansel and Gretchen have ever known and they are immediately drawn to her and her home in the woods.  But Sophia has a secret . . . and not everything is as sweet as it seems.

Darkly mysterious, with warm, lovable characters, Sweetly is a must read for fairy tale enthusiasts!  And now you'll have to excuse me while I go and read Sisters Red, which is apparently the first installment in this fairy tale inspired series.

If you love fairy tales too, check out this list of retellings!

Companion Novels
Sisters Red
Fathomless (TBR September 2012)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn

The Shape of Desire (Shifting Circle, Book 1)
by Sharon Shinn
April 2012
Ace Hardcover

What I have is so precious, so intense, such an essential part of my life, that I would not give it up for any inducement.  If I tried, or if someone forced me to, I truly believe I would die.

Sharon Shinn and I have a complicated relationship.  I always think her ideas for her stories are wonderful and intriguing which leads me to pick up the book and begin reading.  Unfortunately, the execution isn't exactly my style.  Shinn takes her readers on a relaxed journey through the lives of her characters that rarely accumulates much tension, making her a wonderful fantasist for readers who enjoy a little slice of life with their magic and mystery.

I picked this particular novel up because this book begins a new series about shapeshifters.  Maria Davane has been desperately in love with Dante Romano for fifteen years.  Unfortunately, he spends more of his life as an animal than as a human, leaving Maria only a few days each month with her lover.  But none of that is enough to keep her from loving Dante and looking forward to his visits as a human.  Due to his nature, however, Maria has been lying to everyone around her for years about him and their relationship.  When a string of strange animal attacks occur near her home, however, Maria is forced to consider who it is she's lying to and whether she really knows anything about this man at all.

Readers who enjoy a leisurely stroll through their fantasy should be huge fans of Shinn's work.  If you enjoy books about shapeshifters, check out this list of other paranormal fiction.

Shifting Circle Novels
The Shape of Desire
Still Life With Shapeshifter (TBR October 2012)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Eve by Anna Carey ★

Eve (Eve Trilogy, Book 1)
by Anna Carey
October 2011

Where do you go when nowhere is safe?

Eve has grown up in New America; a place that survived after a deadly virus swept through humanity.  Men and women have been separated and young girls are taught to fear boys and to never speak to or allow them to get close.  Growing up in a protected orphanage and school for girls, however, Eve has never had to fear the savage men that live in the outside world.  Raised to intelligence, hard work, and beauty, Eve has no idea that the thing she has to fear most is the place she calls home.  What happens to the girls in the orphanage after "graduation"?  And how will Eve escape when there's nowhere to go?

This was certainly a new twist on the concept of forbidden love and a terrifying glimpse into a future where mankind is struggling to continue as a species.  I found myself completely engaged in the story and the characters' struggles.  I also appreciated the author's candid outlook and even her ability to let characters die in circumstances where it was implausible for them to live.  Many times while reading this book I even paused to wonder "What would I do in this situation?"  Eve is an extremely thought-provoking read and definitely deserves a spot close to the top of my list for dystopian young adult fiction!

For more dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, check out this list!

Eve Trilogy
Once (July 2012)
Book 3 (TBR)