Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween: Ghost and the Goth

Happy Halloween everyone!  I'd like to claim I thought long and hard about this post, but honestly, I was going to treat it like every other day.  I thought to myself, I don't read horror books.  And I don't.  Sort of.  See, while I don't read slasher books that turn into movies like Saw III (which I never saw), I did realize I read a lot of books about ghosts.  Some of them are a bit eerie, but most of them are more fun than anything. Which is absolutely true of The Ghost and the Goth.  Here's a quick summary for you.

Alona Dare–Senior in high school, co-captain of the cheerleading squad, Homecoming Queen three years in a row, voted most likely to marry a movie star… and newly dead.

I’m the girl you hated in high school. Is it my fault I was born with it all-good looks, silky blond hair, a hot bod, and a keen sense of what everyone else should not be wearing? But my life isn’t perfect, especially since I died. Run over by a bus of band geeks—is there anything more humiliating? As it turns out, yes—watching your boyfriend and friends move on with life, only days after your funeral. And you wouldn’t believe what they’re saying about me now that they think I can’t hear them. To top it off, I’m starting to disappear, flickering in and out of existence. I don’t know where I go when I’m gone, but it’s not good. Where is that freaking white light already?

Will Killian–Senior in high school, outcast, dubbed “Will Kill” by the popular crowd for the unearthly aura around him, voted most likely to rob a bank…and a ghost-talker.

I can see, hear, and touch the dead. Unfortunately, they can also see, hear and touch me. Yeah, because surviving high school isn’t hard enough already. I’ve done my best to hide my “gift.” After all, my dad, who shared my ability, killed himself because of it when I was fifteen. But lately, pretending to be normal has gotten a lot harder. A new ghost—an anonymous, seething cloud of negative energy with the capacity to throw me around—is pursuing me with a vengeance. My mom, who knows nothing about what I can do, is worrying about the increase in odd incidents, my shrink is tossing around terms like “temporary confinement for psychiatric evaluation,” and my principal, who thinks I’m a disruption and a faker, is searching for every way possible to get rid of me. How many weeks until graduation?  Quoted from Goodreads

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I realize this book has only the loosest connection to Halloween.  It's mostly shallow, fun, fluff reading, but it is about ghosts, so again, Happy Halloween.

Probably what I enjoyed about the book the most are the characters.  They are complete opposites and both incredibly flawed.  This is where the book gets fun.  A boy who sees dead people isn't exactly uncharted territory, but despite that, this book didn't come across as tired or overdone.  

Because of Alona and Will's differences, it's fun to watch them change and grow as the series progresses.  They compensate for each other's weaknesses, proving they are far better together (eventually) then they were apart, no matter how differently they saw the world. I'll be honest, at first it was chaos--beautiful, watch them yell at each other chaos, but it gets better. Plus, the author makes it very clear why each of the characters behaves as they do.  Neither of them has a perfect life (or death, in Alona's case),  but they get better as the books go on.

I really enjoyed Stacy Kade's writing, especially Alona. She was good at capturing the cheerleader's voice, and sounding like a genuine teen, which is hard to find, and there was some great sarcasm.  Plus, her story is light. Most ghost stories are heavy with gloom and gore and death and moving on. This could have been a story like that.  All the elements are there, but it's Alona who really makes the book more of a comedy than horror. 

Then there's poor, sweet Will.  At first he comes across as your typical tortured teen, but I liked him better as the book progressed and I got to know him, kind of like Alona.  There isn't a lot of romance in this book.  That aspect comes later in the series (an even then it's pretty light), which I appreciated.  They grew together as friends first, and other stuff developed later.

The pacing of the story is great. The main dilemma is quick to present itself, but after that, things keep going. You aren't always on the edge of your seat, but the blend of humor, relationship angst, and reveals kept me reading.  Despite what I've said, they book isn't all light and funny.  There were some darker moments (I mean, I did choose this book to review on Halloween) that I also enjoyed.  They sort of grounded the book and added a layer of suspense that would have otherwise been missing.

I awarded this book a fun 3.5 stars. If you're looking for a cute ghost story that's already finished (that's right, all three books in this series are out!) you should absolutely read this.  Happy Halloween!  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Amanda Monday: Seven Realms Series

 

Originally I was going to review the final book of this series, The Crimson Crown, on it's own.  However, I found that I really couldn't review that book by itself without talking a great deal about the other three.  Like many high fantasy novels, the Seven Realms series is really just one story spread over four different release dates.

