Wednesday, December 17, 2014

YA fantasy primer

Traditionally, fantasy has been written by men for male readers, though women enjoy them too. With YA fantasy, it's usually female writers gearing their books toward women/teens. Some of the things I love best about this is because a) they generally feature strong women, or female protags who become strong and more independent over the course of the book; b) I want a little romance with my fantasy, dang it; and c) they're just plain good reads.

So here are a few of my favorite fantasy books and series for YA readers:

1. Goose Girl series by Shannon Hale: An interesting feature of this series is that each book follows the story of a different character. (The fourth book, Forest Born, is my second favorite in the series.) Another of her great fantasy series is The Princess Academy, which received a Newbery Honor award.

2. Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith: One of my all-time faves. I seriously love these books. Make sure you get the copy that combines Crown Duel and Court Duel. Some libraries still have them as separate books, but most now have them as one book combined.

3. Poison Study series by Maria V. Snyder: Strong woman protagonist, which I love. Her Touch of Power books are equally awesome. (See my review here.)

4. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: The series gets even better once you hit book two. Then it's amazing. And after getting to know the author, I'm even more enthralled by her books.

5. Graceling by Kristin Cashore: This one is really good, but I LOVE the second, Fire, but have sadly not yet gotten to reading the third, Bitterblue.

6. Tortall books by Tamora Pierce: There are plenty of them to keep you busy, though the sub-series of Wild Magic is my favorite. But start with the Lioness trilogy.

7. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: I absolutely LOVED the fantastic world the author created in this series. The long-awaited sequel, Shadow Scale, is currently sitting at the top of my TBR pile.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows, A She Said/She Said Review

Hi, Amethyst here. I'm taking lead for this round of She Said/She Said. Why? 'Cause I finished the book first, s'why. In fact, I finished Jodi Meadows's debut novel Incarnate about forty-five minutes ago. I purchased it yesterday, and to be fair, I did have a 70-page head start before I began reading last evening.

I'd say it's a fifty-fifty split as to how I'm finished with Incarnate; fifty per cent, I'm kind of a sprinter when I read, so if I like a book, I tend to like it in fast forward, and secondly, Jodi's novel accomplishes earning both the descriptions "light" and "full. On the one hand, Jodi has an almost unconscious stream-of-conscious (say that five times fast) charm. Knowing her outside of the author/reviewer format, I can tell you, Jodi's bouncy enthusiasm and kitten-like perplexity shine right through, even in main character Ana's most wrought moments. On the other hand, I never got the feeling Jodi didn't respect the gravity of the sometimes monstrous events taking place in Ana's life, and her world. Even with the subtle touch uncertanties were uncertain, fears were fearful, and warm fuzzies were dandelions poofs at the height of summer.

What did I like best? The Almosts. The almost kisses. The almost weepings. The questions almost answered. I love the way Jodi managed to make me (metaphorically) lean forward so far out of my seat I ALMOST fell out of it, and yet, never once did I actually face plant into the carpet. There was that subtle grace again, the grace of almost.

What didn't I like? Yes, as much as I enjoyed Incarnate, I do have one or two gripes. First of all, the math of things was confusing. I'm no stranger to math confusing me, but even I generally get the gist within real applications such as generations and ages. Even for a necessarily convoluted (and very cool) concept, the numbers seemed to contradict each other more than they lined up. Maybe because I was reading too fast? I wanted a clearer explanation of the term "quindec" than what I gleaned from context clues. Also, early on in the book I was under the impression people had only been around for about a thousand years, but later it's stated they'd been living and turning through the revolving door of reincarnation for at least five millenia, not one. Trying to get the two things to agree in my head was a bit of a draw out.

My other gripe is a lack of Author Photo. Jodi's really cute. The world deserves to get to Awwww over the cute that is Jodi Meadows.

Last but not least, it should be mentioned, I read a copy of Incarnate I purchased, so it was as polished as need be. Michelle, lucky early bird, was blessed to have been granted an e-ARC, compliments of NetGalley. This means her copy may have been slightly different than mine, and therefor might (or might not!) reflect in her review (which I have not yet seen).

I bought the book, so I think that's a pretty clear Buy, right?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The False Princess


The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal

Talk about traumatizing. Grow up thinking you're one thing then being told you're another while being forced from your home and replaced by the "real" you . . . Yeah, I'd be a little upset. The False Princess gives us just such a situation with the unfortunate was-a-princess-but-not-really Sinda.

In what could have easily been a run-of-the-mill princess story, O'Neal steps it up a notch about halfway in with a twist and some added development. I'm not talking about the not-a-princess thing. That happened right at the beginning. Instead of sticking with a rather cut-and-dry plot, the author changes things up, thus adding depth and complexity to the characters and the entire plot.

