Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor

Posted by amanda on Sep 8th, 2010
Sep 8

I listened to this as an audiobook and it made one heckuva great listen. It was the right mix of action/adventure and gorgeous world building to make one get lost in the listening. If you’ve got a long car trip or a dull commute and you love fairies (not dainty, tea-party fairies, but fierce fairies who are trying to save the world), then this would be a great audiobook for you.

Magpie Windwitch travels the world outside the faerie realm with her band of crows hunting devils that humans seem free from their bottles more often than they should. When the Blackbringr is loosed and threatens the fairie homeland of Dreamdark, Magpie knows that this is no ordinary devil for it was sealed in its bottle by the Djinn King himself. How do you fight a great nothing filled with malicious intent? Magpie is stubborn enough to be the one to try. She will wake the Djinn King and shake the very roots of Dreamdark. She is small, but she is loud, proud and loved by loyal friends.

This book was as fiercely good as its heroine.

Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan

Posted by amanda on Jul 1st, 2010
Jul 1

*** Spoiler Alert ****
If you haven’t read Demon’s Lexicon and think you will (and I think it’s well worth it) then don’t read the following review.

The author said her 2nd book in this series was harder to write than the first. This second book also had me thinking even more than the first – I like to think as a reader.

This is the story of Mae. Mae is the non-magical, human sister of a magician. She’s befriended Alan and his brother, Nick, a demon who’s been raised as a human. Nick cannot lie, but is cruel and inhuman by definition. Alan, in contrast, is kind to a fault, but lies to everyone almost all the time. Mae is drawn to both brothers, though there is no traditional love triangle here. Sibling love seems to rule the day as the two brothers alongside Mae and her brother all try to protect their sibling from magicians and demons alike.

Mae comes to life in this book as a more full-fledged character than in the previous title. This is her book. She tries to figure out her attractions to the boys in her life. She tries to understand her love of the Goblin Market with its magical trade and beautiful dancers who dance to ask favors of demons.

This book had characters with complex motivations and a well articulated magical world. Those who liked the first book will be impressed with this one. I’d also give this to fans of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. 440p., 2010.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Posted by amanda on Mar 22nd, 2010
Mar 22

I finally got around to reading our new Newbery winning book for 2009.

I really enjoyed it as anyone who loved Madeleine L’Engle as a child and early teen would. I still love her, but that’s where the love started. My dad read Wrinkle in Time aloud to me and I was hooked. Rebecca Stead clearly felt the same love of this author in her youth.

I would tell parents who enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife that this is a juvenile book with similar reading appeals. Sure, this was about time travel, but really it is was about life which is made of time. It’s also about that special time of realization that each child experiences when they lift the veil of their childhood world to see the wider world. I’ll join everyone else in highly recommending this title. 208p. , 2009.

Blood Ninja by Nick Lake

Posted by amanda on Mar 14th, 2010
Mar 14

The ninja who sneak about under cover of night are vampires. This gives them their superhuman stealth and strength. Of course!

Nick Lake clearly knows his Japanese culture and it soaks out of this epic story of young Taro who is foretold to be the next shogun. Taro and his devoted friend Hiro travel with the vampire ninja, Shusaku, to hide from the assassination attempts of Lord Oda. There are also revenge plots, sword masters, beautiful & deadly ladies, ancient objects of mythic power, ninja trickery, and plenty of combat.

It took me a chapter or two to become immersed in this ancient Japan where vampires were real. But, once hooked the epic journey of Taro to discover his heritage and avenge his adoptive father had me. I picked it up for the ninja vampires, but will continue reading for the drama, romance, beautiful world and just to see how Taro overcomes all to be the next shogun.
368p., 2009

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Posted by amanda on Dec 22nd, 2009
Dec 22

In an alternative Europe, Darwinists have successful unraveled and recombined the stuff of life to create new animals. The Leviathan is a Darwinist engineered giant dirigible that is primarily sperm whale, but encompasses a whole ecosystem of animals each working to keep the Leviathan military airship aloft. Deryn disguises herself as a boy in order to realize her dreams of flying in the Royal Air Service and serves aboard Leviathan.

Westerfeld reimagines the first world war as a battle between the British and French Darwinists with their genetically engineered animals built for battle and the Austro-Hungarian Clankers with their mechanically advanced tanks and walkers which remind me of creations from the video game Battletech.

Half of the story is told from Deryn’s perspective as she hides her gender to enlist.  The other half is told from the perspective of Alek who is the orphaned child of Archduke Ferdinand whose murder triggers The Great War.  The orphaned Alek hides in the mountains of Switzerland with his trusted advisors hoping to avoid capture or assassination.  When Leviathan is sent on a special mission to carry Darwinist created eggs out of Britain, she crashes bringing Alek and Deryn’s stories together.

