Archive | July, 2011

Reckless – Cornelia Funke

31 Jul

Series: N/A (yet)
ISBN: 9780316056090
Genre: Fantasy – Fairytale
Audience: Young Adult
Overall Rating: 6/10

Summary:
When Jacob Reckless enters his father’s study, he intends to find answers to the man’s mysterious disappearance a year before. He doesn’t anticipate finding those answers in a strange world on the other side of the mirror hanging on the wall. Jacob hides this discovery from his mother and brother for years, but one day his brother follows him. Will learns that the stories Jacob brought back from “travelling” – the child-eating witches, talking foxes, and fairies – are all true. Then Will is attacked by a Goyl, a type of stone creature intent on enslaving the human race. As Will’s skin slowly turns to stone, Jacob is in a race against time to prevent his brother from turning in to one of the monsters. Though the reader will find familiar creatures from fairy tales in this book, as the front cover says, “if you’re looking for happily ever after, you’ve come to the wrong place…”

Plot:
I was actually kind of disappointed with this plot, which knocked the score down. It simply didn’t seem fresh. It was like I was reading Inkheart again – a much older version of Inkheart, sure, with more basis in our own Earthly fairy tales – but the concept was very much the same. Instead of people being read out of books (or later, into them), Jacob steps through a mirror into another world. He meets strange creatures there. There’s an enemy to fight against. Etc.

That said, this is a much older book than Inkheart ever was, which probably hit home when the characters peered at the mummified body of Sleeping Beauty lying in her castle. Travelling through some of my favorite classic fairytales was great fun, and I liked each mention of them, however brief. And these weren’t the kiddified, Disney versions of fairytales, either. I mentioned the mummification, right? Yeah, her prince never found her.

As for the Goyl, I don’t know. They were pretty frightening – I mean, something that, when it attacks you, can turn you into stone, killer zombies (okay, not zombies, but you get their mindset, anyway) is pretty frightening. It just didn’t seem like people were fighting them. Like at the start of the story, everyone had already given up. I kind of wanted to see more of a fight, particularly on the part of the queen. It was like we were thrown in to the story at the end of the war, and I wanted it to be more middling.

This book is left wide-open for a sequel, though, so I know there will be more. The plot DID pick up as the book progressed, and kept getting better, it was the beginning and middle I seemed to be having problems with. I almost set it down once. Almost. But I kept going, and was rewarded with a great ending. It is something worth reading, particularly if you enjoyed Inkheart or Funke’s other books. I think the sequel (I know I’m talking prematurely here – but I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a sequel) will be better.

Characters:
I wasn’t particularly in love with any of the characters except, perhaps, Fox. Fox intrigues me to no end and I wanted to know more about her and her past. She was strong and haughty but oddly vulnerable at the same time, and to be honest, I just have a thing for talking foxes.

The others didn’t connect with me. I found Jacob a bit annoying for basically running away from his family and not wanting them back in his life, which I just didn’t understand. I hate to say I was waiting for the cliché older brother who needed to protect his younger sibling at the beginning, but I was. He became more tolerable toward the end of the book – particularly with the ending being what it was. William annoyed me at the beginning, especially around Clara, but again, he grew on me as the story went on. Don’t even get me started on Clara herself – I don’t think I’ve wanted to slap someone so much since meeting Bella Swan.

Setting:
As with the plot, I felt like I might as well be back in the Inkworld. And I quite like the Inkworld, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel new or different. It was a different world, but there were barely any changes. A queen was on the throne rather than a king. The magic was slightly different, the creatures slightly different, but the feel remained the same. It was still enchanting and magical and dangerous, but simply not new. If you haven’t read Inkheart or its sequels, you may very well be taken with it. If you have, you may, like me, think that it’s getting a bit old. Or you may not think it’s the same at all – this could very well be my interpretation.

Of course, everything was richly described and therefore did give off that magical feel. I loved seeing the creatures and fairytales and felt it was all pulled together well. It just didn’t seem as original as it could have been. I almost would have preferred if Jacob and the rest hadn’t come from our world, but rather lived in the other. I think it could have been done that way perfectly easily and would have taken away some of the annoyances I had with the characters.

