Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Where the Shadows Fall

In a world where the canny folk (magical) are hunted and destroyed by the king's men, a 16 year old girl can't expect to survive on her own, let alone make a difference in the world. In Juliet Marillier's Shadowfell, Neryn is more than meets the eye.

Neryn has suffered alongside her father in tough times, but when he bets her in a game of chance, and loses, his choices have now threatened her life. Luckily, the man who won her whisks her off the gaming boat just before a raid destroyed the place and everyone inside it. Terrified of the plans the man has for her, Neryn is careful to keep her secret from him. This is the very same secret that killed her grandmother and kept Neryn and her father on the run for most of her life. 

Neryn knows she shouldn't trust this man, Flint, and even though she leaves him behind, he always seems to find her. She quickly realizes he is one of the king's Enforcers, soldiers who rid the world of canny folk, but there is something about this man that makes her want to trust him. She knows the risks and the very real possibility that he may be leading her right to the king, but her intuition tells her there is more to Flint. Still, the fey (mystical, diverse creatures) don't trust anyone who wears the king's uniform, and they try to protect Neyrn because she is something special, something they have all been waiting for. She might be the key to defeating the king and saving their beloved country. 

This book started off with a bang, Flint saving Neryn and whisking her away, and all her conversations with the canny folk, but then it just kind of petered out in the middle. Don't get me wrong, the descriptions were downright beautiful, and the world built was quite extraordinary, but the story wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. The majority of the story was about Neryn's journey, and sometimes I found myself thinking, "Oh just get there already; no more of this wandering about!" And to add to that, her on again off again issues with Flint grew a little tiresome. Unfortunately, this story just didn't hold my attention like the beginning suggested it was going to.

Because it was so slow at first, I probably wouldn't give this book to just any student. I would pass it on to a stronger reader who really loved fantasy, because the world building and language really is exquisite, but I think a weaker reader would be lost about 1/4 of the way through the book. I have a feeling that the next book in the series will really amp up the story, especially the way it ended taken into consideration, but I have no real idea of how Marillier plans to take this story if she writes all installments the way this one was written. Hopefully this book just suffered from "background info dump" syndrome as some first books do, and the rest of the series will recover from its downfalls. Still, the writing is quite breathtaking, and I intend to read the next book with an optimism for its success.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Snark, Devoted Dogs, and You Can't Ask for Much More!

Once in a while a book comes by that tells a story of a character you can relate to and empathize with so much, you feel like you have known them all your life. That is exactly how I felt about Sarah in J.J. Johnson's The Theory of Everything. I loved everything about this character and this book.

Sarah suffered an inconceivable tragedy; she lost her best friend Jamie in a horrible accident. But that isn't the worst part. The accident was Sarah's fault. Now SJD (Since Jamie's Death), she has become a different person, a person apparently no one enjoys being around, including her parents and her boyfriend Stenn. And to top it off? Her regular demeanor was replaced by a snark box that makes people stop feeling sorry for her and start getting annoyed by her. But regardless of how much Sarah just wants to be left alone to wallow in her misery, no one seems to want to leave her alone. The only creature who understands Sarah is Ruby, her rescued dog who knows just how to calm Sarah and exactly how to get her in trouble.

Feeling guilty, Sarah agrees to go to a party with Stenn, but she brings Ruby along as a buffer. When Ruby takes off through the woods and ends up in a creepy man's garage eating the very same deer carcass that crashed through the high school gym right in front of Sarah (bringing all the memories of Jamie's accident flooding back with a vengeance). When the creepy man shows up at Sarah's school, he offers her a chance to work off the lost meat by working on his Christmas tree farm. If she agrees, he won't tell her parents about where she was and how her precious dog went native. Sarah will do anything to protect Ruby, but she wasn't expecting hard labor to be just the thing she needed to truly begin to heal. Snark Box and all!

Oh, how I loved this book, let me count the ways! 1. Sarah and her snark box were just the kind of dry sarcasm I have been looking for in a main character these days. Coming from a family full of Snark Monsters, I appreciate a good snark box! 2. Sarah's grief was real, it was tangible, and it made me, the reader, grieve right along with her. Her reactions are expected and unexpected at the same time, the very nature of grief personified. It was beautiful and painful, all wrapped up together. 3. There was no attempt to romanticize or glorify Sarah's relationship with Emmett, Jamie's twin brother. In a cheaper, cheesier YA novel, they would have realized their love for one another and ridden off into the sunset. In this book? They are both suffering. They need each other. But it isn't about some forced romance. It is friendship, understanding, and a mutual love for someone they both lost. 4. Stenn was a good guy. He really was! He was, months after Jamie's death, growing weary of Sarah's actions and unable to understand why she couldn't move on, but he was patient, he loved her, and he was devoted. He wanted the best for her, but he was human and humans can grow impatient eventually. Even when he grew impatient, though, he was always just a boy who cared about her and wanted to see her smile again. 

