Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
February 27, 2007; Hyperion


Summary

Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high-schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts. Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: He is Weirlind; part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At the head of this magical society sit the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game. A magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death, The winning house ruling the Weir. As if his bizarre magical heritage isn't enough, Jack finds out that he s not just another member of Weirlind, he's one of the last of the warriors at a time when both houses are scouting for a player. Jack's performance on the soccer field has alerted the entire magical community to the fact that he's in Trinity. And until one of the houses is declared Jack's official sponsor, they'll stop at nothing to get Jack to fight for them. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Harry Potter lite. The Warrior Heir reminds me more of Harry Potter than anything else. You have a normal boy who finds out he's a wizard, strong friendships, significant adult characters, and a big fight. It is "lite," because it lacks the depth and subtext that makes Harry Potter stand out. Regardless, The Warrior Heir is good fun.

Cinda Williams Chima is a master at world building. With The Heir Chronicles series, she has created a world where wizards are at war with one another. Based mostly in England, rival clans have a tentative peace which they maintain by "fighting" each other in a game. Warriors, a person born with a warrior stone, are the wizards' pawns, raised to fight each other to the death in the clan tournaments. Warriors are hunted their entire lives - by clans seeking to train a warrior for the fight and by clans seeking to kill the other team's warrior. I loved reading about the history, politics, and the different magical powers of the Weirlind people.

The fantasy world is complex and quite confusing if you rely on what I wrote above, but Cinda does a fabulous job explaining it. The world is introduced gradually throughout the book. I never felt like there was an info dump but I also never felt so confused that I was irritated. It was the perfect mix between knowledge and mystery.

In general, the book was paced very well. Action scenes were spread throughout the story, each introducing Jack further into the Weirlind world. I also loved that there were lots of plot twists that left me dropping my jaw. You can guess the basics of the ending, but I was very surprised at how it got there.

Like Harry Potter, Jack is supported by his best friends, Will and Fitch, and has a maybe girlfriend Ellen. I was blase about their role in the book. It feels ubiquitous that a teenage adventure story has to be about a boy and his friends defeating evil. Why do friends have to tag along? Not that it's bad, but it feels like a formulaic rule. Jack's mother is totally clueless and is even more of a pawn than he is (typical cardboard, absentish parent). I did like his enchantress aunt Linda and his mentor Leander. Leander was a highlight of the book because you couldn't tell if he was good or evil.

My main problem with this book was Jack. He was a nice kid, but very flat. You could argue that Harry in Harry Potter is also a flat character. Unlike Ron and Hermione, who have well-defined personalities, Harry is more blank. Perhaps to make it easier for the reader to project themselves into his shoes. But unlike Jack, I loved Harry and came to understand the subtle nuances of his character. I never connected to Jack. And because I didn't care about Jack, in turn, I didn't believe the book. Despite the wonderful world building and my enjoyment of the story, I could never quite turn off the little voice in my head that says "This is nice, but it's just a book." A truly good fantasy adventure should totally engross the reader and make her forget that any other world exists. The Warrior Heir was a fun story and an outstanding debut, but doesn't rise to the level of truly special..

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
December 26, 2008; Viking Children's Books


Summary

Eon has been studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic for four years, hoping he'll be able to apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But he also has a dark secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living a dangerous lie for the chance to become a Dragon-eye, the human link to an energy dragon's power. It is forbidden for females to practice the Dragon Magic and, if discovered, Eon faces a terrible death. After a dazzling sword ceremony, Eon's affinity with the twelve dragons catapults him into the treacherous world of the Imperial court, where he makes a powerful enemy, Lord Ido. As tension builds and Eon's desperate lie comes to light, readers won't be able to stop turning the pages...(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

As someone who is fascinated by Asian culture, history, and myths, Eon was a fabulous read. It draws upon Chinese and Japanese legends to create a fantasy world. It was so realistic that I often thought of it as historical fiction, forgetting that dragons and dragoneyes aren't real.

Eon is a 12 year old boy who has been training for the past few years to become a dragon eye, one of twelve men who connect and control the energy of the spirit dragons. Eon is unusual in that he can see all of the dragons. Usually trainees struggle to see anything. But Eon lags behind the other boys in fighting skill, because he is lame. That is enough of a handicap, but what only Eon's master knows is the Eon is really Eona, a 16 year old girl. It is unheard of for a girl to be a dragoneye and would be considered a crime punishable by death.