Now for a little background.  The Seven Realms series takes place in a fantasty world of . . . seven realms (surprised?).  However, most of the story is set in the Fells, a Queendom in the north.  The queendom is basically divided into three groups of people:  wizards, uplander Clans (indigenous mountain folk probably inspired somewhat by Native Americans), and the Valefolk, or those living in the lower lands and the capital.  None of these three groups like each other very much, they are filled with ambitious people, they have bad history, and their differences ultimately threaten to destroy the kingdom.

The story revolves around Han Alistair, poor thief and dangerous street lord, and Princess Raisa.  Each of them comes into power in their own right and through their own journey, and each will ultimately play a pivotal roll in the saving of the queendom.  Along the way, each of them transforms from ordinary to hero/heroine.  I love these two characters.  Their backgrounds couldn't be more different, but both possess the stubbornness, intelligence, and goodness that all good characters need in order to save the day.  Though this story is filled with political intrigue, magic, villains, revenge, and fighting, I would call it first and foremost a love story.  Both Raisa and Han have many other motivating factors that propel the plot forward, but it's when they eventually fall in love that their motives shift in such a way that they are able to become the heros that this book needs in order for good to triumph over evil.

However, if you think this series would fall under the category of romance, think again.  Han and Raisa barely even meet each other in the first book.  Their accomplishments and discoveries of the first book propel them towards the events of the second book, where their individual plots finally start to come together.  So if you're looking for straight romance, this book may have too many other things going on in it for you.

I love the world building.  The different types of people and culture, the rules of magic, and the history of the realms creates a beautiful and dynamic backdrop for this story.  I love the "hero's journey" that Han and Raisa (along with several other key characters) must take.  I love that the characters are all so dynamic.  Each of them grows up, changes for the better (or worse).

A word of caution to any potential readers: although there is nothing graphic or overly detailed, there are some allusions to sexual relations in the book.   So I would not recommend this book to a particularly young reader, but I would not be embarrassed to recommend this book to anyone a bit more mature.  The author handles things tastefully and does not take unnecessary liberties.

Overall, I would rate this series with 4.5 stars, both for how much I like the book and how well it's written.  It is probably one of the more sophisticated books that I have reviewed so far, and will leave you with many things to think about.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: Beautiful Redemption


Is death the end . . . or only the beginning?

Ethan Wate always dreamed of leaving the stifling Southern town of Gatlin.

But he never dreamt that finding love with Lena Duchannes would drive him away. Lena is a Caster girl whose supernatural powers unveiled a secretive and cursed side of Gatlin, so powerful it forced him to make a terrible sacrifice.

Now Ethan must find a way to return to Lena - and Gatlin - as she vows to do whatever it takes to get him back. Even if it means trusting old enemies or risking their loved ones' lives.

Can Ethan and Lena rewrite their fate and their spellbinding love story in this stunning finale to the Beautiful Creatures series? Quoted from Goodreads

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Stop. Before you start reading this, you need to make sure you've read Beautiful Chaos.  If you haven't, I'll be giving the end of that book away, and it's really something you should experience without anyone spoiling it for you, so I'll say it again. Stop, if you haven't read Beautiful Chaos.

Now that's taken care of (and you're not still reading this if you haven't read Beautiful Chaos, are you?), on to Beautiful Redemption.  Just wow.  After that ending in the third book, I wasn't sure exactly how this book was going to go.  Would it be from Lena's POV? How do you top the third book's ending? How do you change what happened?

Needless to say, this book matched right up with the rest of the series, and, if anything, is even more creative.  Don't worry, the setting is still there (I mean, taking he South and Gatlin out of these books would be worse than killing off a character), but most of this book is told from Ethan's POV.  What? But he's dead! (See, I told you. You have to read the third book first.) Yes, and that's what makes this book so creative.  

I've read lots of books about ghosts or people looking back on their loved ones from beyond, but I don't know that I've ever read one where the person is stuck in the in-between trying to come back. That's basically what this book is.  It's Ethan and Lena working from opposite sides of death to bring him home/back. It could have been a horrible plot device, but it really worked.  Between Amma talking with the Greats to Macon's return and Ethan's dying twice, it's perfectly set up to be an amazing adventure.  Plus, I loved meeting everyone who's already died throughout the series all over again, especially Ethan's mom  (sorry if I gave too much away there, but it happens in the beginning of the book so too bad).