This is one of those books that just makes your literary hairs stand on end. I loved every single page, every description, and every bit of dialogue. I am so very impressed with Johnson's portrayal of this young woman who just can't survived in a world SJD. It reminded me of Green's Fault in Our Stars and Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere not because they are similar stories, but because the characters are so real and the situations are so bitter-sweet you can picture yourself doing and saying exactly what the authors have written. This is a story for so many different people. Basically, if you know someone with a heart who needs a good book, pass this along. You won't be sorry. Snark and all, this was quite the masterpiece!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Redemption, But Not Quite Beautiful

You don't often see love and devotion and sacrifice like you did from Ethan Waite. In the Beautiful Creatures series, we have taken a beautiful (and usually comical) gothic background full of characters, mortal and otherwise, who take sacrifice to another level, but none more than Ethan Waite. And in Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's final book in the series, Beautiful Redemption, we finally find his redemption.

After sacrificing himself by leaping from the water tower to save those he loved and the world as a whole, Ethan is thrust into the afterlife. It isn't so bad, full of people he loved and lost, including his mother. Still, Lena is back in the world of the living, and Ethan can't imagine eternity without her. Everyone tries to convince him that there is no coming back form the afterlife, but Ethan won't give up. Especially when he finds out Abraham and Angelus might be involved in bringing him to the after life in the first place. For a boy who was willing to risk everything, he has nothing left to lose in order to get back to the woman he loves, and Ethan is nothing if not determined.

She won't accept it. Ethan is not gone forever. She knows he is around her, trying to communicate with her, and if she can just figure out how, they can work together to find a way to bring Ethan back. She will do anything she can to get Ethan back, even if it means facing Abraham and Hunting alone (well, with Link, but the Linkubus isn't the most helpful or supportive). Everyone wants Lena to just move on, but she knows what "move on" really means- giving up. And nothing can make her give up on the man who lost his life saving her. She won't give up on Ethan.

Oh, boy. I loved this series, too much at times. And when the third book ended? I was disTRAUGHT! So I knew this book was going to fix things, find a way to make it right. I know he died and all, but in a world with sirens and incubi and sucubi, there has to be a way to cheat death. The problem wasn't the premise, it was the execution. I am sad to report that this book just didn't thrill me like the previous 3 (and a half if you count the short story about Link). In fact, it was a little boring. The whole first 200+ pages about Ethan traversing the after life was a struggle to get through. Once you finally left Ethan to follow Lena, the book found the rest of the series' previous vigor and enthusiasm, but 200 pages is a huge waste of plot, time, and quite honestly, paper. I wished the book was cut in half to ditch all that boring fluff in the beginning that just felt like the authors were trying to live up to the size of their previous novels with half the material to work with. It was sad, really, because I love these authors and adored this series up to this point.

I don't think you can read the series without picking up this book, but sadly, it might not give you the satisfaction you desired from such a stellar series. Who knows, maybe you will love it, but I found myself with a shrug and a "meh" by the time I was done. I think the third book should have had a small section at the end where this whole book was condensed and delivered without all the rambling, but hindsight is 20/20. But I can't clarify these comments enough with how much I loved the rest of the series- it really was genius!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Oh My Gods!

The Mark of Athena (Heroes of Olympus, Book 3)
The Roman and the Greek camps have always been divided because the Gods and Goddesses themselves have been divided. In the third installment of The Heroes of Olympus called The Mark of Athena, Rick Riordan brings the biggest sections of the world's mythology together in a way no other author could.

Now that the two camps know about each other, New Rome and Camp Half-Blood, the group from Half-Blood travel to New Rome in an attempt to collect Percy Jackson, their missing hero. They suspect the Roman demigods will have to team up with the Greek demigods in order to keep evil Gaia from reforming and wreaking havoc on earth, but convincing two sides who have always hated one another to cooperate is harder than beating Medusa, or two disco giants, or crazed sea gods who collect monsters. When New Rome thinks the group of demigods has come to harm them, they attack Leo's ship and send the seven from the prophecy running to escape. 

Once they are out of range of New Rome's weapons, the group realizes they have a bigger mission than Gaia- Hazel's brother Nico has been trapped and is quickly running out of time before he suffocates. They must find two evil giants who work for Gaia in order to get him back, but that is easier said than done. meanwhile Annabeth must follow the Mark of Athena, but any children of Athena who have gone before her were lost forever, unsuccessful in their mission. With so much riding on this journey, including Nico's life, the demigods begin to feel the pressure of their mission. Will they get to Nico in time, or will saving the world require some sacrifice?

OK, it is absolutely no shock to anyone that anything Riordan writes is pure genius. If you made it this far, you are a total Riordan freak like myself and would read his grocery lists scribbled on old tissues if he let you. But there is more to  this series these days. So I won't convince you to read these books (because if you haven't already you are missing out!), but I will tell you about the interesting turns in this book.

First, I loved how the mission became so much more serious. There were always issues with death and near death experiences, but the seriousness of this particular mission tangled with the relationships that have formed amongst the group make the stakes much higher. And Percy Jackson, who was missing from the first part of the series, really evolves in this book. He feels left out when other demigods go to speak to the ancient sea gods and is resentful of his inability to help the group. It was a realistic portrayal of this group's age and dynamic, and I think it really drove the series to a place it has never been until now: maturity. It has been fun (hilarious actually), educational (although is getting my mythology from these books like getting my news from the Daily Show?!), and exciting, but these books have always been a little young. Now they are growing up, and you had better get to them before they are gone!