This delivered a number of reading pleasures.  I love stories of girls in disguise infilitrating male institutions and Deryn’s story of hiding her identity in order to fly was thrilling.  The Darwinist creatures and clanker tanks were fascinating creations and made for some epic battle scenes.  The larger political intrigue driving the action left mysteries and suspense for the sequels.  If you know something about WWI it is fun to note the changes, but the reader doesn’t need to know that history.  I would recommend this strongly to readers who enjoyed Airborn by Oppel or Airman by Colfer.  It is very different from Westerfeld’s Uglies books, but every bit as well written and enjoyable.  Keith Thompson’s illustrations paired nicely with the text and did not make the book more juvenile for me.  Instead, the illustrations added a coolness and I think teens who enjoy graphic novels will particularly appreciate them.  448p., 2009.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Posted by amanda on Dec 7th, 2009
Dec 7

I was thrilled to see this book on SLJ’s best of the year.   I think it deserves it’s spot.  I would recommend the book widely to teens and to adults addicted to YA lit.   It was one of the more surprising and unique books I read this year.

Micah is the queen of unreliable narrators, but she told you she was a liar right up front.  So, it’s kind of your fault if you believe everything she says.  The story happens in three parts.  There are sections that happen before the brutal killing of Micah’s secret boyfriend, Zach.  Zach has a public girlfriend at school (the popular, wealthy & nice Sarah) and is seeing Micah (a school misfit) on the side.  There are the sections that happen after Zach’s death.  Also, there are sections about Micah’s secret-filled family history.  I will admit I didn’t see Micah’s BIG family secret coming, though the author built in all the details and I certainly could have.  How do you handle the death of someone who was not always a great person?  As rumors fly, students find out Micah was also seeing Zach.  Zach’s best friend and girlfriend both try to connect with Micah recognizing that she feels Zach’s loss, but her lies get in the way.  How does lying poison relationships?  This book raised more questions than it answered, but it left me feeling very satisfied at the end despite that.

This would be a GREAT book discussion book.  The question of how much do you believe what the narrator tells you could fill hours.  I want to find someone who’s read this one to talk with soon.

Since it is written in small sections that build it’s a good book for reluctant readers, but not for those with lower reading ability because of the way you need to keep track of Micah’s lies and all the pieces of the puzzle.  That is to say, this is a very complex novel in bite sized pieces, perfect for a reader who goes for quick reads but is capable of more.  I’d love to give it to the Gossip Girl reader looking for a book report book.  It also isn’t for readers who can’t handle ambiguity or an ending that isn’t wrapped neatly.  So, unlike some books I’d say this one is for high schoolers and college kids.  It really resonates for those who have been in the social hell that high school can create.  It put me back in that place, though certainly I didn’t have a secret relationship with someone who was murdered.  But, I did wonder where I stood with my friends and my family the way Micah does.  Also, the author does not avoid sex or swearing though she does treat them with a realism that feels respectful.  I’d be happy to give this one to my daughter in her teen years.  371p., 2009

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

Posted by amanda on Oct 27th, 2009
Oct 27

While her twin brother is born the 7th son of a 7th son which makes him magically powerful and lucky, Eff is born thirteenth which means she is certain to poison the lives of those around her.  Eff’s is made miserable by her cousins and Uncle Earn who believe that her parents should not have kept an unlucky thirteenth child.  Her parents decide to move the family west to the frontier in part to get Eff away from the taunts of those who know she is a 13th child and in part because the father of the family has the opportunity to become a professor of magic at a new land grant college.  The frontier borders the wild west which in Wrede’s alternate world is populated with dangerous magical creatures.  Settlers into the West take along magicians trained to protect them from magical wildlife and sometimes settlements fall to attack by steam dragons or mammoths.  The plot chronicles Eff’s school days, the dramas of her siblings especially two older sisters’ marriages, the difficulties of being sister to a magically gifted twin, and Eff’s worries that her unlucky magic will harm those around her.