Eon is action packed. Alison (awesome name by the way - and even spelled right!) does a fabulous job pacing the book so that it flows perfectly. Big, surprising action scenes are interspersed throughout the novel. The action scenes aren't just thrown in there - they all move the plot along. In between the action, the book sets up a complex world of court politics where the line between friends and enemies sometimes is very clear and sometimes is not at all clear. The prose is complex and somewhat wordy, but there were only a few times where I felt things started to drag. Mostly the plot carries the detailed writing well.

Eona was a great character. Brave and determined yet also frightened and unsure. She had to learn to rely upon herself over the course of the book. The side characters were also fabulous. I loved Lady Dela, a lady's maid who is actually a man. She was wonderful at introducing Eona into the court world and also at protecting her despite the costs. Eona's Master was also an intriguing character. He came off as cruel and insensitive at first, but I felt I understood him better as the book went on.

Much of this book is about exploring what it means to be female versus male. Specifically whether being female is a good or bad thing - relevant in Asian traditions where females are devalued. Much of the book's themes and conclusions were predictable. Eona wasn't too bright for almost the entire book. It's my greatest criticism of the book and kept me from loving it as much as many others. However, the path it traveled to get toward the expected ending was not at all predicable. The story ends at a shocking point and sends the reader running to grab the sequel.

If you are at all interested in Asian culture, you must read Eon. If you like fantasy, you must read Eon. If you love Asian food, you must read Eon.

Rating: 4 / 5

Monday, February 27, 2012

Manga Mondays Meme (92): Kimi Ni Todoke vol. 1 by Karuho Shiina

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Kimi Ni Todoke vol. 1 by Karuho Shiina


Summary

Sawako Kuronuma is the perfect heroine...for a horror movie. With her jet-black hair, sinister smile and silent demeanor, she's often mistaken for Sadako, the haunting character from Ringu. Unbeknownst to but a few, behind her scary fa├žade is a very misunderstood teenager. Shy and pure of heart, she just wants to make friends. But when Kazehaya, the most popular boy in class, befriends her, she's sure to make more than just that--she's about to make some enemies too!(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

In my recent quest to discover good Contemporary Shojo Manga, many people recommended Kimi Ni Todoke. I can definitely see why everyone likes it. Volume 1 of Kimi Ni Todoke was alternately sweet, heartbreaking, happy, and sad.

Sawako is an outcast. Her looks and serious demeanor make her unapproachable to her classmates. Unfortunately for Sawako, bullying is a universal tendency of teens, regardless of culture. Her classmates generally aren't outright mean. Instead, they've perpetuated this idea that she has evil superpowers. If she looks at you for 3 seconds, you'll come down with some horrible malady. Even worse, some of the teachers in the school are afraid of her as well.

I felt horrible for Sawako. She was one of the shyest characters I've ever encountered. Also with one of the lowest self esteems. She's stuck in a vicious circle. She thinks all the people hate her because they don't know her, but because they don't like her, she's too scared to get to know them.

All this changes when Kazehaya, the most popular boy in school, takes notice of her. She is incredibly flattered that he would condescend to speak to her. With his encouragement, she starts reaching out to other people and is surprised that a few kids are willing to befriend her.

I loved the depth of both Kazehaya and Sawako's characters. Shiina did a great job at showing Mr. Popular Kazehaya as vulnerable and embarrassed. He "likes" Sawako, but she only looks up to him as an older brother type (at least to begin with). He is such a nice guy that it feels unreal, but portraying him with typical insecurities makes him seem like a real person. Similarly, Sawako is devastatingly realistic. The look on her face and her thoughts when she was rejected and ridiculed and contrastly, the amazement and joy when someone took the time to be nice matched exactly how I often felt as a teenager - and imagine many of us have felt at various times in our lives.

I will definitely keep reading Kimi Ni Todoke. The first volume is slow. It hasn't captured me with a lively, fast moving plot. Rather the characters have worked their way deep into my heart.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #85

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.

