Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

 Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 563 (hardcover)
Published: 2012 by Dial
Synopsis: Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck's reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle--disguised and alone--to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck's reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn't yet identified, holds a key to her heart.
Bitterblue is something of a sequel to both of Kristin Cashore's other Seven Kingdoms books, Graceling and Fire.  While it's billed as a companion novel, I think that many readers would be a little confused about the back-story behind certain characters, such as Katsa and Po and Leck, who appeared in the earlier books if they hadn't read the other books first.

Bitterblue is a queen who barely knows her own kingdom (queendom?).  Her well-meaning but baffling advisers keep her busy with mounds of royal paperwork within the walls of her castle, while outside the ordinary people of the city of Monsea are still suffering from the aftermath of the reign of Bitterblue's now deceased father, the sadistic King Leck-- Graced with telling lies which were always believed.  The haze which Leck's terrible Grace cast over Bitterblue and her friends, the horrors which he committed during his long reign, and the secrets behind the apparently pointless mad things he did, such as creating a fathomless maze around his personal chambers and commissioning bizarrely fantastical sculptures for the castle, still linger over the kingdom.  When Queen Bitterblue, sick of being protected from the truths of how the rest of her city lives, sneaks out one night, she chances to meet a Graced Lienid sailor and his friend, a printer.  Through the eyes of her new friends and with the help of Prince Po and the fearless Lady Katsa, Bitterblue begins not only to see her kingdom-- and herself-- as they truly are, but also to unravel the terrible secrets which Leck kept.

Bitterblue is like the other two Seven Kingdoms books, and at the same time, unique.  It has a somewhat slower pace than the other books, particularly Graceling (still my favorite of the series).  Bitterblue as a protagonist is sympathetic and strong-willed in her own way, but I did miss the supernaturally strong Katniss and Fire as main characters.  Bitterblue may know how to use knives to defend herself against assassins, but well, Katniss could do more with her bare hands.  I missed that very kick-ass element, though I also loved how Bitterblue came to realize her power and strength as a queen and also her great responsibility.  (Because with great responsibility, comes great power.  I had to go there.)

I really enjoyed so many of the characters from Graceling appearing in this third novel.  Katsa and Po (of course) are brilliant, and really I could never get enough of Po.  Without revealing any major spoilers, I'll also say that the plot and characters from Fire have a part in Bitterblue, as well.  The love interest in Bitterblue, Saf aka Sapphire, is sad to say my least favorite of the Seven Kingdoms boys.  He isn't un-likable, he just seems sub-par compared to Po and the prince from Fire (what was his name?)  My other favorite "new" character is Death (pronounced to rhyme with "teeth"), Bitterblue's Royal Librarian, who is Graced with the ability to read super-quickly and remember perfectly everything he reads.  I would pick this Grace over even being Graced with survival like Katsa.  Kristin Cashore's beautiful and vibrant writing style really shines in Bitterblue and this book is a must-read for fans of Graceling and Fire, or fantasy in general.

My Rating:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Top Ten Most Anticipated Books for 2013

This week's Top Ten Tuesday theme (meme hosted by the bloggers of The Broke and Bookish) is one I've been waiting on for a while.  There's nothing like checking and re-checking the release dates on your most anticipated books for the year (and nothing worse than when publishers push back those release dates!)  So here are my current most anticipated books to be published in the year 2013 (assuming we survive that Mayan apocalypse, of course).

January 2nd
Prophecy (Dragon King Chronicles #1) by Ellen Oh
I confess I don't know too much about this one, other than that it's YA and has the words "dragon" and "king" in the series title.  Double win.

January 8th
 Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff
A new YA paranormal-type book by Replacement author Brenna Yovanoff, with a very cool cover.  I haven't read much paranormal lately, but it seems like some promising books by good authors will be coming out in 2013.

January 22nd
 The Archived by Victoria Schaub
New YA novel by the author of The Near Witch, which was a quick and creepy read.  It has a fascinating, complex premise: from what I gather, Librarians (with a capital L) are charged with keeping the stories of the dead safe in an Archive (also capital A).

Sometime in January
 Unfettered by Terry Brooks and many other authors
 This is, so far, my most anticipated anthology for 2013.  It is a "theme-less" anthology, with just the best fantasy and speculative writers submitting short stories from their own literary universes.  The book will include stories by Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles), Naomi Novik (Temeraire), Mark Lawrence (Prince of Thorns), Carrie Vaughn, and Brandon Sanderson.  It's a very impressive author line-up!

February 13th
Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
I still haven't read Shades of Gray (that would be Ruta Sepety's earlier YA World War II novel, not the soft porn book), but this book already has great early reviews and I know the author by reputation and the reviews of others as pretty brilliant. 

March 26th
A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
Yes, I know it's already been released, but the paperback edition won't be until March.  I can't wait to snap up that very hefty paperback to add to my collection of A Song of Ice and Fire paperbacks and re-read it again without the risk of accidentally dropping the hardcover and breaking a few toes.