Then there's all the other lovely characters, and they all make one last great appearance.  Link is given a beautiful, shining moment of glory (and by the way, this book made me grateful that I read Dream Dark.  It was fun when I read it, but hardly significant.  Now it is.), and he still makes me laugh.  Ridley is still Ridley, seductive, shallow, and  more complex then I ever imagined in the first book. Macon is as debonair as ever, and Amma . . . I love her more every book.

Then there's Lena and Ethan.  They are apart pretty much the whole book.  I mean, Ethan may see her, and she may get a message from him, but essentially, they're apart.  Some books suffer when this happens, but this one didn't.  At this point they're so solid as a couple, you don't need to see them holding hands and making out to know they're in love.  Everything they do is for the other person, and that's enough. In fact, it's perfect.

Now for the ending. It broke my heart just a little. It didn't quite measure up to Beautiful Chaos, but I don't know how it could have. Still, it's that perfect mix of bitter-sweetness that every book needs.  There is also enough after the climax to satisfy me, to get a glimpse of where the character's lives are heading, and to say a final goodbye.

This book is absolutely 4 stars. It is innovative, while still capturing the feel of the three books before it.  Plus, it was the perfect ending to a great series.  I've been to a lot of different places, but never the South, especially not the Deep South, but this book kind of makes me feel like I have, even though I'm pretty sure there aren't any Casters currently in residence.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Flashback Friday: Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Blessed—or cursed—with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when anisbjorn (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servants. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess. Quoted from Goodreads

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First, I love, love, love retellings of fairytales, or at least the idea.  I admit, some are better than others, but when they're done right, there are few books I like more.  At this point, I think I've read three or four different versions of East of the Sun, West of the Moon (which is what the original fairytale is called) and even seen a movie version, but this one is far and away the one I like best.

I first picked this book up on a whim. I had never heard of Jessica Day George (it was after this book that I read her Dragon Slipper series and loved them) , but the story looked interesting, so I thought I'd give it a try.  I absolutely adored it.  Then I read everything else by her I could get my hands on, but this one is still my favorite.  

There are so many things I love about this story. First, it has loads of similarities to Beauty and the Beast, but instead of just falling in love with the bear, she has to save him.  In so many fairytales the girl is rewarded because of her beauty or goodness, but a prince or a fairy godmother does all the heavy lifting. In this one, she has to travel the world to get him back, and I love that.  Plus, much like Cupid and Psyche's story, it is the girl's own mistake and insecurities that gets her into the problem in the first place.  

With that great premise, you would think that this story couldn't go wrong, but, at least for me, it has.  Several times.  But not this version.  First, this version is probably the most true to the original story.  That could be a down side, but I don't think it is at all. I loved immersing myself in the ice and seeing how Jessica Day George would flesh out the story into a novel.  As the ninth "unwanted" daughter, Jessica  explained why her family would give her up, and in a silent castle, you can easily see how the relationship developed between the Lass and her polar bear. 

That's another thing I enjoyed about this book.  The poor girl doesn't have a name! And in a land where names have power, that's important. It sounds kind of  crazy, but it isn't until the end that we learn what her name is (and by the way, that name wasn't ever given to her by her mother). Speaking of the mother, she belongs right up there with Snow White and Cinderella's stepmothers--I seriously wanted to smack her a few times.

Anyway, for anyone who likes a fairytale retold or a fun, straightforward adventure, you need to pick up this book. I loved it 5 stars worth when I first read it, and years later I haven't changed my mind.   

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Theater Thursday: Divergent

If you've been paying attention to this sort of thing, this news will not be news.  It's been floating all over the place for about a week or so. Still, if you haven't been paying much attention, or at least not paying attention to the things I spend way too much time looking at, you may have missed it.  That is why, this week for my marvelous Theater Thursday, I am going to cover the breaking (or already broken) news that is Divergent the movie.  Here's a quick summary of the book.