The Good About Twilight Copy-Cats

For better or for worse, Twilight set the norm for modern YA paranormal romance. And when something becomes popular, imitation is inevitable. A majority of paranormals that I read can seemingly be characterized as "angel Twilight," "werewolf Twilight," "zombie Twilight," etc. A few elements in common are understandable. After all, there are only so many ways one can write a teenage romance. But a lot of books so blatantly draw from Twilight that I can barely get through them without rolling my eyes every ten seconds.

Why do authors persist on rewriting Twilight when any savvy reader can see what she's trying to do? Because it works. Call me uncouth, but there are a lot of Twilighty themes that I fall for every time. Books like Die For Me, Carrier of the Mark, Starcrossed, and others may share one too many themes with Twilight, but I love the books because of them, not in spite of them.

If you're a Twilight fan, what are your favorite elements of the series? What themes capture your heart no matter how many times their copycatted?


*Even the most diehard Twilight lover like me can think of plenty of aspects of the series that are not positive. Let's put those aside for the moment and focus on what we like about Twilight.

My Answers

1) Family: Increasingly, my favorite part of the Twilight series is not the romance between Bella and Edward but the Cullen clan as a whole. I love books featuring big families with diverse characters. It's the world that only children like me dream of.

2) Bad Boy: Like so many girls, I am attracted to Mr. Danger, not Mr. Nice Guy. I like the mystery and the darkness. A lot of YA books break down into a battle between Mr. Like-Edward and Mr. Like-Jacob. I will always go for Mr. Like-Edward.

3) Different Paranormal: One of the best features of Twilight is that it is an entirely new take on vampires. I love books that dare to veer away from the traditional angel, zombie, werewolf, etc.

4) Shy, Smart Girl: Much has been written about Bella as a wilting daisy, but at heart, she is a quiet bookish girl - just like me. I like reading about strong girls who always speak their minds like Rose Hathaway, but I can relate to characters like Bella better.

What about you?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler
March 6, 2012; Simon Pulse

*I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Summary

Sometimes the end is just the beginning.

Gabby lived under the radar until her makeover. Way under. But when she started her senior year as a blonder, better-dressed version of herself, she struck gold: Billy Nash believed she was a the flawless girl she was pretending to be. The next eight months with Billy were bliss...Until the night Gabby woke up on the ground next to the remains of his BMW without a single memory of how she got there.

And Billy's nowhere to be found.

All Gabby wants is to make everything perfect again. But getting her life back isn't difficult, it's impossible. Because nothing is the same, and Gabby's beginning to realize she's missed more than a few danger signs along the way.

It's time for Gabby to face the truth, even if it means everything changes.

Especially if it means everything changes.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Have you ever read a book where you wanted to slap the main character? I spent most of Where It Began wanting to hit Gabby upside the head and scream at her, but also to hug her and help her.

Gabby has no memory of crashing her boyfriend's car when she was falling down drunk at a party. No one - her parents, her doctors, the police, her boyfriend, her friends - can pull the events of that evening out of her mind. Which is fine with Gabby. She wants to go back to normal. And normal is being beautiful, popular, and - most importantly - girlfriend to the hottest guy in school.

Gabby is a delusional fool. Anyone with half a brain can see that Billy, her boyfriend, is bad news. It is also obvious that Billy had more to do with the car crash than it appears - neon, blinking red lights obvious. But Gabby is totally oblivious, stuck in the wonder world of obsessive love.

This blind belief and devotion is extraordinarily frustrating. I dreaded reading the next page because I knew that Gabby was going to make another idiotic, self-destructive move all in the name of Billy. While her naivite is the reason why I didn't like the book that much, it is also why I think it distinguishes itself from other contemporary YA. From an objective standpoint, I loved the portrayal of Gabby. Her relationship with Billy is clearly extreme, but I believe it. A newly blossomed swan with very low self esteem is surprised and thrilled that the richest, hottest guy in school likes her. He is so much better than her, so she needs to do whatever it takes to please him. Only in pleasing him and remaining his girlfriend can she be happy. A horrible example to follow, but haven't you seen it happen?

Gabby's mother was a very important secondary character. She was evil. Not in the physically abusive way, but in the lessons she was teaching her daughter. Looks, money, and boys are all that matter. She was just as willing as Gabby to go along with whatever Billy and his family wanted, because it was crucial to keep Gabby in the upper echelon of society. It is easy to understand why Gabby is so screwed up with a mother like her. Luckily, Gabby did have good influences in her pre-popular friends and her psychiatrist. I have hopes that she may be able to grow into a happy person with their help.

