Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review or Critique, Which is it?

Budroe over at Writing.com has written a really wonderful article about the difference between reviewing a book and critiquing it.

I think this is something EVERY book blogger should check out.

Budroe goes in depth on the difference between the Review, in which one looks at the qualities of a book from a reader's standpoint, vs. the Critique, in which one examines a book from the viewpoint and expertise of a writer.

Obviously I write reviews.

I am in no way qualified to give any writer an in depth critique of their work... nor would I want to. Everything I write and rate on my blog is based purely on my own opinion as a reader, and each review is a description of what I took away from the book (as well as usually a list of characters and who they were, just for my own sake of having one somewhere... you have no idea how hard it is to find comprehensive lists of characters -_-)

When I write a review, unless there is something technically jarring (and it's got to be pretty darn jarring for me to notice it), I usually won't mention it. I sometimes talk about how well the prose flow, but for me, that's part of the reading experience. I'll also sometimes mention something technical, writing-wise, that pulls me out of a story, but again, it was part of the reading experience for me, so I mention it.

I do this for fun, and I do this for myself... to have a journal of what I've read with more detail jotted down than I likely would have remembered just from recall a few years later.

I don't network my blog to get my stuff seen, I do it because being connected to all of these other readers and authors offers me a wider perspective on what is being released, and what is going on in the literary world. I've learned about dozens and dozens of books that I'm pretty sure I never would have heard of or looked at, and it's all because of book blogging.

I am eternally grateful to the blogging community for helping me stay connected, for keeping up on the trends, and for keeping up on news that I just don't have the time to always seek out myself.

Also, just as a side note, I found this article because it was linked to a manga review in which someone left a comment slamming the reviewer, saying:
Was this written by a preteen? There’s no critical view, no actual structure or argument or thesis, just “i like this” and “then this happened, then this happened, ooh those characters look naughty.” It’s posts like this which make it difficult to take HU seriously, especially the slew of scornful posts on Eddie Campbell’s critical abilities. Not that I agree with Campbell but how is HU any different in being fanboying dressed up as criticism? Certianly not with insipid posts like this.

Now, for me, when I read reviews, I want to hear the "I like this" and the fanboy/girling... for me, that's what reviews are about, public opinions... and that's why I think Budroe's article on review vs. critique is so good... it really points it all out in a very concise way.

I think it is up to us as readers and bloggers to get to know the people who are writing these blog reviews, so that we can better judge how well their opinions mesh with our own.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Scent of Magic
Book 2 in the Healer Series
by Maria V. Snyder
I'm confessing right now, these books (as in, ANY Maria V. Snyder book) are my guilty pleasures. Are they the best stories in the world? No. Are the main characters terrible Mary Sues? Yes. But are they fun and fast reads anyways? Hell yes. If you're looking for the most beautiful, amazing fantasy you've ever read, this isn't it. If you're looking for a fun, fast read in which you can sit back and just enjoy a goofy story... this is for you. I would absolutely send these books along and share them with people I know would enjoy them. Are they the people who read things like Tolkien or George R. R. Martin? Abercrombie or Cook? No. Are they the kind of people who enjoy authors like Condie, Meyers and Evonavitch? Yes, and that is not a criticism.

If you have not read TOUCH OF POWER (BOOK 1)
do not read this review, there are spoilers.

Amazon Synopsis:
As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomaniacal King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confidant, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.
Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon's opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon's most horrible creations yet: an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.
War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible…again.

 Avry: Main character, and as the last line of the the synopsis implies... a bit of a Mary Sue. I have to admit, so far I enjoy Avry... despite Snyder repeatedly writing dreadful Mary Sue girls, they are usually likeable, which is their saving grace. I feel like Avry is a bit more toned down than some of Snyder's other heroines... but then, this is only book 2.

Kerrick: The leading man, Prince of his own realm, mage of the forest and all around smouldering love interest. He's off having adventures of his own this time, and I appreciated the split chapters.
Noelle: Avry's sister, introduced in book 1 as blaming Avry for abandoning her... a big part of Avry's mission in this book is winning back her sister's love.