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her. Quoted from Goodreads

Here's the thing.  I love this book, so I'm super excited that it's going to be made into a movie. This is the book I recommend to anyone who loves Hunger Games, though I really think it's more along the lines of Tamora Pierce books--small girl everyone underestimates who learns to kick everyone's butt. Sound familiar? So the first order of business, if you haven't read this book you need to read it now. Plus, the second book in the series is already out, so you can have twice the goodness. Unfortunately you'll still have to wait a year for the third one, but isn't anticipation half the fun? I mean, I talked about Harry Potter 10 as much before the last one came out. It isn't that I don't love the series still, because I do, but there's something about anticipating the next great thing that a complete series can never equal. So to recap: Read This Book.

Now on to the theater portion of this blog.  First, the movie has a director. The lovely Neil Burger, who directed The Illusionist and Limitless. Other than that, I don't know much about him, but feel free to do your own research ;)

Next, the have an actress to play Tris.  Here's the thing, I'm not actually sure how I feel about this, but I'm going to hope they know what they're doing.  I admit, my first reaction was NO.  But after reading numerous articles, I'm coming around to the idea.  I mean, she is pretty, but not too pretty to play the character, which is good.  Plus, according to people who have seen The Descendants, she did an amazing job.  Anyway, the actress is Shailene Woodley (who may also be MaryJane in the next Spider Man movie).

For more information, here's Veronica Roth's announcement on her blog.

Now, this movie isn't scheduled to come out until 21 March 2014, so until then, go enjoy the books.  They really are excellent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Valkyrie Rising

Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she’ll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she’s there. 

What Ellie doesn’t anticipate is Graham’s infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect something powerful and ancient to awaken in her and that strange whispers would urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, there’s suddenly a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it’s up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

Deadly legends, hidden identities, and tentative romance swirl together in one girl’s unexpectedly-epic coming of age. Quoted from Goodreads
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First of all, I have a horrible confession to make.  I can't help but picture Loki as anything other than Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers and Thor.  Usually I don't have a problem with this, and half the time Loki in Valkyrie Rising was his own, separate self.  But then the movie would pop back into my head.  Honestly, I don't know why.  Even books like Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables are completely separate from their movie counterpart, but for some reason, Loki is always trying to look like Tom Hiddleston.

Okay, now on to the real review. Norway. Big plus. I love books that take you somewhere else, and Norway was fun, without being a character in the story.  Plus, I feel like the new setting was a big factor in Ellie's growth as a character.  It forced her to be someone separate from Graham's younger sister, at least for awhile, and helped her change.

Now, mythology.  Norse mythology isn't anything new, though it's a nice change from vampires and angels.  I've read dozens of books that draw from their legends, but here's the thing.  None of them have focused on the Valkyrie in particular.  Thor, Odin, the aforementioned Loki, absolutely, but not Valkyrie, and I thought that was a refreshing change. Plus I like how Ingrid Paulson portrayed the Valkyrie as the best and brightest of Odin's army, able to take on anyone or anything and look good doing it.

The thing I liked best about this book though, are the relationships.  I loved Ellie and Graham's relationship.  They are cute, realistic siblings.  They are devoted to each other, yet they fight.  They are protective, almost overly so, but happy to give each other space.  Then there's Tuck, Graham's best friend. And he felt like it. Too often the brother's "best friend" really seems to be closer to the love interest from the beginning, and it comes across almost like they were just using the sibling to get to their sister.  Not that case with Tuck.  In the beginning, he was absolutely Graham first.  It was only as their adventure progressed and he realized he was falling in love with Ellie, that he started to put her first.

And the romance! And the romance! (sorry, that's the thirteen-year-old inside me, coming out) It is absolutely adorable.  It is apparent from the beginning that it's going to happen, so no surprises, but it grew throughout the book, so when you finally get that first kiss, you're as in love with Tuck as Ellie is. 

Now there's the villain. I won't say too much about Astrid, but she was excellent.  Half the time I hated her, and kind of still hate her, but she wasn't just a one note character.  As the book progressed, she became much more dynamic and conflicted.  Maybe it's horrible, but I kind of liked having her beat up Ellie. Not that Ellie deserved it, but part of me was afraid that her new powers would make her the best with no practice or experience.  No dice.  Astrid kicked her butt every time they fought, which perversely makes me happy.  You have to have a strong villain that forces the protagonist step up. I won't give away the end, but it wasn't Ellie's kick-boxing prowess that saved the day, that's for sure.    

