Saturday, December 29, 2012

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Publication date: September 2012
Pages: 416
Source: Purchased
For: Fun
Series: Girl of Fire and Thorns, Book 2

*Spoilers are inevitable for Book 1, The Girl of Fire and Thorns*
Elisa achieved a victory for her country, but things didn't calm down even after defeating the army of sorcerors. There are those who would like to see her removed from the throne - those from outside her country and those within. She sets off on a dangerous journey, to find a way to conquer her own power from the Godstone. Can she complete this quest, or will she be betrayed before she even arrives at her destination?

Things I Liked:
Oh how happy I was to find this book did not suffer from any sequel-itis problems.  The story was absolutely exciting and managed to be almost independent of what happened in the first book.  I loved watching Elisa continue to grow in different ways - learn how to be a queen and take charge of what needs to happen in her kingdom.  I was once again completely captivated by the fantasy world and fell right back into it as if I'd never left.  I highly recommend this series if you are looking for fantasy with a smart, flawed heroine and a complex world complete with a bit of romance too.

Things I Didn't Like:
Not much I can think of.  The journey's end kind of left me a bit disappointed and confused, but not enough to ruin it for me.  It made sense in a way.  And left me eager to know what will happen in the next book.

Start with The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

s-factor: none
that I recall :)

mrg-factor: X
nothing on page, but it's talked about a bit

v-factor: -> 
some rather violent things happen, but not described in detail

Overall rating: *****

What's your favorite sequel that seems to tell its own story?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz AND The Frog King or Iron Heinrich by Philip Pullman

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication date: September 2012
Pages: 192
Source: ARC sent by publisher
For: Review
Series: Companion to A Tale Dark and Grimm

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication date: November 2012
Pages: 400
Source: Review copy sent by publisher
For: Review

Summary for In a Glass Grimmly: Jack is the brunt of a group of bullies and Jill struggles with her image-obsessed mother. No wonder the two want to leave their lives behind. But, little do they suspect the kinds of horrible adventures ahead for them, including giant pools of vomit and loads of blood.

Things I Liked (about both):
After really enjoying A Tale Dark and Grimm, I was super thrilled to get more of the same.  And I was able to knock out one more pair for my 2012 Classic Double Challenge. This time, Gidwitz takes on a handful of different fairy tales and puts his own skin on them.  One of the first fairy tales that is recognizable (and I cheated by reading Gidwitz's notes at the end that explicitly stated what tales he drew from) is The Frog King or Iron Heinrich.  There are also traces of Jack and the Beanstalk and a few other stories that Gidwitz pulls into the story, but the one I was most interested in was Frog King.  I thought I had an idea of the story of the Frog King or the Frog Prince, but I really didn't have a clue.  Gidwitz's version is intertwined through the entire story and definitely seems to make more sense than the original, showing a much more sensible reaction from the frog.

What a rather horrifying story it is, though!  The princess is an absolute jerk and it really makes you wonder why the Frog King was so persistent in pursuing her.  In Pullman's retelling, there is no kiss that brings the prince back.  Instead, it's after she throws the frog against the wall.  And why on earth would he want to marry her after that?  Definitely, it has zero relation to the Princess and the Frog story I thought I knew.  The original, and the retelling here, were much more gruesome and real - as  are most of the original fairy tales.    And seriously, someone needs to write about Iron Heinrich; he's probably the most interesting person in the whole original fairy tale.  Pullman's retelling is simplistic as the fairy tales always are, but also quite beautifully written.

In a Glass Grimmly has the most delightful snarky narrator, cutting into the story and reminding us of the horrors to come.  Or forgetting to remind us.  I think kids will be clamoring for the book, loving it to pieces and laughing all the way through it.  It would make a fantastic read-aloud, just as the first one seemed to be.  I was captivated from beginning to end, with enough twists to the tales that I had no idea what would happen next.

Things I Didn't Like (about both):
The story in In a Glass Grimmly didn't feel quite as cohesive as A Tale Dark and Grimm - more like some smaller vignettes to see how many tales he could get it.  But I didn't mind, really.  And it isn't the fault of Pullman's that the original story seems so completely illogical :)

A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz (more of a companion book - doesn't have to be read first)
The narrator reminded me of the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch

s-factor: none

mrg-factor: none

v-factor: ->->->
some rather icky details

Overall rating: ****

What less-well-known fairy tales do you find fascinating?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: What Came From the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Clarion Books
Publication date: September 2012
Pages: 304
Source: ARC from ALA
For: Review

On a far distant planet, the Valorim make a last-ditch attempt to save their culture from ruin and send a necklace to the planet Earth. Tommy Pepper discovers it in his lunch box one day and he begins to change in unusual ways, drawing beautiful drawings of things no one else can see and speaking a language no one else knows. But, when the Valorim's enemies discover where the necklace went, they come to take it from Tommy.

Things I Liked:
I am so glad the book had some of the signature Schmidt wry humor.  I love the middle grade boys he manages to create.  Pretty much, the interactions on our planet were interesting and I liked seeing how Tommy dealt with his unique and new powers.  I thought his artistic abilities were the most interesting part of the whole book and I loved how he transformed the walls of his home and brought art to life.  It was imaginative and unique, but ultimately I was disappointed in the read.