While I appreciated the surprising plot, the writing felt like it needed a little bit more development. The pace was on the slow side and I found myself skimming large chunks of Sinda's thoughts. Explaining events or situations the reader should—and probably did—figure out on their own made the narrative cumbersome.

Another area that wasn't fully developed was the magic system in the book. In any fantasy world there is generally a) magic, b) its own mythology and hierarchy of gods, or c) both. It is vastly important to create a clear and solid system for those elements because everything in this world affects how people act and interact within their own community and society as a whole. People who possess magic act differently than someone who lives in a world where magic doesn't exist. Cultures that worship multiple gods will work differently than those that are atheist. 

The False Princess is that this world has magic and deities, but we're never given a clear understanding of how that works. Yes, there are oracles who prophecy future events, but where do they get their power? Was there only one in the whole world? How were they chosen?

Even more important, who is this "Nameless God" mentioned throughout the book but never given any other thought? You can't offer such a tantalizingly named deity without giving us more. Why is he nameless? Does someone know his name? Do the other cultures pray to the same God? The fact that the Nameless God was mentioned but didn't do anything in the book left me more than a little disappointed. 

I would have to say the book's biggest flaw is moralizing, with the overdone symbolism of Sinda going from princess to commoner, and being mistreated by the crown throughout. The idea of royalty not caring for the common man has been done before. Quite a lot, actually, and done very well. In The False Princess, it comes across forced and a little heavy-handed. As a reader, I want a good story, not a lesson in ethics.

All that said, it's a nice book and one that I'd recommend for a light read. Since this is a debut, I hope the author's next work comes out a bit deeper and more polished.

PS Am I the only one who keeps reading the main character's name as Simba? Rawr.

PSS Yes, I do like hyphens. 

PSSS And mythology. LOVE me some mythology. There's so much fun to be had playing around with gods and mortals. Just imagine the possibilities. Hence, my disappointment.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Geek Girl


Geek Girl by Cindy C. Bennett

I originally picked up this book (metaphorically speaking) because of the fun premise: a reversal of roles with the bad girl setting out to corrupt the good boy. I expected a fun read, but what Bennett delivers is so much more than that. It's an honest portrayal of a wounded girl finally making peace with herself and her past.

Jen is a product of the foster system. After a huge disappointment with a family she truly loved, she shuts herself off emotionally. As she bounces around from home to home—some good and others horrible—she becomes the typical rebel teen to protect her heart from future hurt.

The story is fairly predictable, but that's not what makes this book shine. It doesn't need plot twists to pull readers in. It's the startlingly honest portrayal of Jen, her wounds and struggles, that tugs at you. I even cried at one point, which hasn't happened with any book in recent years. It wasn't tragedy that struck me to the point of tears, either, but the emotional honesty that leads Jen to truly find herself.

That said, there is plenty of fun, especially if you're a closet nerd like me. You could think of it as a mild, teenage Big Bang Theory. I whole-heartedly recommend Geek Girl to teens—male and female—as well as adults. The struggle to find oneself is universal, regardless of background or age, and Jen's journey is beautifully told. 

Cool fact: Bennett originally self-published Geek Girl before it attracted the attention of a publisher. It proves, in part, that a well-told, self-published story can find success.

Note: The publisher, Cedar Fort, is a smaller independent press in Utah that in the past has focused on Mormon fiction and nonfiction. It looks like they're branching out into mainstream with books like Geek Girl, which doesn't reference religion at all. Plenty of their other books do revolve around Mormon culture, such as The Next Door Boys (review to come). It's not good or bad; just something to note when selecting future reads from this publisher.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Incarnate Fun!

Welcome to the Incarnate Theater Treasure Hunt!

This week, forty-eight bloggers celebrate the release of Jodi Meadows's Incarnate by participating in a treasure hunt with clues, activities, and lots of prizes, including signed books and handknit fingerless mitts.

You've reached an ACTIVITY blog, which means here at Libri Ago: Book Lives, you can gain extra entries for Jodi's grand prize drawing by completing our activity and filling out the accompanying form. Then head to the next activity for more Incarnate fun! There are nineteen Incarnate activities around. The more you do, the better your chances of winning the grand prize.

For more information on the Incarnate Theater Treasure Hunt, check out the link to Jodi's post.   Yeah, the one in the previous sentence. Sorry about The Vague.

In the meantime, squee over THIS!! Wondered what all those interesting little bits and pieces the Jodester's been knitting on the sly? Well, here you have them, in all their woolly glory!

Ana and Sam, rendered by Mrs. Meadows herself!