April 2nd
 Light (Gone series # 6) by Michael Grant
The last book in the dystopian Gone series is almost here, at long last!  I feel like I have spent years of my life waiting on these books.

April 15th
Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
This one has a beautiful cover and an awesome premise.  Sounds like another paranormal with rare promise-- too bad the release date is still so far away.

 Hunted (Iron Druid Chronicles #) by Kevin Hearne
I still have yet to read Trapped, which was just released today!  (What is wrong with me, I must go buy it now!)  Hunted doesn't even have a final cover yet or a release date, but it is still at the top of my most anticipated list.

June 18th
 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This latest Neil Gaiman (!!!) book will be released on my birthday.  It's fate.  Has to be.  I really have no words for my excitement over this one.  The premise sounds sort of American Gods-esque.

I'd love to read what books ya'll are all anticipating this week, so I can visit back and add more books to my already threatening-to-topple mental TBR stack!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

 Tiffany Aching series #1
Genre: YA/MG fantasy
Pages: 375 (paperback)
Published: 2004 by HarperTrophy

Synopsis: Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnapped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk's local Nac Mac Feegle - aka the Wee Free Men - a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds - black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors - before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone....

My Take:

The Wee Free Men is THE book I would give a young or pre-teen girl to read, after she read the classic musts like Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, of course.  And, though I'm a little older than the target audience, I also really enjoyed the first book in the Tiffany Aching series.

Nine-year old Tiffany Aching is far from the usual heroine of YA (and MG) fantasy and paranormal books: she's a farmer's daughter, well-trained in the timeless arts of cheese-making and caring for sheep.  When a decidedly un-Glinda-the-Good-Witch-like Queen of Faerie kidnaps her sticky and obnoxious younger brother, Tiffany sets off on a quest to Faerieland (along with the Nac Mac Feegle-- a fearless band of Celtic warriors who happen to be very small and blue--, and an intelligent talking toad) to rescue her brother.  I loved Tiffany as a character.  She is told by the fully-grown and powerful witch Miss Tick that she has the potential to be a witch, which in Pratchett's world is basically a smart person who's always one step ahead of the masses, has a lot of knowledge of folklore and common sense, and can likely perform a spell or two.  She uses her powers of "first sight and second thoughts" to accomplish things most nine-year olds definitely couldn't dream of.  

I was also definitely loving the "girl power", in that Tiffany couldn't be less interested in boys, love triangles, or the social drama of high school.  I love how generally different the setting of this series is compared to other YA and MG fantasies which take place in the "real world" as well as a fantastical universe.  Rural or suburban high school seems to have become the default setting for the protagonist's pre-magical conflicts and problems, but Wee Free Men completely turns this tiring cliche (along with many others) on its head.  The Wee Free Men (or Nac Mac Feegle, as they call themselves) are an interesting cross on Celtic brownie myths and, well, Terry Pratchett's amazing imagination.  They're funny and violent and have incredibly long and complicated names because Mac Feegle tend to have only five or six common first names and many, many clan members. 

The book has the feel of the few other Terry Pratchett books I have read (Hogfather and Small Gods being the ones I remember most) in that it isn't a long book to begin with, but when you read it you probably will get sucked in by the fast-paced story and quickly lose track of time.  It only took me a few days to finish Wee Free Men, and that was with me exerting some self-control to do things like homework and eating meals.  In short, this one is definitely recommended.  I have the next book in the series, A Hat Full of Sky, on my shelf right now and hope to read it sometime in the near-future!

My Rating:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In My Mailbox #25: The Long-Time-No-Post Edition

Wow, has it been a long time since I did an IMM post!  But now I thankfully, finally do have some new books to show off-- since I haven't posted in ages, these are the books I've gotten over the past couple of weeks.

Here's what I got:


Adult/Historical Fiction

History/ School-related Books

--The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stpehen Chbosky (review)
--Rotters by Daniel Kraus
--The Wee Free Men (Tiffiany Aching #1) by Terry Pratchett
--A Hat Full of Sky (Tiffiany Aching #2) by Terry Pratchett
--Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (review)
--The Devil's Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici by Jeanna Kalogridis
--Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
--The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer 
--Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schliff
--Beloved by Toni Morrison

Other Recent Reviews:

Anyway, I wish you all happy reading, and if you leave me a link to your mailboxes/blogs, I promise to visit back!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Want on A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday, if by some chance you stumbled upon this post and did not already know, is an amazingly awesome weekly blog meme hosted over at The Broke and the Bookish.  The topic for this week's list: top ten books you'd want to have with you to pass the time on a deserted island.  If I was somehow crash-landed on an island in the middle of the Pacific, I'd definitely rather curl up in a hammock with a book on the beach rather than, say, attempt to explore the probably haunted jungle with the giant smoke cloud roaming around in it or create a companion for myself in the form of a soccer ball.