Things I Didn't Like:
First, I thought the parts on the other planet were painfully obscure, mostly because of the language.  I found it hard to want to slog through the Old English feel of it (despite the fact that I adore Tolkien's similar books).  I was very much reminded of Tolkien's work - but more of his other tales from older times like The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales than Lord of the Rings.  I had a really hard time appreciating any of the magical details and an even harder time figuring out what was going on on that distant planet.  It was vague and just plain boring at times.  I was pretty sad to find there is a Schmidt book I don't adore.  

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth by J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien



a bit, but not too much

Overall rating: **

Anybody loved this one?  Am I missing something?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Covers of 2012

Since I've already posted my Top 12 Picks of 2012, I thought I'd tweak this week's topic just a bit and post about my favorite covers from 2012. I haven't read all of these books, or even necessarily loved the ones I've read, but these covers really stood out to me.  And looking over it now, I obviously have a tendency to love red or blue covers...

What covers (or books) have blown you away this year?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 2012
Pages: 528
Source: Purchased
For: Fun!
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Book 2

*Will likely contain spoilers for the first book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone*
Karou is still trying to understand who and what she is - though her memories have returned. She knows that Akiva betrayed her and stole everything from her and that knowledge spurs her to take great measures in redeeming herself with her people. But how far will she go to make amends and can she ever truly be accepted again? 

Things I Liked:
I continue to be amazed at the stuff Laini comes up with.  She has such a vivid imagination and an amazing way to bring those images and ideas to life with her unique writing style.  I love how strange and yet natural the descriptions she uses throughout the book paint a picture of this intriguing world.  Karou continues to fascinate me, especially with the many feelings she experiences.  She has hard choices and despite making mistakes, tries her best to overcome those.  She really grows over this book and the growth felt subtle, natural, and intriguing.  Chimera, angels, Eretz, teeth, resurrection, all of this adds up to a twisted, strange, and yet un-put-downable story that I was completely surprised by.  The direction it went left me guessing all the way to the conclusion.  I'm happy to report that this second installment did not suffer from second-book-itis for me.  Can't wait for the next one.

Things I Didn't Like:
I was a bit disturbed by some of the things that happened.  But, that's just me.  It was a brutal and honest book and despite my being uncomfortable on a number of occasions, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Start with Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr
Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan

s-factor: !@
some, though not a lot

mrg-factor: XX
a few incidents, quite a bit of innuendo

v-factor: ->->->
to the point of disturbing at times

Overall rating: *****

Are you a fan of this series?  What draws you in?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 12 Picks of '12 on 12-12-12

I've saved this post just for this special date!  And I also somehow managed to squeak out twelve of my favorite reads of the year.  I had to eliminate a few that were top contenders, but these are the books that stood out to me, that I still remember reading and loving, and that might not be in the spotlight as much.  These are books I read this year, not necessarily books published this year.

Top 12 of 2012 
(listed in the order in which when I read them, since I can't really put them in order of favorite-ness)

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
This book, a Cybils read, wins the most loveable castle award.  Seriously, I challenge any of you to read this and not end up wanting such a changeable castle of your own.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Another delightful Cybils read (and winner in my category) that easily takes the prize for most loveable animal characters.  I'm not usually a critter-story kind of person, but this one won me over easily.

Variant by Robison Wells
And this one handily wins the most jaw-dropping, didn't-see-that-coming twists of any 2012 book.  Seriously, I dare you to predict what happens.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I know most everyone is raving about this one, but put me on that bandwagon, because this was the most fabulous and unique fairy-tale retelling of the year.

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
I'm not quite as big a fan of Robin Hood stories as Angie or Suey, but this retelling with knife-wielding Will Scarlet as a girl in disguise had me from the first page.

Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer  
A not-so-new book but a fantastic discovery for me this year, Jacky has got to be the spunkiest, liveliest, most incorrigible girl the British navy never wanted!  And best of all, the audiobooks are narrated by the most excellent Katherine Kellgren.  What more could you want?

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Another absolutely fantastic audiobook with Bronson Pinchot narrating, this story stole my heart and my breath as I laughed beyond control.  Hand this one to the most stony-hearted soul you know and see if they don't crack a smile for this band of misfit Princes Charming.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund  
Predisposed to love this retelling of my favorite Jane Austen, Persuasion, I was blown away by the beautiful way the story changed and the fantastic future world created for my favorite characters.  A must for Austen-lovers or fans of classic retellings.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins  
My first and definitely not last Wilkie Collins book had me so absorbed in the story I almost got lost on my commute home!  A rich, detailed, and surprising mystery that easily earns its place as a classic. 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Another book that many have raved about and which I wholeheartedly throw my support behind.  This one had me in tears and in knots, worrying about and loving the friendship between Maddie and Queenie.

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid  
This book not only pulled me out of a giant reading slump, it reminded me just how much I love a good sci-fi/dystopian-ish story.  And its constant action and twists left me begging for more, despite its 400+ pages.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
I just finished this book last night and I felt so happy afterward that I knew it had to make this list.  Despite its flaws, I fell hard for this book.  It reminded me why I love Regency romance, Jane Austen, and good old-fashioned love stories.

And there you have it!  Let's hope I don't read any more last minute great books this year (wait, why would I hope that).

What are your favorite picks from 2012?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage
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