Tohon: Still a dick.

Ryne: The prince that Avry risked her life for in the last book spends his time earning it this book. Ryne is still a bit of a vague character, but he is likeable.

Belen: Ol' Papa Bear returns and you find yourself enjoying his company once again.

The Monkeys: Now assigned to guard Prince Ryne, the Monkeys really haven't changed... at all.

Ursin: Leader of "The Jumping Jacks", one of Estrid's troup of soldiers, he is the first one that Avry really deals with as she tries to be covert, but he's got a secret of his own that doesn't help her stealthiness at all.

Estrid: Leader of the main army opposing Tohon. She seems fair and intellegent, even if she's got a bit of over the top religious fervor.

Cellina: Tohon's lackey

Noak: Son of the leader of the people from the Wilderness. He takes Kerrick and Danny prisoner. He also has a strange "Winter Magic" that he uses against Kerrick.

Danny: Young boy rescued by Avry in the last book, has healing potential because he survived the Death Lily Toxin. Sneaks along with Kerrick, thus getting Kerrick in a lot of trouble, but proves useful as a non-magical healer, because he wants to follow in Avry's footsteps.

Rakel: Noak's sister, has mysterious "Summer Magic"

Yet another fun, quick romp through one of Snyder's worlds... this book is a fast read and for the most part, enjoyable.
The book starts out with Avry and Kerrick parting ways. At the end of the first book, we saw Avry survive the "unsurvivable" and learn that the Lilies had more of a part to play than anyone realized. Kerrick is going to reunite with Ryne and get the army moving while Avry is going to find her sister and go undercover in the world, since it's now believed she's dead.
Kerrick ends up in the North, facing an invasion from the Wildmen, and finding out that what he thought to be true might not be.
Avry, on the other hand, takes up her mother's name and becomes a Sergeant in Estrid's army, where she's quickly outed as having magic and being a healer. As is the way with most of Snyder's leading ladies, subtle isn't really her thing.
This story spends a lot of time without a lot of action. There are extensive training sequences, and a lot of "putting the pieces in place", but other than that, not much really happens until the very end. There is a constant referring to the fact that Tohon has *got* to have spies in camp, but no real effort to figure out who they might be. People who were pretty evil in the last book seem a bit distracted in this one, and in general everyone is pretty forgiving of Avry, since they're mainly just glad she's alive (whether because they were her friend, or because she is the last known healer EVER). 
More strange things occur with the lilies, some of which I'm not entirely clear on myself... and then there is "the death". The author kills off a character and I'm going to be honest... I don't understand why. Unless there's going to be some magical resurrection, which I don't think there is. It was just such a pointless death... and I have to wonder, IS there a plan, or did the author just get sick of writing that angle of the plot? It seemed unfinished. Based on reading Snyder's other stories, I could make a comment here... because this is a "death" that she seems to fall back on a lot, to try to really make the reader feel for the main character... but this time I just didn't buy it. It was too ill-placed in the story, too abrupt and really, it made the whole earlier story and anything referencing the relationship just seem like a real waste of my time. In other words, it pissed me off, but not in an "invested, emotional reader" way. More like in a "Wow, what a waste of time" way... and that's never good.
There were also some really, really, really awful cheesy lines. One that comes to mind, "My man has eyes that change colors with the seasons"... or something equally vomit-worthy. This happens a couple of times in the books, and I couldnt' help but thing, "Ew... would Avry really say that? And people didn't laugh at her?" I don't know... it's just over-the-top stuff like that where I really think Snyder is missing the mark on being a great author vs. a guilty pleasure read.

All in all, though, it's still a fun fast read, and I'll be picking up the next one on April 1st. The stories are cute, and the time investment is small, so yeah, despite my grumblings... Snyder is going to win my hard earned dollars in the end, because it's still a fun, fast romp through girlie fantasy fiction. 

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Welcome to another edition of "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?"
Click the image above to join in the linky fun!

Well, seeing as how I just picked this book up this morning, and it's one I've been
saying for quite some time, "I'm going to read!"