There were only one or two little problems I had with the book.  First, there's Hilda, oh, and Hilda. Don't get me wrong, she was a delightfully mysterious character, but I had a few issues. She claims that she was planning on telling Ellie about her heritage over the summer, but it bothers me when people keep secrets like that from a kid as they're growing up, especially with strange powers emerging. Why wouldn't you help the poor girl? From the beginning, even before she goes to Norway, Ellie is showing signs of Valkyrie abilities, but no one thought they should maybe mention that small detail to her? Even after she got there, when she had one week alone without Graham, Hilda doesn't say anything about her heritage and brushes her off when Ellie brings it up. Then Hilda doesn't do anything about all the missing boys until  things have escalated way beyond the point they should have and her grandson is captured.  While I love the story, in my opinion, Ellie should never have really been involved in the first place. Hilda should have stepped up a lot sooner, and knowing what was going on, she should never have let Graham into the country.

For me this book is probably a fun 3 stars. Why, you ask?  Here's the thing.  I liked almost everything about it: characters, setting, pacing, and romance. The problem is I finished it last Saturday.  That's three days, but it kind of feels like I read the book three weeks ago.  Don't get me wrong, I will absolutely read any sequel that comes out, and it was a fun adventure while it lasted, but it didn't stay with me much beyond the last page. Still, check it out.  I could easily see this one being someone's 5 star book.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Amanda Monday: Ruby Red

Earlier this month Rachel posted some books coming out in October (click here).  Among these books was Sapphire Blue, book #2 of the Edelstein Trilogy, and sequel to Ruby Red.  I absolutely cannot wait for this book to come out.  If it's anything like Ruby Red, it will be well worth the LONG wait.  So I thought that for this week's "Amanda Monday", I would introduce the first book in the series, in hopes that you would read it just in time for the next book in the installment to come out.  May you all be as addicted as I am!


Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.   - Quoted from Goodreads
First of all, let me just say that Goodread's summary does not do the best job of captivating how great this book is.  While it does mention time-travel, mystery, and romance, it leaves out secret societies, a deliciously evil villain, magic, and ghosts.  To quote the movie "The Princess Bride",  this book, "has it all."  
But.  None of this would have been enough for me to love this book if I didn't absolutely love Gwyneth herself.  Gwyneth is so like-able because she is absolutely real.  She is smart (without perfect grades).  She is pretty (without that being her greatest asset).  She has friends (and a few "frenemies").  She has the teenage love/annoyed relationship with her family (loves her mom, tolerates her siblings, dislikes her grandma, and is ignored by her cousin).  But most of all, she is confident and funny.  She is the perfect dose of common sense and normalcy to balance out a world that is anything but.
Author Kersten Gier does a marvelous job of creating characters that are both modern and decidedly less so.  I particularly enjoy how Gwyneth interacts with them.  Her modern sensibilities mixed with old-fashioned values and morals held by so many of the people she meets in the past create plenty of funny moments.  Gier also does a good job with weaving a plot around the ever-tricky time-travel factor.  She sets up rules and parameters within the world of time-travel so that the reader does not feel like the plot is contrived.  And the romance?  The villain?  The action?  All excellent.  
This book earns the prized 5-star rating from me, both for how much I like it and how well it's written.  I don't want to oversell it, but, well, I just love it.  Read it, so that when Oct. 30 rolls around, you will be ready for this:


Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: Time Between Us

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that time may knock Bennett back to where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.  Text and Image from Goodreads

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This book could have gone so many ways.  It could have been a time-travel book with a little romance.  It could have been a look into the world of 1995. It could have been a cultural comparison between 1995 and 2012, sort of a timeless vs. trendy. It could have explored the moral dilemma about what, if anything, you should change when you can change history.  Honestly, I kind of wanted a bit more of the above. While it explored all of these a little bit, it is basically a cute romance, with a little bit of everything else thrown in. Don't get me wrong, I like romance. In my opinion, every book should have at least a sprinkling just for fun.  I just wanted a little bit more of the other stuff.

Still, this book is a great read.  First off, I liked visiting 1995 again. I wasn't as old as Anna is, but it was fun to remember life without cell phones or ipods and to revisit the music of the time.  I admit, most of it I didn't recognize because I was a too young, but some of them I did, and others I looked up.  What's the fun of traveling back to 1995 if you can't immerse yourself in the world?  It also made me grateful I wasn't in High School in 1995.  I can hardly imagine planning a trip without the internet.

