Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bitterblue (Kristin Cashore)

Title: Bitterblue
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Length: 563 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

In this sequel to Gracelingand companion to Fire, Bitterblue now sits on the throne of Monsea. Only 18 years old, Bitterblue must awake her kingdom from the 35 year spell of her father Leck, a violent psychopath who had the power of mind control. Tired of the futility of it all, one night Bitterblue sneaks out into the city alone, discovering the real problems her city faces, as well as the lies her advisers have been telling her. Can Bitterblue wade through the lies and find a way to save her kingdom, still under the spell of a madman 10 years after his death?

This book was intense. In my review of Fire, I suggested that my hate for Leck couldn’t grow any bigger. Well guys, it got bigger. Way bigger. I also began to pity Leck a bit, because we finally see some of the motives for his madness. But mostly I hated him.

 Bitterblue was definitely more violent and less romantic than its counterparts, but it also presented a bigger mystery. I connected with Bitterblue as she tried to wade through all the lies and not just discover who she was outside of being queen, but also discover what her father did, and despite his huge, awful destruction, how she can possibly make it any better.

One of the best parts of this book was the resurfacing of Katsa, Po, Fire and more. It was very interesting to see them from Bitterblue’s point of view, and to see that there is no “happily ever after” but more a “constantly working for peace and still loving each other” kind of ending. I can only hope there will be more books located in these worlds!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire (Kristin Cashore)

Title: Fire
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Length: 461 pages
Rating: 5/5

Fire is the last human monster in the Dells, a land mired in a violence, largely caused by the destructive power of Fire’s father, another, more vicious, human monster. Thought hated, adored and hunted, Fire is recruited by King Nash to use her powers of mind control to help save the kingdom.

This companion to the wonderful Graceling was everything I had hoped for and more. I’ve definitely found a new favorite author in Kristin Cashore. I did not want to put this book down! It was quite refreshing to read a book that wasn’t a sequel, instead, this book only had one recurring character from Graceling, a boy who becomes twice the villain he is in Graceling. I’m not sure I’ve ever hated a villain this much (maybe Voldemort…). Even though the Dells are next door to the seven kingdoms, it was a whole new world and culture, and I loved it just as much. Definitely read this book after you read Graceling, it will mean so much more.

There were some similarities between the two books. What should a person do with their power and influence? What if that power comes from violating others by reading their thoughts? Both heroines must embrace their power, and in Fire’s case, her beauty. Fire must come to accept her power and her beauty, and embrace it if she is to save the kingdom.

There was a lot more war strategy in this book than its companion, which I sometimes found a little hard to wrap my head around, but all together this book was haunting, beautiful, and surprising. Go read it!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Graceling (Kristin Cashore)

Title: Graceling
Author: Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt
Length: 471 pages
Rating: 5/5

Katsa lives in a world where some people are born with a skill called a Grace. While Graces are often feared, Katsa’s Grace of killing is especially feared and loathed. Katsa struggles with her horrifying Grace and what she must do with it under the command of her uncle, King Randa. Then Katsa meets Prince Po, Graced with the skill of fighting, and unexpectedly teams up with him to save all seven kingdoms in their land from a corrupt king and a dark secret.

This book is an easy contender for Best YA Book of 2012 for me (even though it came out in 2008). It has everything I loved about fantasy books as a kid and everything I love about YA now (think Tamora Pierce for older readers). Katsa is an amazing heroine with intense fighting skills and a good heart that rebels against her own power given through her Grace of killing. Po is an equally brilliant hero because he is the perfect seemingly-incompatible compliment to Katsa’s headstrong ways. While a romance does develop, Katsa doesn’t let it soften her, instead it improves her and she never gives up her own convictions against marriage.

An absolutely brilliant debut by author Kristin Cashore, I can’t wait for more from her! Luckily, because I’m late to this boat, there is a prequel, Fire, and a companion, Bitterblue, for me to read.

You can see the book trailer here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Keeping the Castle (Patrice Kindl)

Title: Keeping the Castle
Author: Patrice Kindl
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
Length: 261 pages
Rating: 3/5

Althea is only seventeen, but she needs to marry well to keep up the decrepit castle built by her great-grandfather, and to support her widowed mother, young brother, and two step-sisters. Luckily, Lord Boring and his annoying cousin and business manager Mr. Fredericks come to Althea’s town of Lesser Hoo and make things interesting.