This week I'm reading:
39 Clues
Book 1:
The Maze of Bones
by Rick Riordan

Amazon Synopsis:
Minutes before she died Grace Cahill changed her will, leaving her decendants an impossible decision: "You have a choice - one million dollars or a clue."

Grace is the last matriarch of the Cahills, the world's most powerful family. Everyone from Napoleon to Houdini is related to the Cahills, yet the source of the family power is lost. 39 clues hidden around the world will reveal the family's secret, but no one has been able to assemble them. Now the clues race is on, and young Amy and Dan must decide what's important: hunting clues or uncovering what REALLY happened to their parents. 

I've been curious about this series for a while, and *really* wanted to start reading it when I learned that Rick Riordan wrote the first one... so, here goes nothing!

What did I finish last week?

Scent of Magic
Book 2 in the Healer series
by Maria V. Snyder

Amazon Synopsis:
As the last Healer in the Fifteen Realms, Avry of Kazan is in a unique position: in the minds of friends and foes alike, she no longer exists. Despite her need to prevent the megalomaniacal King Tohon from winning control of the Realms, Avry is also determined to find her sister and repair their estrangement. And she must do it alone, as Kerrick, her partner and sole confidant, returns to Alga to summon his country into battle.
Though she should be in hiding, Avry will do whatever she can to support Tohon's opponents. Including infiltrating a holy army, evading magic sniffers, teaching forest skills to soldiers and figuring out how to stop Tohon's most horrible creations yet: an army of the walking dead—human and animal alike and nearly impossible to defeat.
War is coming and Avry is alone. Unless she figures out how to do the impossible…again.

Read my review HERE.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Weird Girl Reading List: 10 of the Best Outsider Books for Teenagers from Flavorwire

Check out this interesting article from Flavorwire that offers 10 alternatives to mainstream YA novels:


And just for the sake of being concise, here's a list of the books they're recommending... click on the article link to find out more about each one:

1. The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich
2. Weetzie Bat, Francesca Lia Block
3. Rose of No Man’s Land, Michelle Tea
4. No One Belongs Here More Than You, Miranda July
5. The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits
6. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
7. Vida, Patricia Engel
8. Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
9. Out, Natsuo Kirino
10. Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans

Of this list, I have only read Out by Natsuo Kirino, but it was definitely an interesting, strange book that I would recommend. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Natsume's Book of Friends Volume 1

Natsume's Book of Friends
Volume 1
Art and Story by Yuki Midorikawa
I give this one 4 Squeed, because while I enjoyed the story, and would probably share it around to the right reader... the artwork isn't spectacular so there isn't anything to draw me back to stare at the pages. I have a feeling my enjoyment of this series will really depend on where it goes in later volumes, and how much it deviates from other anime/manga of this type.
So far it's cute, but not totally unique or exquisite.

Amazon Synopsis:
With friends like these, enemies are overkill. R to L (Japanese Style). Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he is a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko. Takashi Natsume can see the spirits and demons that hide from the rest of humanity. He has always been set apart from other people because of his gift, drifting from relative to relative, never fitting in. Now he is a troubled high school student who has come to live in the small town where his grandmother grew up. And there he discovers that he has inherited more than just the Sight from the mysterious Reiko.

Natsume Main character, Grandson of Reiko. Has the ability to see Yokai and is in possession of the Book of Friends, a book containing the names of the Yokai that seek him out. He is a bit of a loner and standoffish, but still incredibly likeable, although his agreement with Nyanko is a bit dubious.
Reiko Natsume's Grandmother, the creator of the book of friends, and the cause of all of Natsume's problems. From the gist of it, she didn't seem all that nice, using the Yokai to alleviate her own boredom.
Nyanko Fat little Kitty Yokai, he's been sort of physically combines with the "Good Luck" statue he inhabited for years. He's made a deal to take the book of friends from Natsume when Natsume dies... and until then Nyanko is acting as his guide in returning the names of the Yokai in the book.
Yokai The spirits and demons that seek Natsume out, thinking he's Reiko, as they look to get their names, and their freedom back. Mostly they just all seem really lonely.