Yes, this book made me desperately want to travel.  I totally sympathize with Anna, who has her tiny clump of pins stuck in a map on her wall, while she dreams of seeing the world.  Plus, now I want to visit all the places Anna and Bennett visited (basically, Bennett can visit anywhere in the world and take anyone with him. Yes, I am jealous).  They sound amazing. 

Beyond the setting, I really liked all of the characters. I loved Anna's parents, who were always there for her, and her best friends, Emma and Justin.  Then there's Anna and Bennett.  The best part of their relationship and characters is how they complimented each other.  Anna wanted what Bennett always had, and Bennett longs for a life more similar to Anna's. Bennett is the one with the power, so it could have easily been tilted in his favor, but as their relationship progressed, it rarely felt that way. From the beginning he tried to give Anna a choice, and I appreciated that.

What probably frustrated me most about this book was the ending.  Not the ending, ending. that was perfect, but the climax leading up to the ending.  I won't give it away, but it seemed a little contrived to me.  I understand Tamara Ireland Stone wanted Anna to be put in a certain situation and grow from it.  That's great.  I like what she learned and became because of it, and I think it was important. However, I still don't quite buy how it was set up.  No reason was given for why things worked out the way they did, both for good and for bad.  Plus, I felt the story line with the sister needed to be fleshed out a bit more.  It gave Bennett an excuse to be where he was, but it was too easily resolved (dismissed).

All in all, this book was a fun 3 star read. Stone is a good writer, and I look forward to reading more from her.  I loved the time travel aspects and a view into the world of my childhood (wanted more of them).  I liked Anna and Bennett's relationship, and I loved the very end.  Just go into it knowing this book is 3/4 high school romance and 1/4 time traveling adventure, and you'll love it.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Theater Thursday: Austenland

I love Austenland, and was thrilled when I heard they were making it into a movie.  I followed Shannon Hale's blog while she was in England for some of the filming, which was also kind of cool. I feel like I've been waiting for a preview for this movie forever, and they still don't have one.  Nevertheless, I'm still super excited, and I'll share what I know.

First, there's the book. Like almost everyone, I love Jane Austin and her work.  I also entertain spin-offs  (though It depends on the quality.  Most aren't up to par) and I love retellings.  Austenland is one part retelling and one part wish fulfilment, and I thought it was a lot of fun.  Here's a quick summary and the two gorgeous covers.

Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?  Quoted from Goodreads

Doesn't it sound great!  Now to the movie part.  Like I said again, there isn't a preview for this movie. Yet.  Still we have the cast, which looks fabulous, and the few pictures I've seen make me so excited.

Cast

Credited cast:
Keri RussellKeri Russell...
Jane Hayes
JJ FeildJJ Feild...
Mr. Henry Nobley
Jennifer CoolidgeJennifer Coolidge...
Miss Elizabeth Charming
Bret McKenzieBret McKenzie...
Martin
Georgia KingGeorgia King...
Lady Amelia Heartwright
James CallisJames Callis...
Colonel Andrews
Jane SeymourJane Seymour...
Mrs. Wattlesbrook
Ricky WhittleRicky Whittle...
Captain George East

 Courtesy of IMDB @ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1985019/

And here's one final picture of a few of the cast in costume, followed by one of Shannon Hale and Stephanie Meyer (who is producing the film) on location with some of the cast.
http://austenlandmoviefans.tumblr.com/
http://stepheniemeyer.com/otherprojects_austenland.html

To top the whole thing off, Shannon Hale dedicated Austenland to Colin Firth. I thought that was kind of hilarious.  Here's her dedication:

For Colin Firth
You really are a great guy, but I'm married,
so I think we should just be friends.

Isn't that just adorable?  You kind of have to love her after that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: The Sweetest Spell

Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice--first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability--she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one--Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains--no matter what the cost to Emmeline. 

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all. Quoted from Goodreads

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This story is, in a word, sweet.  It's a retelling of the Ugly Duckling, emphasis on retelling, but instead of ducks and swans, you get cows.  Now I grew up on a farm with cows, and when anyone in the book calls them stupid or slow, I absolutely agree with them.  Still, they do save Emmeline's life in the beginning and give her a gift that changes her world, so I put aside the silliness, and really enjoyed the story.