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Haunting Violet – Alyxandra Harvey

31 Jul

Series: N/A
ISBN: 9780802798398
Genre: Paranormal – Ghosts
Audience: Middle Grade / Young Adult
Overall Rating: 7/10

Summary:
Violet Willoughby finds it hard to believe in ghosts when she’s helped her mother make a living as a fake medium most of her life. But when the ghostly form of a girl with bruises around her neck appears beside her living twin, the supernatural becomes hard to deny. Violet must uncover the mystery of Rowena’s murder, labeled a tragic accident, before her prickly sister Tabitha meets the same fate. With a country manor house filled with guests – nearly all of them, including the host, suspects – Violet’s task isn’t an easy one, and Rowena becomes ever more persistent. This book will haunt you until it’s finished.

Plot:
This isn’t something that I would usually read, so I found the plot to be interesting and barely put the book down. It’s a fast read – the plot moves quickly, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I actually ended up being scared a few times, but I put that down to my general fear of ghosts instilled in me after watching The Sixth Sense at far too young an age. Anyway. This book didn’t grab me, though. It was fun, it was a great mystery, I didn’t guess the bad guy correctly at all (there was a really nice scene to throw the reader off the trail, and it worked for me).

As you can probably tell from the shortness of this entry, Haunting Violet was good but not great. I didn’t feel particularly strongly about any of it. If you have it, I would say yeah, go for it. It’s not a waste of time. I think I’d recommend it for the beach. But if you’re looking for something absolutely spectacular, you may want to go with a different choice.

Characters:
Violet herself was wonderful. She was strong enough to be irritated with her mother, but not so strong – or perhaps restricted by her time period – to remove herself from her mother’s protection. She felt like the perfect balance of character, and I loved how she went from not believing in ghosts to having to believe in ghosts, and not being too whiny about it, either.

The supporting characters also made a great cast. Elizabeth was a great friend and a great addition to the pseudo-detective team. Colin was sweet and lovable, even if he could be a bit irritating sometimes being so over-protective. I felt like Violet’s love interest, Xavier, was very nearly unnecessary to include, but that was probably because I wasn’t rooting for him.

Of course, the one who stole the show was Violet’s mother. Not only is that simply in her nature, with her elitist, dramatic personality, but that elitist, dramatic personality was pulled off so well that – despite absolutely despising the woman – I couldn’t help but wonder when she’d come on stage next. Her development as a character was absolutely perfect, too. I loved her – in the I really, really hate her sort of way.

Setting:
Once again, anything set in the Victorian era will be compared to Sorcery and Cecelia. The dialogue and narration of this book therefore falls slightly short of expectation, but I thought it was far better done than the previously reviewed Girl in the Steel Corset. Violet and friends stick to the mannerisms and decorum proper for the time period – at least in my opinion. It made the setting feel more real.

The manor and when they’re in the city is all well described, too. And I particularly liked the séance scenes. I could see the room grow dark and the cold wind blow amongst people. I actually got scared when they brought out the spirit boards. I was quite pleased with the setting overall.

The False Prince – Jennifer A. Nielsen

30 Jul

Series: Ascendance Trilogy #1
ISBN: 9780545284134
Genre: Fantasy – Political
Audience: Young Adult
Overall Rating: 9/10

Summary:
The king and his family are dead, and one regent seeks to commit the highest form of fraud by resurrecting the younger prince, whose body was never found, and turn him into the new king. After collecting four orphans, the boys compete to become royalty. But as the story unravels, more layers of lies are unfolded, and it becomes clear that the only one telling the truth may be the best liar among them. Fraught with mystery, murder, and political intrigue, this well-written fantasy will keep every reader on the edge of his or her seat until the very end.

Plot:
I have to admit that I did guess the ending before I started. Usually when that happens, I’m like, yeah, yeah, okay. But I experienced with this book the same strange sensation that I did when I figured out Crown Duel’s twist – it was the most fun, wild ride getting there that it simply didn’t matter. Despite having guessed correctly, the narration continually made me second guess myself. It started to seem as though my prediction would be impossible, until the very last second when all of the pieces clicked into place. In my opinion, it takes a master to do something like that.