So far, I have to admit, I'm not quite sure what Nyanko is doing. It seems to me that under the deal he made, it would be better for him, power-wise, to knock Nastume off earlier rather than later... but that doesn't appear to be his motivation. Nastume, on the other hand, I totally understand. His Grandmother seems like a real piece of work, and he's left cleaning up the mess for no other reason than he was cursed with the same gift she was, and with her worldly possessions after she passed. Thanks, Grandma. :P Being without parents, Natsume is just trying to fly under the radar and not be "weird"... something that he often is since he can see Yokai everywhere. So far, I'm rooting for him and his good intentions.

The artwork in Natsume's Book of Friends isn't the most solid I've seen. It's a looser style... but the expressions are often fun and dynamic, and the poses the little Yokai are often found in are pretty amusing. This isn't a series I would have ever picked up on artwork alone, but the story is strong and enjoyable, and the artwork is cute.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Nixies Song

Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Nixie's Song
By Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

A fun little romp back into the world of Spiderwick, I think the concept of this book is just the kind of thing that gets kids using their imagination. The cameo of the authors is pretty funny. Absolutely a book I would read again, and share, and most importantly, read TO children, and encourage them to read themselves.

Amazon Synopsis:
The Spiderwick Chronicles leave the old-fashioned charm of New England far behind and head south for some fiendish faerie fun in the hot Florida sun. Eleven-year-old Nicholas Vargas only thinks his life has been turned upside down after his developer father remarries and moves his new wife and daughter into the soon-to-be completed Mangrove Hollow.

But an "expedition" to a nearby lake turns up a little nixie with a giant problem - the huge, lumbering, fire-breathing variety - and it's up to Nick; his stepsister, Laurie; and his big brother, Julian (plus a familiar face from the original Spiderwick Chronicles) to figure out the best way to stop a host of rampaging giants before all of Florida goes up in smoke.

Nick Varcas ~ The main character, Nick narrates the story. He's just found himself with a new mother and stepsister (Laurie). Nick is an honest kid with a realistic outlook on his own place in the social pecking order. He's pissed off about having to give up his room for Laurie, and all in all, he's taking the barrage of new sister and new mother pretty well, in my opinion, especially when he's given the task of spending his time getting Laurie acclimated.
Laurie Varcas ~ The new stepsister in the Varcas house, Laurie seems kind of like a nerd, she's gangly and believes in faeries and magic. Don't be fooled though, Laurie isn't quite as square as she seems... and when reality hits, it hits her hard. She finds out quickly that fairytales aren't all cute and cuddly endings.
Julian Varcas ~ Nick's older brother, hasn't really come into play much other than giving them a lift to a bookstore. More of a jock type.
Taloa ~ The Nixie who enlists Nick and Laurie to help her find her kin.
Mr. Varcas ~ Nick and Julian's Dad, Laurie's stepdad, he's building a neighborhood in the area where all this is taking place, and he seems unreasonably harsh on Nick a few times, considering what a good kid Nick is supposed to be.
Charlene Varcas ~ Nick and Julian's new stepmom, Laurie's mom... she really hasn't come into the story too much yet.
Others ~ There were of course other characters, but I think they're better left undescribed, as they are fun little surprises in the book.

Being a middle grade book, this is a quick, adorable read. I was thrilled to see characters come back from the original series, as well as the introduction of new characters. There is also the addition of having the authors as characters in the book... unhelpful ones at that, which is great. For me, this addition of the real world (as well as the plugging of their Field Guide) really just adds to the fun and magic of the series. Brilliant marketing campaign? Well, yeah... but when you're a kid, you don't look at things that way, you look at this story, about faeries, and then you see all this supporting text, and you see the results of what happens when you try to find people who know something about it... and you know this magic is real, and you're just on your own. It's really pretty brilliant. I am all for keeping the magic in the world for kids as long as possible, and I think The Spiderwick Chronicles does an amazing job at this.
The story itself is pretty simple, but like the original Spiderwick Chronicles, has room to layer and layer and layer other stories around it. You can already tell that Laurie and Nick are in deeper than they even know, and the shocking ending of this first book really points out the facts that faeries aren't cute.
This is a great book to encourage kids to read on their own, or to read to them. There is opportunity to really get into the voicing and have fun with it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