The story sounds sort of simple, and like most fairy tales, it kind of is, but not as much as you might think. The author does a great job of world building.  It starts in the flatlands, which is, as the name suggests, flat, poor, and on the fringes of society.  Then she goes to Wonder, meets, Owen, and realizes how prosperous the rest of the world really is.  From there we get to see the sea-side, the mines, and eventually the palace, but it's not just the places. There are all sorts of inequality, corruption, kindness, and greed. I especially like all the different versions of history Emmaline has to sort through to find the truth. 

The characters are, with one of two exceptions, multi-dimensional.  Not, just Emmaline and Owen, though, I loved them both, but Emmaline's father, Griffin, the Peddler, and even Henry (the one eyed man). I liked Emmaline as a main character.  She is spunky and willing to push through all the hardships she is confronted by. Owen is adorable.  I especially liked that he wasn't the drop dead gorgeous guy that Emmaline started the story liking.  Instead, he's sort of the boy next door.  Lots of girls like him, but he is realistic.

The book moves pretty quickly.  Just as I got settled in one place, something would happen to switch things up. I was thrown for a minute when Owen's point of view suddenly appeared, but I liked it (so now you are warned, there are two points of view in this book.  Be prepared).  It helped increase the tension, because now you have two main characters to worry about.  Plus it's fun to meet the same people from two different points of view.  Don't get me wrong, Griffin will always remind me of a redheaded Gaston (though he becomes much more sympathetic then that character ever did), but I liked seeing him from a girl's point of view vs. a guy's. 

Now to address the chocolate issue.  It sounds silly to say chocolate is worth more than gold, especially today.  In fact, this is kind of what kept me from reading this weeks ago. But. This is the part of the story where you have to suspend your disbelief and remember this is a different world, a world with magic, and, apparently, no cocoa beans.  The thing about the chocolate is, it doesn't really come across as regular chocolate.  I'll happily admit that eating chocolate makes me happy, but it seems to do a bit more than that in this story.  Not only is the chocolate magic, but it seems to make people happy more than chocolate here.  And, really, in a world that only has access to chocolate through one girl, you can see how greed could make or destroy Emmaline.

This book is a delightful 3.5 stars. It's a fun, light read, built upon the bones of the ugly duckling story, but it's so much more. There were elements of Rumplestiltskin, but mostly it came off as it's own, fresh new fairy tale, and I really liked that.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Book Review: The Unfailing Light


Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.    Quoted from Goodreads


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I thoroughly enjoyed this second book in the Katerina trilogy. If you like your historical novels with a paranormal twist, you should absolutely check out this book. I admit I don't know much about Russian history.  I did a project on Anastasia in jr. high, and I took a semester on Stalin and Communism (disguised as World History 111), but that's about it.  I have picked up a few things on Russian Folklore from other books I've read, but much like the Tiger's Curse series, I feel like I'm sort of exploring new territory, and it's kind of fascinating.  

The cool thing about this book is everyone (except Katerina) is a character from Russian history (and even her parents and brother are real).  You can pull up a family tree and there is George and Dariya and Xenia. You can look up their lives and find out what really happened to them.  At the same time, you know things can't go down that same path because in this book you have the political struggle between the Light and Dark Fairy Courts, you have vampires that turn into moths to suck your blood, ghosts, revenants, werewolves, and necromancers.  It's fun to have Russian history retold with a magical twist.

Now for Katerina Alexandrovna. I really sort of love her as a character.  In the end of the first book, she saves Russia, but things don't quite go back to normal.  The thing is, she's a girl, a student even, in 1889 Russia, and so they sort of leave her out of the loop. Sure, she knows more than her friends about what's going on, but not as much as she wants to, so she is always asking questions.  I really like how she pushes the boundaries of her time, but she doesn't (like so, so many books out there) come across as a girl from our time.  Plus, she isn't afraid of facing a problem head on and is even nice to people she can't stand or who try and push her away.

Then there's the lovely George.  What can I say, I kind of, sort of, love him.  He is flawed, and sometimes he irritates me, but that's what's so marvelous about his character. He is absolutely real.  And don't forget Danilo.  I thought he might be gone in this book, but keeps turning up just to keep things interesting.

