Tag Archives: Young Adult

Book Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

13 Feb

the lie treeI first read Frances Hardinge years ago when I received a free ARC of Fly by Night. I remembered her name because Fly by Night was very well written and original, and so when I saw The Lie Tree in the store a few weeks ago I didn’t hesitate to buy it — authors who write original stories well are bound to do more of the same, right?

Let’s just say that The Lie Tree makes me want to go out and buy ALL of her books.

Faith Sunderly and her family have been chased from England by scandal rocking her naturalist father’s reputation. They arrive on the island of Vane laden with boxes of his papers and specimens. Erasmus Sunderly’s foul mood and secretive nature don’t make his family many friends on Vane, and when his body is found hanging in a tree Faith is determined to discover who his murderer is. Her investigations turn up more secrets than she bargained for, however, and soon it becomes clear that her father had a lot more secrets than he was letting on — secrets that could threaten Faith’s life, too. And it all started with one little lie.

First off, plot? Awesome. A tree that lives on lies, bears fruit that gives the consumer visions of truth related to the lie told. A murder mystery, fantasy, and bit of history wrapped up in one. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like this before. Very original, fast-paced, interesting, and more to the point — well written! I was drooling over the words, the sentences, the similes and metaphors. Granted, a younger reader with less interest in the way things are written might not appreciate it as much, but I want to reread just to study the way words are put together again.

Faith is a great narrator. A bit irritating sometimes, but only because she’s real. She was determined to remain committed to the memory of her father — even though we saw that her father was a bit of a terrible person who had no time for his daughter, and even kicked her out of a carriage to make room for his precious plant. As a reader, I was rooting for her to forget him. But that isn’t very realistic. Most children want their parents’ approval, no matter how unlikely it is that they’ll get it. Aside from that though, Faith is smart, curious, and brave, all things that make her likable and easy to relate to.

This was an excellent, page-turning book. Highly recommended!

Book Review: The Arthur Trilogy #2 and #3 by Kevin Crossley-Holland

4 Apr

I hate to have to say that I’ve been slacking again–this time worse than usual! No posts in March! How can that be?

I feel like I’ve been incredibly busy with a variety of things, and none of them included blogging, but I will shortly try to catch up on what’s r215513_SCH_CrossingPlaceJKT_0.tifelevant. Like these much over-due book reviews. Because it’s been several weeks since I read them, I will merge these two into one.

At the Crossing Places is the second book in Kevin Crossley-Holland’s Arthur trilogy, a sort of retelling of Arthurian legend from the eyes of aboy named Arthur living separate from King Arthur, but nonetheless the adventures of the knights of the Round Table seem to have parallels to his own.

In this book, Arthur de Caldicot (or is it Gortanore?) begins his life as a squire to Lord Stephen and the household prepares from them to go to war. We meet an array of interesting characters, including Winnie, to whom Arthur hopes to be betrothed. To be honest, the plot of this one was a bit more plodding than the first. I mentioned in Book 1’s review that it is very much a character-driven rather than plot-driven series, which I enjoy, but very little seemed to be happening at all in Book 2 and I wasn’t as engrossed as I was in Book 1. I tend to find that’s the way of trilogies, though–the second book is almost never as good as the first or third. Nevertheless, I wasn’t so put off that I didn’t want to continue on, and I found Book 3 a lot more interesting.KingoftheMiddleMarch

King of the Middle-March is the third book in the series, and picks up two years after the end of the second. Arthur and the other crusaders are still in limbo, trying to get ships to take them to Jerusalem. Problem after problem ensues — the crusaders are short on money, Arthur’s birth father and foster brother turn up at an inopportune time, and suddenly they’re not fighting heathens but their fellow Christians as a way of paying for the Venetian ships. Arthur witnesses battles, and they’re not at all as heroic as he thought they would be. To top it all, Lord Stephen is injured, precipitating a quick departure back to England.