20 Obsolete English words that should make a comeback

Seeing as how we're all lovers of words around here, I thought some of you might enjoy this article from Matador Network:

Photo © Liz West


Waiting On Wednesday (plus book recommendations from George R. R. Martin)

It's time for Waiting on Wednesday!
To participate in Waiting on Wednesday yourself, 
please click the image above to be taken to the post with the Linky.

This Wednesday I am psyched to be waiting for:

by Mary Roach

Release Date: April 1, 2013

Amazon synopsis:

The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.
“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions explored in Gulp are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of—or has the courage to ask. We go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a fecal transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal. With Roach at our side, we travel the world, meeting murderers and mad scientists, Eskimos and exorcists (who have occasionally administered holy water rectally), rabbis and terrorists—who, it turns out, for practical reasons do not conceal bombs in their digestive tracts. Like all of Roach’s books, Gulp is as much about human beings as it is about human bodies.

and am currently reading Spook...
and I have to say, so far, I'm in love with Roach's books.
They explore serious, often disturbing subject matter in a respectful,
yet humorous way.

And since this is the "Waiting On" entry to my blog,
I thought I'd throw in this link to George R. R. Martin's livejournal,
in which he gives an extensive list of books to read
while you wait for his next book, lol!

George R. R. Martin says CHECK THESE BOOKS OUT!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mistle Child by Ari Berk

 The Mistle Child
By Ari Berk
 This is my highest rating for a book. It marks a book I found beautiful in prose, a book I just can't stop thinking about, a book I would absolutely read again.

 Amazon Synopsis:
In life, in death: family remains.
    Silas Umber has finally come into his own as the Undertaker of Lichport when a mysterious invitation calls him beyond the marshes to Arvale, the ancestral manor of the Umbers. There, his extended family endures, waiting for a living Undertaker to return and preside over the Door Doom, an archaic rite that grants a terrible power to summon and bind the dead in judgment.
    As Silas assumes the mantle of Janus, the Watcher at the Threshold, deep below the earth in the catacombs and sunken towers, grim spirits grow restless at his arrival--hungry for freedom and eager for vengeance against a family with a long history of harsh judgments. Now, Silas must right an ancient wrong and accept that even a house of ghosts can be haunted by its past--for in matters of family, we are who we were.
    Delving deeper into the haunting world of ghosts, ancestors, and eldritch lore, Ari Berk returns to the series that Publisher's Weekly calls "thought-provoking gothic fantasy," with a style the School Library Journal praises as "reminiscent of the classic gothic works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson."

Silas ~ Main character. In the last book he was looking for his lost father. This time around, Silas is trying to remember something he's forgotten (with the help of some friends, unbeknownst to him). He is also on a mission to answer the call of Arvale, the ancestral Umber family home that exists both in our world, and in others.
Lars Umber ~ Silas's guide through Arvale, only other living person in Arvale that Silas has come across. Lars is keeping secrets of his own though, and repeatedly states that he cannot return to Lichport.
Beatrice ~ Ghost in millpond, Silas's love interest
Jonas Umber ~ Ancestor of Silas, helps him become Janus
Maud Umber ~ Ancestor of Silas, helps him become Janus, the one who called him to Arvale in the first place, she is one of the older spirits of the house.
Ottoline ~ Silas's mysterious cousin, living at the "Summer House" within the grounds gates of Arvale with the other cousins. It's a good thing Silas never got around to dining with them.
Mother Peale ~ An elderly woman, and one of the Narrows Folk (the Narrows being the part of town filled with people of the sea) Mother Peale is an old friend of Silace’s father and wise in the ways of those who have remained to wander the streets of this haunted town.
Mrs. Bowe ~ A close friend of Amos Umber, Mrs. Bowe is a source of knowledge and support for Silas as he tries to walk in his father’s footsteps. She lives in a house connected to Silas's, and in this book, she and Silas have had a falling out, although she is still trying to protect him.
Dolores Umber ~ Silas's mother, and much more likeable in this book than the last. For being in the book so very little, she plays a pivotal role twice.
Cabel Umber ~ An Umber ancestor living in Arvale, Silas makes a pact with him before knowing all the details.