The flap copy promised this book would be “I Capture the Castle meets Pride and Prejudice” (both wonderful books). While I saw traces of these books in Keeping the Castle, mostly it was Emma, Cinderella, and more Emma (that’s Clueless for my readers who grew up in the 90s). While Althea is scheming to find herself a rich husband, there’s a lot going on around her that she doesn’t notice, and the schemer gets schemed, but with a happy ending of course!

My biggest complaint is that Althea is so concerned with keeping the castle for the sake of her younger brother, who rarely appears in the novel. He’s constantly overshadowed by a cute puppy, leaving Althea’s motives a bit in question.

Ms. Kindl is no Jane Austen, but her writing is fun and light, and she mixes in modern ideas for her old-time characters to consider for the benefit of her contemporary readers. As Mr. Darcy would say, it’s tolerable. No, that’s too harsh. I did enjoy reading this book, it was easy to pick up and put down and read while I had time. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Changeling (Philippa Gregory)

Title: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Length: 256 pages
Rating: 2/5

Seventeen year old Luca is recruited by the Order of Darkness to record the end of times in fifteenth century Europe. His mission brings him to the monastery of seventeen year old Isolde, who is trapped there so she can’t inherit her fortune and accused of witchcraft as her fellow nuns seem driven to madness. Luca must determine the truth behind these rumors, and in doing so, embarks on quite the journey against evil.

The worst part is that I really expected to like this book. It’s historical fiction from Philippa Gregory who my “adult reading” friends swear by. And while I kept reading to see Luca triumph over misguided medieval nuns and villagers, there was very little else to keep my interest.

The narrative was all over the place as it switched viewpoints, and I never really discovered who the main character was, or what the title had to do with anything. The book wanted to cover too many things at once: Christian superstition, forbidden romance, the place of foreigners and underlings to name a few. And Philippa kept dumbing things down for me that didn’t need to be dumbed down and not explaining things that needed to be explains. Perhaps my problem, in the end, is that I’m a History and English major with pretty high expectations when it comes to my historical fiction. And sadly, this didn’t live up to them. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Host (Stephanie Meyer)

Title: The Host
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Length: 864 pages
Rating: 4/5

Aliens have taken over earth. A parasitic race called “Souls” now inhabit almost all human bodies. The rebel Mel is captured, and Wanderer, an experienced soul, is inserted into her body. But instead of erasing Mel’s consciousness to find out where the remaining rebels are hiding, Wanderer finds herself sharing a body with its original inhabitant. Mel refuses to fade away, and bombards Wanderer with memories until she becomes emotionally attached to the people Mel once knew. Instead of leading the Seekers to the rebel hideout, Wanderer and Mel become allies to find Mel’s brother and boyfriend.

It’s a really weird premise. Two girls in one body? That’s a lot of emotion. Throw in a couple guys and it gets messy (weirdest love triangle yet, Stephanie!). Plus it’s a really long book, but maybe that’s because it takes so long to get past the confusing concept at first.

But there are some great themes running throughout: motherhood, altruism, hope for humanity, and the strength of a change of heart. Deep stuff.

And because it’s the author of Twilight, of course there’s going to be a movie (March 2013). There’s also the rumor of sequels, but that seems unnecessary.

Is this even YA? Who knows. Let’s just say, if you liked Twlight, you’ll probably like this one too, and leave it at that. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dairy Queen (Catherine Gilbert Murdock)

Title: Dairy Queen
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Publisher: Houghtong Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 274 pages
Rating: 4.5/5

Fifteen-year-old D.J. spends most of her time running the family milk farm. When Brian Nelson, quarterback for her school's rival football is sent by his coach to improve his work ethic at her farm, she ends up spending a good part of her summer training him. When school starts, D.J. decides to try out for the football team, which makes her life, already complicated by a family that doesn’t communicate and a best friend who has been acting strange, even more complicated.

Cows and football are two of my favorite things, so of course I loved this book.

D.J.’s voice is honest, fresh, and hilarious, and you can’t do anything but root for her when she decides to do what makes her happy instead of being just another cow in the pasture. Plus she’s going through a lot of issues that most people can relate with: falling for a guy who is not only out of your league, but also your arch-rival; brothers who are bad a communicating; high family expectations; and changing friendships to name a few.

And in true YA-style, D.J. doesn’t just learn to be a great runningback/line(wo)man, but through the course of the novel, finds her own voice, and learns to stand up for herself. 

Written to be a stand-alone book, Dairy Queen is now the first in a trilogy. The series is completed by Off Season and Front and Center.