 The Chronicles of Narnia (series) by CS Lewis
Nope, that's absolutely not cheating!  The Chronicles are now bound in one pretty volume.  As I see it, if you're going to be stuck on an island for an unknown amount of time and can only have ten books, you may as well make them very long books.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
In this thought-provoking and fascinating book, the protagonist Pi is adrift on a sort of floating island in the form of a life raft-- a life raft which he shares with Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger.

The Stand by Stephen King
I've never been able to read The Stand.  But I really do want to, and being stuck on an island would give me plenty of time to take on this monster of a book.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Endless re-readability potential here.  At nearly 1,000 pages, Avalon would be another very useful brick of a book to have around for entertainment when entertainment is scarce.

Shogun by James Clavell
Another huge epic book I've never read.  But I've heard it's so good.

His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
Again, not cheating.  I could concentrate on finally puzzling out some of the weirder and more mysterious things in The Amber Spyglass if I had this book lying around on the beach.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Of course, I gotta have at least one Harry Potter book.  I'm not quite sure why this one immediately came to mind... I guess it's just the most epic, the most satisfying read of the bunch, and an amazing conclusion to the whole wonderful series.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
Another series-in-one-volume, yes.  The Lord of the Rings is another series with great re-reading value.  I usually re-read it once a year, as a kind of nerdy tradition.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
I've only waded through this tome once... would definitely read it again, though.  This is an awesome epic about the building of an English cathedral which spans several generations and is a lot more enthralling than it sounds.

 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Meh, may as well give it a shot.  Most readers seem to either read and enjoy or attempt and fail to read War and Peace at some point in their lives.

And that is El Fin.  Leave a link to your Top Ten in the comments and I'll be sure to check out your list!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Genre: YA fantasy
Pages: 368 (paperback)
Published: 2007 by Washington Square Press
Recommended for: readers who like "old-school" YA fantasy or retold fairy tales

My Take:

I liked the look of The Book of Lost Things immediately, mostly because it reminded me of the kind of books I read almost exclusively when I was a pre-teen: fantasy stories where seemingly ordinary kids venture into fairy-tale worlds and must save the day/become king or queen.  Narnia is, of course, pretty much the magical birthplace of those sub-genre, but there used to be so many books like that in the YA and MG genres.  Anyway, I wasn't at all disappointed in this compulsively readable, imaginative, and creepier-than-it-looks book.

The main character David is a 12 year old English boy around the time of World War II, living with his code-breaker father, his new wife-- the stepmother David loathes--, and George, the new baby brother he resents.  David's mother, who loved fairy tales and always got David to read them to her by her bedside, died of a slow and painful disease less than a year before the true start of the novel's "action".  He misses her so badly that he even begins to hear her calling to him, beckoning to him in his bedroom in the attic and in the eerie garden by the house.  Worse is the creepy "Crooked Man", a dark figure who David begins to see hanging around his room-- like a villain from one of the fairy tales which so remind him of his mother.  When a German bomber crashes into his family's house, David takes the only escape route he knows through a strange and unexplained hole in the garden wall.  He emerges from the trunk of a tree, surrounded by wolves who stand on two legs yet are more bestial than human, forced to face a world where his mother's fairy tales have become real-- only twisted and darker, sometimes funnier, than the original tales.

This book kind of has the feel of a fairy tale as you read it: the narration is nearly always omniscient third-person, and there is that distance from the characters which you get when you read old fairy tales.  David, for example, isn't a bad protagonist (he's occasionally a little annoying with his hatred of his undeserving step-mother), but not one I could really connect with.  The characters are mostly like fairy-tale archetypes (ie Old King, Woodcutter, Evil Powerful Villain), so don't read this one if you're looking for a really insightful read where you get to sympathize with the characters a lot.

I really enjoyed the way Connolly twisted the familiar fairy tales and folk legends into completely different stories.  His version of Snow White and her seven dwarven companions, for example, is just too funny: Snow is more than a little crabby and the dwarfs are obsessed with a Communist revolution which will help the little people.  There are wolves in the woods and monsters and evil sorceresses galore, and there is also the Crooked Man-- a really, really creepy antagonist the likes of which you don't usually see in books geared towards younger readers (I kind of hesitate to call this specifically MG or YA, because I'm not really sure).  Let's just say I'll never think of Rumpelstiltskin the same way again.  *Inserts random plug for another good book which will change your perspective on the fairy tale: The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde*.

The Book of Lost Things admittedly has little on the Chronicles of Narnia or my old favorite, Inkheart, when it comes to the kids-travelling-to-magical-and-possibly-imaginary-worlds type of books.  But I enjoyed this book as a quick and enthralling read-- it was better than I expected, and I had a hunch it would be pretty good.  Definitely a recommended one...

My Rating:

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