All in all, Book 3 was probably the most action-packed, but Arthur still grew a lot as a person. The biggest complaint I’ve seen is that there isn’t a strong connection between Arthur and Arthur-in-the-stone. I disagree; while a clear link isn’t explicitly stated, you can easily see the similarities and Arthur clearly takes the lessons learned in the stone and applies them to his life.

Anyway, a thoroughly enjoyable series that I recommend to just about anyone–wonderfully written!

Book Review: The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

30 Dec

witchofsaltandstormAvery Roe is a witch. Or at least she should be, if she could unlock the magic within her. Stolen from her grandmother’s cottage by her mother, Avery has been sheltered from magic. But her grandmother is fading, and someone must continue the Roe Witch line–the sailors on Prince Island depend on magical protection at sea. But when Avery’s ability to interpret dreams tells her of her own death, it seems there is no hope left. Unless a tattooed boy with magic of his own can break her mother’s curse before it’s too late.

Oh, my my my… I don’t know where to start. I’ll say that this was going to be my favourite book of the year.

The Good:

This book is exceptionally well written. I read other reviews that stated that they would have preferred more action. It certainly is a more narrative book, but that’s the sort I love, especially when done correctly. This book was literary. It was a study in what it means to be a good writer: so many beautiful descriptions and sensory details and little analogies–I’m pretty sure there’s more to this book than I was able to get out of it on a first read. Honestly, I was reminded a bit of Patricia C. Wrede who manages these things so excellently that I didn’t think I’d ever find someone quite as good.

Avery herself was an incredible main character. I loved her. She went after what she wanted and made plenty of mistakes along the way and was horribly disappointed at the outcome. She was real. She was refreshing.

The plot kept me turning pages. Not only was it interesting and a bit different from what I normally read, but I could practically hear the clock ticking on Avery’s time. Plus, the ending is unexpected–at least for YA.

The Bad:

The romance. The romance is really a key point in the plot, which makes it a romance I can get behind (if you follow this blog, you know I can get pretty critical of some romances!). But in my opinion, it happened too fast, and the boy who stole Avery’s heart was not developed nearly enough for my liking. If we had gotten to know him a bit better, I think the romance could have soared.

Pet peeve alert. I hate, hate, HATE reading books in present tense. My argument is this: books are stories that are written down. If they have been written down, they have already happened. If they have already happened, they should not be written in present tense. Obviously, the amount of present tense you’ll find these days in YA fiction shows that I’m pretty alone in this opinion, but it doesn’t stop present tense from grating on my nerves.

When an early chapter of Salt and Storm was written in present tense, I panicked and flipped to a page in the middle just to make sure I hadn’t been duped. Sigh of relief–that chapter was only in present tense because it was a dream. Later, other dreams were also written in present tense. This, I can stomach. It’s a way of differentiating between what’s a dream and what isn’t without using other transitions. Fine, because it had a purpose.

But the sudden switch on page 289 to present tense, which was maintained through the rest–nearly a third–of the book? I was tearing. my. hair. out.

My pet peeve aside, the previous use of present tense showed that the author MUST have been intending some deeper meaning with its usage in the last third. The rest of the writing is too smart for this to have been thrown in without reason. But whatever she was aiming for, she missed her mark with me. Clearly, the rest of the book was not a dream. Not a sleep-dream, anyway. Was it a remark on how Avery was accomplishing her life-long dreams? But then I thought the present tense should start even later. How she was in her dream, the one that set the plot into action? I think this is the most likely, but it was slow to click, and I honestly think it’s a statement that flew over the heads of most readers. But then again, other people don’t seem to be as sensitive to present tense as me.

Anyway, I still gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. If present tense doesn’t bother you, don’t be swayed by my negative comments–this really was an excellent book. But if it annoys you as much as it annoys me, beware.

Book Review: The Thief (Queen’s Thief #1) by Megan Whalen Turner

4 Dec

TheThiefGen is a thief, and as thieves so often are, he’s in prison. When he’s offered an opportunity to escape prison (at least for a little while) by stealing something for the King of Sounis, he’s forced into the chance. He spends his days traveling with the king’s magus, two useless boys, and a guard. No one will tell him where they’re going or what he’s meant to be stealing. But Gen has his own secrets, too, and it’s anyone’s guess what he’ll do next.