Not much about Where It Began is surprising. I didn't predict every turn along the journey, but I knew where the road was going. What made the book interesting to read was the struggles it took Gabby to get to the destination.

Rating: 3 / 5

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
August 30, 2011; Tor Teen


*Sorry for being a bad blogger the past week or so. I've been traveling and having visitors, so I haven't commented nearly as much as I usually do. I'll try to catch up in the next few days until I head out of town again for the weekend. Everything should be back to normal by next Monday or Tuesday.

Summary

Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story. . .

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until his gruesome murder by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: move, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, but now stained red and dripping blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

And she, for whatever reason, spares his life.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Anna Dressed in Blood was a fun page-turner that almost, but not quite, lived up to the hype. Ghost stories are not the most popular paranormal in YA, but they neither are they uncommon. Anna Dressed in Blood is a new take on the traditional ghost story. Cas is a modern day Ghost Buster (Don't tell him that though. He makes a lot of swipes at the Ghost Busters). After his dad's death, he took up the family occupation of finding violent ghosts and re-killing them - with a special knife.

Cas was the highlight of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the world through Cas's eyes. He starts off the book very arrogant and sure of himself. Not arrogant in a way that's annoying, but rather in the sense of a guy who is very good at what he does and knows it. I think his arrogance might also be masking insecurity and loneliness of not having any friends and moving so frequently. But you'd never know that. Cas is a lone gunman. When popular-girl Carmel and loner geek Thomas try to get in on his game, he pushes them back. But of course, since it's YA, eventually the friends get in on the game and it becomes a group effort.

The game of which I speak is Anna. She is a seventeen year old ghost who was murdered on the evening of her first dance. She now haunts her old home, killing anyone who enters. But when Cas is pushes into the house as part of a prank she spares him. Why? We see in great detail that Anna doesn't spare most people. The book veers into the horror genre by highlighting several very gruesome killings. I didn't think it was scary or gross, but I don't scare easily. It was certainly fun to read though. Simply the willingness to go places most YA novels wouldn't dare is one of the best features of Anna Dressed in Blood.

Anna is a wonderfully layered character. She is a nightmare in every sense of the word. But unlike the other ghosts Cas kills, she realizes the horribleness of her actions and hates herself for them. She and Cas form an odd sort of friendship. Part of him wants to kill her and part of Anna wants to die. Another part of Cas is fascinated by her and part of Anna wants to find a way to continue existing without violence. Despite knowing very clearly what Anna is capable of, I pitied her and wanted her to "live."

While I get irritated by the "necessity" of placing friends in a prominent role in every YA, I did like Thomas and Carmel very much. Carmel especially. She is the queen bee - the beautiful, popular girl that everyone wants to either date or emulate. Kudos to Kendare for creating a unique "popular girl" mentality. Carmel had a dominating personality, but was also kind, smart, and brave. I liked that she insisted on staying involved in Cas's ghost quest. Thomas was a little irritating but in the somewhat endearing way of a little brother who always tags along. Thomas comes from a wizarding family and was very useful. He's the type of person who grows on you the more you get used to him.

The plot was full of twists and turns. There was extreme violence, moments great sadness, page-turning suspense, even hints of romance. I did think the plot sort of petered out at the end. Once a big revelation about Anna was made, I thought the story became more predictable and a little cheesy. But on the whole, it was a very well done story. I would definitely check out Anna Dressed in Blood!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, February 20, 2012

Manga Mondays (90): What Was Your First Manga?

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my post.



No manga review today. I spent my holiday weekend in San Francisco. Love that city! But unfortunately, that has put me behind in my manga reading. So my next review will be delayed until next week.

In the mean time, here's a question:

What was the first manga series you read?


My first manga was Fruits Basket. I had heard it was one of the most iconic manga series, so I thought I'd give it a try. I struggled a bit with it at first - I had trouble telling some of the characters apart and the story line was confusing. But I think that was mainly because I was unfamiliar with the manga style. Once I got used to it, I fell in love with the mythology, the characters, and the romance.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #84

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.