That said, I love political fantasy, and this most certainly is one. The bloody battles and Middle Earth-like adventure don’t reside among the pages, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening. The fun thing about this book was that, while narrated in the first person by Sage, he is perhaps one of the best liars in a story about lies, cover-ups, and half-truths. And he doesn’t clue the reader in. We’re left to decipher truth from lie – not only those that he’s deciphering, but his own as well.

A lot goes on behind the scenes that the reader doesn’t find out about until later. It helps maintain the lie – the truth? – in such a spectacular way. Loyalties shift. Just when you think you have someone figured out, he changes. Friend turns into foe. Bad guy you were certain must be a good guy is actually a bad guy. It’s mind-boggling, so I’m sorry if this review is, too.

Let’s just say that I have been challenged. It takes a lot to do that. I read a great many books, you see, and it isn’t easy to catch me off guard. But this book did it. And it did it marvelously. I’m sad that this is a trilogy, but only because isn’t longer. Maybe she’ll pull a Paolini and give us a fourth. Of course, I’m already upset that I’m reviewing this with eight months to go to its release. And now I have to wait for book two? Are you kidding me?

I would like to mention that there is a bit of content. My advance copy says this is being marketed to 3-9th graders, and while the reading level may pass (though some of the humor may go over their heads at the younger end), cautious parents may want to beware murder and torture. Not saying it’s graphic, but if I was younger I would have been scared (of course, I couldn’t read Flesh, Blood and Bone in Goblet of Fire at night until I was eighteen. Bit of a wuss).

Characters:
I love Sage. I love him. He has gone on my List of Characters I would Marry If They Were Real People, even though he’s only fifteen. He is the smartest, snarkiest, stubbornest teenaged character in the history of children’s literature, I am convinced of it. Yes, even worse (better) than Holden Caulfield, if you count him. Not even joking. I was laughing at his antics from page one, and the best part was, he wasn’t annoying. Disobedient to the point of idiocy sometimes – incorrigible, even – but I never found myself annoyed. Because he managed to be smart, snarky, and stubborn about things that mattered. He was adult about it. Not whiny, not stupid. I loved him. Love love love. So much love.

I was so in love with Sage that I thought the minor characters were okay. I would have liked to know more about Tobias and Roden and Cregan just to satiate my own curiosity, though I don’t think it would have been appropriate to include such information in the book. Maybe in the next one. You honestly don’t get to know a ton of the other characters that well, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s the way it should be. There was so much deceit that you could barely tell if you knew Sage. It was fantastic.

One character I am so excited to get to know is Amarinda. She seems the type of female character I could add to my list of Women Who Kick Butt. Imogen, too. And I just like the latter’s name.

The development of characters was just as deliciously mind-boggling as the plot itself was. Like I said, you think you know a person…

Setting:
I was really, really sad to take a point off this book’s score. It’s probably my favorite book since reading Fire by Kristin Cashore. However, I was mildly disappointed with the setting. I felt like it could be any other-worldly fantasy setting – kingdom, strange country names, people ride horses. I didn’t have a “sense of place.” I hate using that phrase. I had a class labeled “Sense of Place” which I absolutely abhorred. It’s true, though – a story does need it. It needed something unique that made it stand out from the rest, and I didn’t feel that I had a strong enough view of Carthya. I would have liked to have seen the common people a bit more, and known what kind of problems they faced. What the economy was like. What kind of resources Carthya produced and traded. Something that made it a bit more real. I think such information will be more forthcoming in sequels, but a bit of it in this one would have been nice, too.

But honestly, I was so wrapped up in character and plot that setting didn’t matter TOO much. Certainly not enough to detract from the awesome of everything else. So I subtracted just one point. Grudgingly.

Girl in the Steel Corset – Kady Cross

29 Jul

Series: Steampunk Chronicles #1
ISBN: 9780373210336
Genre: Steampunk
Audience: Young Adult
Overall Rating: 5/10

Summary:
Finley Jayne has a dark side that’s struggling to overcome her good one. Dangerous to both herself and those around her, Finley gets in the habit of tossing footmen across rooms and stealing velocycles to meet cockney criminals. When she meets a duke, Griffin, he thinks that he can help her – and that she can help his band of eclectic strays with their own powers. Together they have to track down the Machinist, a person who’s been rigging machines to attack, and find out what he wants with Queen Victoria’s hairbrush and wax likeness from Madame Tussaud’s. With plenty of mystery, action, romance, and supernatural powers, there’s a bit of everything in this steampunk page-turner.