I rated this book a 4/5 on Goodreads. To be honest, I think that’s a bit high. I think I was intimidated by the silver Newbery Honor medal on the cover.

I’ll start with the good: it is quite an interesting story, and Gen is a fantastic narrator–smart, witty, sarcastic, full of fire–I loved him from the first few pages.

However.

This wasn’t great as a fantasy novel. The world was not developed enough. Things that were happening in these countries were not expounded upon, just mentioned in passing. The time period seemed a bit mixed up (the author notes in the “Extras” section that there’s not specific date in our world that correlates). Much as I loved Gen, he and the rest of the characters weren’t developed very much either. When a couple of characters died, I was like, “Well, that happened.” I’d prefer to feel a tug at my heartstrings, not apathy.

I think a lot of this development was sacrificed for the “big reveal” at the end (which I admittedly did see coming, but I’m rarely surprised!). Rather than risk telling too much, the author told too little. I might have been more impressed if I knew that it didn’t have to be this way. The more recent The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen had some similar elements and a similar “big reveal” and did it much better, in my opinion.

Still, this was an entertaining book and for all of my complaints I won’t hesitate to grab the sequels when I can.

Book Review: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

22 Nov

Wildwood DancingJena and her sisters have been visiting the Wildwood at full moon for years, escaping there through a portal in their bedroom. For one night every month, they dance with the likes of dwarves and fairies. But when their father sickens and goes on an extended business trip somewhere warm one winter, things begin to go downhill: their cousin takes charge of their finances and becomes bent on destroying the Wildwood and everything in it as retribution for a witch killing his brother some years before. Worse, he knows that the girls know something they aren’t letting on, and he will do anything to find out what it is.

So I finally, FINALLY got around to reading this book. I couldn’t tell you how many years this has been sitting on my “to be read” list. As you’ve likely noticed, I’ve gone through tons of Marillier’s other books in recent months. I even read the “sequel” to Wildwood a few years ago without realizing that it was a sequel. Luckily, I didn’t remember much from that book, so nothing was ruined for this one.

I actually liked Wildwood Dancing much better than Cybele’s Secret. I think there was much more worldbuilding that went into this one; the Wildwood was just as enchanting as it should have been, and I was immediately placed in the time period in which the story was set. What I wouldn’t give to live at that house in Transylvania!

The characters were intriguing, though I shook my head at some of Jena’s decisions later on in the book. They didn’t seem true to her character at first, though I suppose as the story continued I understood her motives even if I didn’t agree with them. I liked learning more about the sisters who don’t have quite as big of a role in the sequel. All of them have their own charms.

The plot, I will admit, was a bit predictable. Without giving too much away, one of the big surprises toward the end wasn’t much of a surprise to me at all (I can’t remember if his name was mentioned at the end of Cybele… if so, perhaps I just retained some subconscious knowledge!). Even so, I found the book enjoyable and it definitely kept me turning pages.

Well worth the read!

Book Review: Promised (Birthmarked #3) by Caragh M. O’Brien

1 Nov

PromisedGaia Stone escaped the enclave–only to head willingly back in. When she and the people of New Sylum arrive at Wharfton to settle, she doesn’t expect the changes that have happened in her absence, and not all of them are good. Her best friend, Emily, was taken into custody and now leads the Vessel Institute, a “baby factory” of surrogate mothers providing hemophilia-free babies to the wealthy elite. Meanwhile, the Protectorat refuses to provide the people of New Sylum with water unless Gaia does the unthinkable–and the people of New Sylum are becoming restless.

I read the first two books in this series several years ago and, to be honest, I probably should have reread them before reading this! My only read of Birthmarked happened back in 2011, as you can see by the old format of this review, and I didn’t even review Prized, which must mean I read it sometime in 2012 before I started getting more serious about this blog. So, apologies if I am misremembering things.

To be honest, I wasn’t hugely impressed with Promised. I remember quite liking Birthmarked, liking Prized a bit less, and Promised was just sort of strange to me.