The Daughters Join the Party (Daughters #4) by Joanna Philbin

The Daughters Join the Party (Daughters #4) by Joanna Philbin
November 7, 2011; Poppy


Summary

They didn't ask for fame. They were born with it.

For the first time, readers will meet Emma Conway, daughter of a powerful New York State Senator.

Emma has never fit into the sweater-set-wearing world of her political family, opting for purple hair and Chuck Taylors to keep herself out of countless photo ops, but when she accidentally lets her father's presidential plans slip on national television, Emma finds herself thrown into the spotlight. Facing pressure to be the perfect First Daughter-in-training, Emma must learn to speak up for herself and for what she believes in. Thankfully, she has her new friends and fellow daughters - Lizzie, Carina, and Hudson - to help her along the way. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Joanna Philbin has established herself as a writer of fun, cheerful young adult novels. The Daughters series features the daughters of four rich and famous families. Unlike most series of rich kids, these characters are "good girls." They each have their flaws and lessons to learn, but by the end of each book, the girls make the right choices and are happy. Each book in the series is told from the point of view of a different girl.

A new girl joins the trio that we met in the first three Daughters series. Emma has just been kicked out of boarding school and is now going to the same New York City private school that Lizzie, Hudson, and Carina attend. The spotlight is on Emma, because her father is running for president.

Emma definitely has the most outrageous personality of the four girls. Since her older brother Remington is Mister Perfect, Emma distinguished herself by being rebellious. She always speaks her mind, regardless of the occasion or audience. Ostensibly, she doesn't care about what people think of her, but I think she wants to be seen as an edgy bad girl. Emma's personality is nothing like mine or any of the people I was friends with growing up, but I really liked her. I wish I'd had the courage to speak up for myself like she does. And since we read from her point of view, we realize that Emma has good intentions and really is a nice person.

Emma quickly gets in over her head in this book. She makes a stupid comment - accidentally - to the media about her father's candidacy and gets lots of attention. She continues to say things on the stump that no candidate or candidate's child has ever dared and the public loves her. So she goes out on the road to campaign for her dad. But politics is not the best realm for a young teenager and Emma has a lot to learn.

While Emma was a fun character because you never knew what she was going to say next, I do think this was the least realistic Daughters book yet. No presidential candidate in his right mind would have his 15 year old daughter making big time campaign speeches. Or if he did, I would lose all respect for him. Even if a candidate's child did go on the stump, I can't imagine said child getting away with the things Emma says. It's great entertainment, but I can't imagine it happening. Regardless of its realism, The Daughters Join the Party was just as fun as the previous books (although Lizzie and the first book is my favorite).

The Daughters series is rather formulaic. You know what you're going to get. But that's not a bad thing. When I'm choosing where to go out to eat, I have loads of restaurants to go to. I usually end up going to my favorite place and getting my favorite dish. I'm never surprised but I always leave happy. You'll leave happy with any book in the Daughters series.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Bunheads by Sophie Flack
October 10, 2011; Poppy


Summary

As a dancer with the ultra-prestigious Manhattan Ballet Company, nineteen-year-old Hannah Ward juggles intense rehearsals, dazzling performances and complicated backstage relationships. Up until now, Hannah has happily devoted her entire life to ballet.

But when she meets a handsome musician named Jacob, Hannah's universe begins to change, and she must decide if she wants to compete against the other "bunheads" in the company for a star soloist spot or strike out on her own in the real world. Does she dare give up the gilded confines of the ballet for the freedoms of everyday life? (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

Bunheads is the opportunity to live vicariously the life of a ballerina. As someone who was born with three left feet (you may not think that's possible, but if you see me dance, you'll understand), it is wonderful to become a dancer for 300 pages. In Bunheads, the reader follows Hannah, a 19 year old professional ballerina, who lives, sleeps, eats, and breathes ballet. It is such a foreign world that you feel like you're reading a fantasy or visiting a different country. Sophie Flack does a fabulous job of setting up the ballet world.

Ostensibly, Bunheads is about a young ballerina who thinks only of ballet until she meets a handsome, intriguing guy "from the outside" who introduces her to the real world, at which point said ballerina needs to decide whether she would rather continue ballet or venture out into the big world with lover-boy. But if you're looking mainly for plot heavy romance, go elsewhere. The rather unoriginal plot is the least interesting thing about Bunheads. Where the book excels is the immersive ballet experience.