Plot:
This plot moves along quite nicely, and was a refreshing break from other-world fantasy for me. I haven’t read much steampunk at all (actually, I couldn’t give you another title that I’ve read off the top of my head), so it was a change in genre, too. The mystery kept me intrigued the whole way through, even though I had the identity of the main bad guy picked out quite early on. The battles within the group left me wondering if they were all ever going to get along long enough to solve it. And I certainly didn’t see that ending coming.

Just a small thing – I despised the constant love triangles. Each girl had two guys after her, and while I thought Finley’s chasers were fun and reminiscent of Alanna of Trebond’s problems, I didn’t think Emily needed more problems in her love life. Given the ending, I rather thought that one of the suitors probably had a bit more to worry about than making eyes at a girl whose heart clearly belongs to someone else. I also didn’t like when the girls paused to talk about the boys. While I know that’s what (normal) girls do, it slowed the story down and threw up big neon signs all over the page that said “HEY! Look! There’s a love story in this book! Here are your clues, right here!”

But like I said, the main plot moved along. It was well done and kept me interested throughout. I will be buying the inevitable sequel.

Characters:
Most of the characters were actually quite enjoyable, too. Finley is strong but delicate in her own way; Emily cute and intelligent; Griffin noble and calculating; Jack cunning and charming; and Jasper, altogether too American and good with a gun. All of these characters have their flaws, which makes them a bit more believable. Their backstories are intertwined and well described. I felt like I knew them, which is always a good sign.

For those of you who have already read the book, you’ll noticed that I missed Sam. Quite frankly, I hated Sam, and not in the good way that I hated Severus Snape for half a book. No. Sam was whiny and emo, traits I find annoying anyway, but I find them particularly heinous when I don’t believe he has any reason to be whiny or emo at all. The author didn’t make me believe he was so upset about being half machine. A flashback to the attack, described in detail rather than just an allusion, may have done his plight some justice. As it was, I groaned each time I came across another “Sam” section and wished very much his brain had been replaced, too.

And just as a general word of caution, one of the major points that knocked this book’s score down was the endless, repetitive character descriptions. This was particularly true of Emily, or maybe I only noticed it because each time I read her name I was jolted from the story since it’s mine, too. Her hair is red and ropey. She is Irish. She is small. You will know this multiple times by page 30, and it only gets worse from there. I’m told constantly in creative writing classes that I need to trust the reader – I don’t need to repeat descriptions. That may be why I’m sensitive to it, as well. I’ve been taught to search it out. It might not bother you, but it was a HUGE bother to me.

Setting:
Having spent just four months living in London myself, I am in no way an expert. I am also not an expert on the Victorian time period. However, I have read some good books set during that time – that is, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – and can tell you that this type of setting can be done so much better.

While I understand that it’s steampunk, and thus has the machines and whatnot, I would have appreciated a bit more realism when it came to Victorian speech and mannerisms. I felt like the dialogue was entirely too modern, and places where realistic speech was attempted seemed oddly strained and OVERdone. It was perhaps because of this that mannerisms didn’t seem in tune with the time, either, so I won’t rag on that too much.

As far as London goes, I had a few issues. Again, I’m not an expert on the Victorian time period, so my issues could very well be due to that. One, Griffin states that drinking alcohol messes with his abilities, and half a page later orders a mug of cider. In London these days, cider is very much an alcoholic beverage, despite being only 4-6% proof. Still. Two, after something is stolen from the British Museum, a few of the main characters visit Finley’s parents in Russell Square. Having spent most of my time in the Russell Square area, I know that station is the one at which you “alight for the British Museum.” However, the museum wasn’t so much as thought about during the whole scene. Considering Finley’s barely known to the group and a suspect, for however short a time, I thought it would have been a bit of interesting evidence against her. That’s just one example, but I felt like the geography and culture was somehow off.

Of course, I may have been entirely too spoiled by Patricia C. Wrede.

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