Where last time around (in Death Watch) we were introduced to Lichport and its odd inhabitants, this time around we are introduced to more of the Umber family through the estate of Arvale.
In the beginning of the book, Silas is summoned to Arvale by a messenger sent by one of his ancestors, Maud. Her exact motives aren't clear, although she wails about a child.
Where Death Watch dealt heavily in paternal matters, Mistle Child deals constantly with maternal ones. Everywhere you turn there are mothers surrounding Silas. Male voices are drowned out by the needs of the mothers in this story... and sometimes even the voices of reason are drowned out as well.

Since Silas spends a good portion of the book in a sort of "World Between", the Death Watch itself is rarely utilized. Instead we find ourselves introduced to strange, mysterious objects of power to which we are given passing hints about what they might be. We are introduced to the strange inhabitants of Arvale. In particular I love the cousins who reside at the Summer House. They are almost exactly as I imagined them, if not a bit less malicious than I would have expected. It does make me even more curious about the Umber lineage, though.

Silas spends a lot of time in action, getting done what he came there to do, without really knowing what he was doing at all. While I kind of felt like he was taking some big chances, at the same time, it's good to remember that Silas is a teen, and therefore prone to making rash decisions, especially when people try to keep him from them.

The only complaint I have is that this book was too short. Length is not a detriment to the YA novel when you have the world building capabilities, and luxurious vocabulary of Ari Berk.

I find that I should also note that the one part of the book that has lodged itself in my brain is one tiny, odd little chapter about a stone lion. It was an aside that pointed out how quickly our mark on the world can be destroyed... and how callously. How, even when things are set in stone, they are still subject to change. The chapter niggles at my mind, I find my thoughts drifting back to it. I want to know if there is a true history there, what it references, where this little lion came from, to see his way onto the pages of the book.

Another beautiful, haunting novel from Ari Berk... and while I would have loved it to be longer, well, that's just me being greedy. I'll take what I can get, and revel in the fact that there is more yet to come.

Click the image below to purchase this book from Amazon
(I am in no way affiliated with Amazon... I just really think people should buy this book)

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm joining this weeks
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 
meme over at Book Journey

Click the image below to join in the fun:

 Recently finished and reviewed:

Mistle Child by Ari Berk

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

So, here's what I'm reading this week:

by Mary Roach
The best-selling author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers now trains her considerable wit and curiosity on the human soul. What happens when we die? Does the light just go out and that's that—the million-year nap? Or will some part of my personality, my me-ness persist? What will that feel like? What will I do all day? Is there a place to plug in my lap-top?" In an attempt to find out, Mary Roach brings her tireless curiosity to bear on an array of contemporary and historical soul-searchers: scientists, schemers, engineers, mediums, all trying to prove (or disprove) that life goes on after we die. She begins the journey in rural India with a reincarnation researcher and ends up in a University of Virginia operating room where cardiologists have installed equipment near the ceiling to study out-of-body near-death experiences. Along the way, she enrolls in an English medium school, gets electromagnetically haunted at a university in Ontario, and visits a Duke University professor with a plan to weigh the consciousness of a leech. Her historical wanderings unearth soul-seeking philosophers who rummaged through cadavers and calves' heads, a North Carolina lawsuit that established legal precedence for ghosts, and the last surviving sample of "ectoplasm" in a Cambridge University archive.

by Colin Meloy

Prue McKeel's life is ordinary. That is, until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland. No one's ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.
So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval—a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much greater as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness. A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Feature and Follow Friday #139

Alison Can Read Feature & Follow

 This weeks question:

Q: What is a book you didn't like that all your friends raved about or what book did you love that wasn't popular?