And now, let the activities begin! Remember, creativity and forethought really count in this one!

And for even MORE Grand Prize entering garnering activities, please visit these other Activity blogs (which will have yet more links you can make use of--up to nineteen activities!).

The Mod Podge Bookshelf

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns


I loved that the author chose a Spanish-influenced culture for the story's backdrop. In most of the fantasy I've read, the cultures tend toward more English and French roots, with plenty of Norwegian and Viking-ish clones. I've also seen quite a few with Arabic and Egyptian accents, but Spain? I don't think I've read any like that before. That I find very exciting.

So it's refreshing to see that influence in the book, in the character's names, place settings, and even the flow of the language. The fact that I'd recently returned from a trip to Spain before reading likely influenced my notice of the language. As I read, the text flowed with a Spanish cadence through my head, the lull and rise of rolling syllables and the passion behind the words.

That said, I struggled with one element of the story, and it colored my overall impression of the book. The main character, Princess Elisa isn't skinny, not in the least. That's great; books need more characters who represent teens of all colors, shapes, and sizes. The problem I has was with the way Carson handled (treated? I can't think of the right word) Elisa's obesity. Yes, overweight women and teens eat a lot, or at least more than they're burning off through activity, but I don't know of a single woman dealing with weight issues who thinks of food all the time. Sure, Elisa's a stress-eater (I am too, though I've learned to temper it to a good extent), but focusing so much of the character's thoughts on food and eating—always hungry, need food—overstates it to the point of caricature. 

I'm guessing Carson didn't intend for it to come across that way, but with so much emphasis placed on the princess' eating habits (even once she begins to lose weight), it threw the story out of balance for me. It became the story of a fat princess who loses weight, and not the story of an awkward girl who does her best to save a kingdom despite some rather difficult physically and emotional limitations.

All that said, it's an enjoyable read, and I can see how it has so many devoted fans. The book was reminiscent of—and perhaps a tribute to—Tamora Pierce's Alanna series. So I'm giving this book 3 1/2 stars with the hope that the sequel will improve upon the first and make this a 5-star series.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Clockwork Prince

Somewhere in my brain, I'd already reviewed Clockwork Prince, the second book in Cassandra Clare's THE INFERNAL DEVICES (prequel series to Clare's hugely popular THE IMMORTAL INSTRUMENTS series), but maybe I just dreamed that, or maybe my brain referred to me mentioning the absolute hot-boyness of cover character James "Jem" Carstairs . . . because I would definitely have mentioned it, trust me.

But I guess, I didn't, and far be if from me to argue with the Libri Ago archives.  So! On with the review!

Needless to say, I bought the book. I'd have bought the book if I hated it, just for that cover, and buying it story-unread is next to the same thing, there's proof.

However, I did enjoy the story, though as is often the case, it took me a little while to get over my personal distaste regarding Clare's style of narrative. I generally love her dialogue, but many a narrative sentence is mentally tightened, de-passive-voiced, or unrepetitivized (yes, I'm making up words; I'm allowed) whilst I read. Also, as seems par for the course with a Clare book, the things I loved, I loved, but the things I disliked, I really disliked, so for the sake of keeping things straight, I'll divide the two.


*Will's vulnerability and subsequent hope. In the beginning, we only know Will's main goal in life seems to make himself appear utterly unlikable, forget lovable. We find out why, and we also find out that even though Will is forced to play the game with certain parameters, he's by no means given up changing things.

*Jem's fragility, backed by optimism. The boy is dying, and yet, he keeps himself open to the happiness to be had in his short life. Of course, the fact that Jem is so very good makes me suspect him of every foul betrayal in the world, but we'll see. Maybe Clare will cut us a break.

*The revelation that husband and wife actually love one another very much, and have been victims of miscomunications.

*A certain warlock. 'Nuff said.


*Tessa's fickleness. I don't care if she's the heroine. I don't care of she's not entirely human, or if she's under a lot of pressure, or if yes, her choices of love interest are particularly amazing, I cannot buy her having the same intensity of feelings--especially physical--for both Will and Jem. Sometimes I felt as if I should see her being more drawn to Will, but it was a weakly written bit. I make no secret of it. I don't like Tessa, and I don't think she's a very well-developed character.

* Jessamine, but that's a no-brainer. How any girl could be that naive voluntarily . . . sheesh.

*Like I said, the narrative, which is sometimes wont to wander over hill and dale.

In general, the book definitely hit-it-off better with me than the first TID novel, and has accomplished garnering my interest in the conclusion, Clockwork Princess. I said of Angel, if you bought the other Clare books, buy this one out to complete your set. if you didn't, make use of you library card, and enjoy!