Eff grows from childhood to young adulthood during the course of this book.  The scope of her growth and the setting reminded me of older books like Anne of Green Gables (who is also just sure she’ll never be able to be good) and the collected Little House books.  Eff’s family is loving and supportive, but ultimately she must figure out her own troubles controlling her magical abilities.  I very much enjoyed this alternate pioneer version of the American West and Wrede’s heroine.  The details of Eff’s family life (she has a lot of family as a thirteenth child including many older siblings with dramas of their own) and the richly imagined magical world made this a delight to read.  While “Aphrikan” magic is respected and there are black characters in the book, Native Americans are conspicuously absent in this alternate vision of a magical American frontier.  This is a quieter fantasy than some swashbuckling dragon stories, but just as rich in its vision.  344p., 2009

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Posted by amanda on Oct 16th, 2009
Oct 16

Shiver is a supernatural romance that is being promoted as the next thing for Twilight fans to read.

It’s about werewolves, not vampires and it’s tone is very different from Meyer’s Twilight.

Sam is a sensitive werewolf who suffers the burden of knowing his time as a human is growing short.  Stiefvater’s werewolves respond to temperature turning wolf in the fall and returning to human form in the spring.  Werewolves find their summers in human form grow shorter each year until one year they remain wolves and stop shifting at all.

Grace is underappreciated by her often absent parents and obsessed with the wolf pack in the woods by her house – especially the wolf she feels is her wolf.  The wolf who watches her and comes each winter.  She was bitten by wolves as a child and rescued by the wolf she will come to know is Sam.

The story builds slowly in chapters that are sometimes from Grace’s perspective and sometime’s from Sam’s.  Grace and Sam have a secret relationship.  Sam is deeply damaged by his parents attempt to kill him when they realized his werewolf condition was permanent.  A newly created werewolf is angry and stalking the school and his old human haunts posing a risk for all he comes in contact with.  Sam spends time trying to keep the new werewolf in check and trying to stay human so he can have as many moments with Grace as possible.

Sam is fragile and damaged and needs protecting.  He is so far from Edward Cullen it’s almost funny.  While Edward is powerful and the boy every girl in school wants but can’t have, Sam is the boy who has no powers he can control and who no one but Grace even knows exists.  This supernatural romance was quieter and the school side of the story didn’t feel as real as the moments Sam and Grace spend alone together or when Sam connected to his pack.

I think this book is better suited to readers who liked Kindl’s Owl in Love than those who reveled in Meyer’s Twilight.  At moments, it felt underdeveloped for me but on the whole an inventive supernatural romance.

Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart

Posted by amanda on Sep 2nd, 2009
Sep 2

Ruby has too many boys vying for her attention and it is causing her troubles with her girl friends. If she could sort her feelings out, which is proving hard, she’d realize artistic Noel is the boy she really would like to date. Unfortunately, her splendid friend, Nora, has been crushing on Noel for forever and has specifically asked Ruby to not steal him. It doesn’t feel like Ruby can find happiness without hurting someone and the result is panic attacks in the hallways of high school.

Ruby aka Roo makes me feel sympathy for a girl who has too many boys interested in her and panics about what to do to keep her friends and what’s left of her reputation. Given that this was not so much my high school experience (I was more like Roo’s friend Nora often in a state Roo describes as “Noboyfriend”), it is impressive that Ruby’s troubles resonated with me. I love the details and humor. Even secondary characters like Roo’s parents feel real. One particularly funny bit – Roo does not like the sound of puberty and decides to use the phrase “mocha latte” which sounds much nicer instead. This leads to her realization that the sophomore boys have gotten cuter since they’ve gotten through mocha latte and makes her bemoan how much simpler life was before mocha latte. Lockhart is very funny and Ruby’s dilemmas make a great read. The ending is happy, but does not oversimplify which pleased me.

While part of a series, I think the book stands well on it’s own (I hadn’t read Ruby’s other stories before picking this up). Though once read, it makes me want to go back and read more about Ruby. 244p., 2009.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Posted by amanda on Aug 25th, 2009
Aug 25

The sequel to Hunger Games leaves me feeling like I’ve been rubbernecking. Everything that happens to the heroine, Katniss, is so awful but I just can’t tear my eyes away.  

In a dark, future world, Districts 1 -12 are left in poverty while supplying the Capitol with a lavish lifestyle.  In order to remind the Districts of their place, each year tributes, usually children, are sent to the Hunger Games to compete in an arena of tortures from which there will be only one survivor.  This event is televised as a grand spectacle of reality entertainment.  Katniss by competing in the only Hunger Games ever to have two winners has unwittingly become a symbol of the rebellion that is beginning in the Districts.  Everyone she loves is now in danger from the Capitol and she finds herself back in the arena to compete against other Hunger Games victors.

As the middle of a series, this book left me wishing the next one weren’t so darned far off. Collins has made me care for her characters deeply and I am unsettled not to know that they will be okay. It seems impossible they will all make it to the end of the series.  391p. ARC Copy, 2009.

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