 What book didn't I like that everyone was raving about?

There was so much love for that book, it was even on NPR's list of 100 books for Young Adults last year... so I read it, and from the reviews, I expected great things, and what I ended up with was a boat load of disappointment.

I'm not saying there weren't aspects of that book I enjoyed. I think Ms. Blake did a truly excellent job writing up the horror scenes. They were vividly described and managed to etch their haunting imagery in my mind for hours, days and weeks after I'd read the book.

Unfortunately, that's where my enjoyment ended. There were situations that were just *too* convenient for me to be able to enjoy this story (feel free to check out the link to my review above), and the main character was really kind of an a-hole... but not the endearing kind.

 What book did I love that wasn't that popular?

 The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

This one is simple. It's a series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell called The Edge Chronicles. This is probably one of the most twisted, wicked Middle Grade series I've ever read. The illustrations are gruesome and beautiful, the writing is engaging and vivid, and the world created is full of history and depth. I've read 1-9 of this series, which follow three different characters. I plan on going back and rereading all 9 of the first books before I attempt the last one, which is supposed to wrap up the stories of all three main characters.
Now, admittedly, I have no idea how the initial book in this series was received, I wasn't really following book blogs back then, but I was when the last book came out, and I can honestly say I didn't see anyone mention it anywhere (I didn't even know the book HAD come out, I found it by happy accident in the book store). Now, maybe I was just following the wrong blogs, but in my opinion, this series is shamefully under-sung, and deserves much more hype than I've ever seen it get.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

This book is a sequel to The Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor.
If you have not read The Daughter of Smoke & Bone, do not read this review.

 Days of Blood and Starlight
by Laini Taylor
Rating: 5 Squeeds
I loved this book, and I will keep it on my shelves to one day read it again.

Synopsis (via Amazon):
Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is--and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

What I thought:

The following is a quote by Robin Hobb taken from Laini Taylor's blog:

(Robin Hobb): Fantasy allows us to drop all our baggage and look at the big questions in the world with no preconceived loyalties. If I invent a world with two battling religions and neither one is yours or your friend’s, you can look at the conflict and think about it in an unbiased way. If we look at slavery in a way that has nothing to do with race or racial guilt or U.S. history, I think we can perceive more about what it does to both a slave and the ‘owner’ of the slave and the world it creates. Sweep the stage clear and set out the conflict anew, and you may end up surprised with who you are rooting for. Sort of like taking two football teams, and stealing all their jerseys and team equipment, and sending them out to play against each other as unidentified teams. Imagine a big bowl game in which you didn’t know who was playing or who you would normally root for. That’s what fantasy does to life.

Days of Blood and Starlight deals with exactly that, "The Big Questions". 

Through this richly built world, we are allowed to see that not everything in war is black and white. While we have great sympathies for Karou and her people, at the same time, her methods, and the methods of her "superiors" are reprehensible.  Even as Karou carries out Thiago's wishes, she can feel it, the weight of what she's doing, and how wrong it is... but she is driven by a need for atonement and revenge that outweighs her feelings of disgust at her own actions.

We watch characters struggle with what they are told is "right" and what they feel in their hearts to be right. We watch as they defy their leaders to embark on suicidal missions, rather than allow the helpless to be slaughtered. There is no true angel and no true beast in this novel, because each side has a little heaven and a little hell mixed into it, regardless of how we might let their looks define them.

For me, the end of this book is the most shocking and terrifying of all, because now that we have watched this world unfold, and seen what has been wrought by both sides of this war... the action is taken to our world, where I do not doubt that our own prejudice will cause even greater problems.
I am incredibly curious to see how far Laini Taylor will go in exploring this new aspect of her story. Will this be a Pullman revisited? Will we see a "god" die? Will we be South Americans looking at Spanish Conquistadors? Impressed and awed for but a moment as we struggle through our initial confusion... trying to align belief with reality?

One thing is for sure, it will not be a smooth ride.