Sophie Flack is a retired professional ballerina so she knows of which she writes. The book is supposedly mostly autobiographical. The world of professional ballet is one of sweat, tears, joy, competition, cruelty, hard work, heart break, opportunities, and ultimately the love of dancing. I loved how Hannah seemed representative of the typical dancer. She's not the star, but she's not the weakling. We saw day in and day out how much she sacrificed for ballet. She is 19 years old - old for YA - but in many ways as emotionally immature as a 14 year old. She has not really lived. She works incredibly hard - enduring hours of intense rehearsals only to finish it off with more exercise and a limited diet. All in the name of earning a better role.

The world of ballet is unimaginably competitive. Hannah's only friends are her co-dancers, who are also her competitors. The cattiness can get extreme. We see every girl, Hannah included, smile to a girl's face only to talk about her behind her back. A lot of reviewers criticize the book for featuring a "mean girl" main character, but I don't see it that way. With the exception of a few saints, I think most of us have talked about other people behind their backs, be they friends, family, or enemies. It's not a positive attribute, but it is a real one. I am very pleased to see a protagonist who is a fundamentally nice girl but isn't perfectly kind. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite parts of the book, simply because it's different. But the characters aren't always catty. There are many scenes where you see how the characters care for and support one another.

Bunheads is a endearing, fun book that takes you behind the scenes of a professional ballet. Regardless of the plot, the cultural experience is worth the read alone. I loved how Sophie characterized the world as demanding and unforgiving, but also showcased the beauty of dancing. We understand why Hannah stays with ballet, because she exudes her love for dancing. And we feel it too. Bunheads is one of the best athletic books I've read in a long time and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Supernaturally by Kiersten White

Supernaturally by Kiersten White
July 26, 2011; HarperTeen


Summary

Evie finally has the normal life she’s always longed for. But she’s shocked to discover that being ordinary can be . . . kind of boring. Just when Evie starts to long for her days at the International Paranormal Containment Agency, she’s given a chance to work for them again. Desperate for a break from all the normalcy, she agrees.

But as one disastrous mission leads to another, Evie starts to wonder if she made the right choice. And when Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend Reth appears with devastating revelations about her past, she discovers that there’s a battle brewing between the faerie courts that could throw the whole supernatural world into chaos. The prize in question? Evie herself.

So much for normal.(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

One of the hardest things for a first time author to do is to leave that debut status and become a sophomore author. It is hardest when an author's first novel is received to high acclaim. How do you top a great book? Kiersten White was in this position with Supernaturally. Paranormalcy was a refreshing change from the standard paranormal romance. Laugh out loud funny with a heroine who was sweet, snarky, and confident but also innocent and vulnerable. Add to that a host of paranormal characters and a kind love interest and you have a winning novel.

I'd love to say that Supernaturally outdoes Paranormalcy or even lives up to it, but I cannot. That's not to say it's bad. Certainly not. It is a wonderful book, but it's not special. I was disappointed to see it falling into the same formulaic mold that the majority of "second" paranormal novels feel compelled to fit: Happy love life isn't so great, couple emotionally or physically separates, third wheel enters, heroine gets into some kind of trouble, happy couple reunites happily. And there you have Supernaturally in a very bare-bones nutshell.

Evie has everything she wants - a normal life, a fabulous boyfriend, and best of all - a locker! Unfortunately, she realizes what the rest of us figured out long ago. Normal isn't that fun. So she accepts contract work with the IPCA, despite knowing the agency's dark side. But even her old hunting habits aren't as easy as they used to be. Especially not with Jack, her new colleague - or is he an enemy?

Evie continues to be a joy. She's not as funny as she was in Paranormalcy, but I still got a kick out of her. She has such a sarcastic, dry outlook on life - definitely someone I would want to be friends with. Plus, everything about her is cutesy and girly. I also like that her vulnerabilities are a big part of her character and the plot. She is desperate to really understand where she came from. She both loves and resents Raquel, the only "mother" she ever knew. She can't stand her ex-boyfriend Reth, the manipulative amoral fairy, but she also can't stay away. It makes Evie feel like a real person and also adds depth to a series that might otherwise feel lightweight. While Evie's decisions in Supernaturally don't always seem wise, they make a lot of sense when you understand the haunted side of her personality.