As for this book, specifically, I really enjoyed it.  It, maybe, suffered from sophomore slump just a little bit, but not much.  The plot, or at least the main danger, isn't quit as good as the first book, but it set it up beautifully for the next one.  Despite the fact that a ghost isn't quite as interesting as revenants and and a vengeful, dead, would-be tzar, I still really enjoyed this book.  I grew frustrated along with Katerina and the situation she found herself in, and  I worried with her about George, the ghost, and when her necromancer powers didn't quite work as she intended. 

The good thing about this book is I found a  lot of the names and places easier to remember.  There are so many people on the Russian family tree and different palaces, I got sort of lost in the first book.  This one is much better. The different places and people are all there, but maybe I'm more familiar because it didn't bother me at all this book. 

All in all, this is a fun 3.5 star book.  It's got your history with a twist, great characters, and a unique setting.  Just a warning, you absolutely have to read the first book before reading this one, though.  If you try and skip ahead, you'll probably end up hopelessly lost.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Review: Mystic City


Aria Rose, youngest scion of one of Mystic City's two ruling rival families, finds herself betrothed to Thomas Foster, the son of her parents' sworn enemies. The union of the two will end the generations-long political feud—and unite all those living in the Aeries, the privileged upper reaches of the city, against the banished mystics who dwell below in the Depths. But Aria doesn't remember falling in love with Thomas; in fact, she wakes one day with huge gaps in her memory. And she can't conceive why her parents would have agreed to unite with the Fosters in the first place. Only when Aria meets Hunter, a gorgeous rebel mystic from the Depths, does she start to have glimmers of recollection—and to understand that he holds the key to unlocking her past. The choices she makes can save or doom the city—including herself. Quoted from Goodreads


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As an idea, this book is utterly and completely amazing.  It has mystery, forbidden love, memory loss, conspiracy, magic, intrigue, and suspense.   As an idea, it totally delivered. It's half Romeo and Juliette meets The Vow set in a futuristic New York, with a few Godfather allusions, haves vs. have nots, and dystopia/sci-fi setting. What more could you want?

The setting was really fun. Basically if you have money, you live at the tops of skyscrapers and never, ever go below to "the Depths," or street level.  Because of Global Warming, the ocean has risen, turning New York into a sort of sweltering Venice, burying most of the streets under water. Plus, there's magic.  Instead of everything running off electricity, mystics are drained of their power and it is used to run the city. I love New York, and while this city is vastly different from New York today, the places are all still there, but oh so different, and I liked getting a new view on what could happen. 

I liked Aria.  I thought she was a brave and handled a bad situation well. She didn't accept her memory loss lying down, yet she didn't push things to the point of stupidity. I also really liked Hunter.  On the outside he is everything she isn't, mysterious, poor, mystic, rebel, etc., yet they are cute together, and you can see why they would fall in love. They are the perfect representatives for their different classes, so it makes their romance all the sweeter because it hi-lights the distance between their respective worlds.

Now nothing would be complete without obstacles.  Number 1, Aria's memory loss.  Most of what she does in this book is to discover exactly what she lost. Beyond that, we have political maneuverings, mob antics, and an unequal city about to explode with political unrest.  Aria has to decide which side she is on, and whether her loyalty to family can trump her own political leanings.

So what am I rating this book?  Honestly, 3 to 3.5 stars.  Like I said, all the ideas in this book are excellent.  There is suspense, heartbreak, intrigue, wonderful setting, and swoon-worthy romance. But. Yes, there it is.  But.  While all the ideas in this book are amazing, some of the execution fell a little flat for me. 

The villains are all one dimensional and utterly unlikable. You wouldn't think the unlikable thing would hurt the book, and I won't give too much away, but because they were so despicable, their betrayal lacked the punch it could have delivered.  They never gave Aria a reason to "join the dark side" as it were, so there was no internal struggle for Aria to face. Despite the mystery, everything was a bit too black and white.

My other problem was the predictability.  It was a fun ride, but the answers to all her questions were obvious long before she figured them out.  There was one, small twist that came as a bit of surprise, but all the big ones? Yeah, I saw those coming from the beginning.

All in all, this book is a light, fun read.  Like I said, the ideas behind it are fabulous, and the main characters are sympathetic. There are some great actions scenes, and I loved discovering the world Theo Lawrence created. I just wish a few things had been set up a little differently, the writing had been a little bit deeper, and the mystery less transparent.