First, the plot was a bit non-existent, or perhaps slow-moving and fast-moving all at once. See what I mean about strange? Everything in this book happened within days, and a rather large goal was accomplished, yet at the same time it seemed like nothing much happened at all. I was sort of just going with the flow for the entire read wondering if I was missing something.

This time around, the characters — particularly the rather forced love triangle — just got on my nerves. After reading my review of Birthmarked, it looks like Gaia has always been this way a little. I just don’t know how to read her, and she does some unpredictable things, but this time around I wasn’t charmed by that; it just made her seem inconsistent. I also felt as though she’d risen a bit to Mary Sue-dom; for some inexplicable reason, she has to be the one to fix everything, and she has to be the only one who can “save the population” because of her special blood, and she has this sob story at the end but it seems to barely bother her… I don’t know, I just didn’t like her.

What I thought would have been much more interesting were these women who joined the Vessel Institute and the children who were leaving the Enclave to find their birth families. It would have been interesting to see these people more directly involved in the downfall of the Enclave (much more than bombs!). Unfortunately, this one fell a bit flat for me.

Book Review: Cattra’s Legacy by Anna Mackenzie

21 Oct

Cattra's LegacyWhen Risha’s father dies and her holding is taken from her by the village leader, she decides to travel with the traders and find one of her father’s old friends. She doesn’t realize that the journey will bring her much more than she bargained for and turn her life on its head in ways she couldn’t imagine.

This was an excellent find at the library and I plan on purchasing my own copy soon. It had everything I like in a book: fiery female lead, politics galore, a hint of magic, an array of supporting characters, and a page-turning plot. It was well-written, too, with words and sentences that seemed to flow effortlessly, painting a beautiful picture of this world and the people who live in it.

That said, I knocked a star off my Goodreads review because it was a bit too much plot in too small a space. I felt like the information and events we were presented in this book could easily have been expanded to suit a trilogy rather than just one book. It was just 350 pages long, and covered over a year of important events that helped to develop the main character. I just think that some things could have been slowed down and explained more thoroughly if the author had been given more space to do so. I was often confused by the names of places and the people leading them and their place in this world. The politics were complex, which is excellent, but not enough time was given to explain them, and I was often confused by that as well.

There were also too many characters which I call “characters of convenience”–those that pop up to serve a purpose but are then discarded. Honestly, the “characters of convenience” in this book were realistic. If Risha were to experience what she experienced in the “real world” she probably wouldn’t see half the people she met along the way again… but as a reader, those characters take up space in my mind, not to mention space on the page, that would be better used by explanations of the things I named above. When the author has but so many words and pages to work with, it doesn’t make sense to waste them on characters that we will never see again. I’m talking Sulba’s family, Fenn, Clik… I just think the book could have been reworked to avoid these characters.

I was also confused by some of Risha’s actions and lack of action. For instance, when she decides to go along with a bunch of strange men and they’re just riding along and it’s ages until she asks who they are and where they’re going and what they intend to do with her. And when she realizes she’s safe, she doesn’t ask any questions at all–which just isn’t what I’d expect from her character at the time. Yes, she was a bit meek at the start, but she grows into herself pretty quickly and I’d expect her to expect more answers. She gets a lot of them in the end, it’s true, but they took forever to be revealed.

Lastly, the voice in her head. We never get a clear explanation of who this voice is, and though we’re given a pretty big hint, we aren’t told why this happens to her or what is causing it or how it works. Then suddenly she was able to talk to her cousin through her mind? And they don’t hash it out until ages after? I assume we’ll get these answers in the sequel, but I really would have liked to have them in this book. Perhaps I was missing something? I don’t know. But this is a prime example of what I mean when I said there wasn’t enough space for all of the elements of this story.

I know I’ve been pretty critical here, but like I said, I only knocked one star off for all this–this book was really, really excellent and engaging and page-turning, and you can bet I’ll be reading the sequel as soon as I can! I highly recommend this book despite these few issues that I had with it. And you should know I’m only super critical of books that I loved. Can’t wait for the next one!

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