While I wasn't as pleased with Supernaturally as Paranormalcy, I think I understand its place in the series. There's a reason that the second book tends to be formulaic. Supernaturally further developed the fantasy world - the IPCA, Evie's background, the renegade paranormals. It pushed Evie further along the road of self-discovery and toward a more satisfying relationship with Lend. Ultimately, the series will have more depth because of Supernaturally's place-holding role. But it would be so nice to have a stellar second novel. They're too rare.

You must read Supernaturally if you loved Paranormalcy. It is cutesy and funny. The writing is clean and flows very quickly. You'll love Evie and Lend (the little you see of him). You'll also love Jack who is sarcastic and funny, in many ways the perfect guy for Evie. Kiersten's take on fairies, werewolves, and vampires is like nothing you'll read in any other series. Supernaturally is still a breath of fresh air from most of paranormal romance novels.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manga Mondays (89): Skip Beat vol. 1 by Yoshiki Nakamura

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Skip Beat vol. 1 by Yoshiki Nakamura


Summary

Kyoko always thought that Sho, whose family took her in when she was small, was her prince charming. However, when Sho heads for Tokyo to make it big as a musician, Kyoko goes with him and has to quit high school to support his dream. But soon, being in the big city makes Kyoko realize that she has show business ambitions of her own?(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

I picked up Skip Beat, because it is a massively popular series. The first volume was interesting, but didn't establish itself in my mind as anything spectacular. However, it has piqued my interest enough that I want to continue with the series. I assume it becomes more interesting.

Kyoko starts out as your stereotypical shoujo manga girl. Quiet, kind, sacrificing. She dropped everything - including school - to run off to Tokyo with childhood friend Sho to help him on his path to stardom. Once Sho becomes popular, he drops boring Kyoko like a hot potato. Here is where the book diverges from standard shoujo. Kyoko has a dark nature. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She decides to join Sho in the show business industry - to show that she's just as good as he is.

The ultimate message of this volume is that revenge may be a good motivation to start, but you can't succeed by only having a negative attitude. Thankfully, I don't think that this is going to turn into a happy happy series. Kyoko may learn to balance her personality, but I'm guessing she'll always have a fun edge to her.

I can't really get an opinion on this volume because I'm not invested in the characters yet. I like Kyoko. I'm guessing that I'm supposed to be interested in Sho and Ren (Sho's pop star competitor), but I didn't get a feel for their personalities. I wish she'd done a better job introducing them. If I hadn't heard so many good things about this series, I don't know that the first volume would have been enough to keep me invested. The only other odd thing is that both Ren and Sho have very long legs. I guess this shows that they're tall, but they look slightly out of proportion.

All in all, this volume is just okay but I'm going to keep going in this series. Hopefully I'll figure out why it's so great soon.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

In My Mailbox #66

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

Review


Fall From Grace by Charles Benoit

*Thanks to Teen Book Scene!

Library Stash

Eona by Alison Goodman



Skip Beat! vol. 1 by Yoshiki Nakamura


Kimi Ni Todoke vol. 1 by Karuho Shiina

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #83

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.


There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones

There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones
October 4, 2011; Thomas Nelson

*I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Summary

Grief brought Finley to Ireland. LOVE WILL LEAD HER HOME.

Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen-year-old. She's witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming interview at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother, Will.

She decides to study abroad in Ireland so she can follow Will's travel journal. It's the place he felt closest to God, and she's hopeful being there will help her make peace over losing him. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane.

Beckett Rush, teen heartthrob and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She's the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.

Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down. The loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to a new and dangerous vice. When is God going to show up for her in this emerald paradise?

Then she experiences something that radically changes her perspective on life. Could it be God convincing her that everything she's been looking for has been with her all along?(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

I went into There You'll Find Me looking for a light, fluffy escapist romance. I didn't care if it was realistic or perfectly written. I was looking for fun and sap and that's exactly what I got. Handsome uber famous teen idol movie star falls in love with an ordinary, pretty-but-not-too-pretty teenage girl? Who doesn't dream of that? (Actually, I think dating a movie star would be far from perfect, but I'm putting my rational mind aside for the moment).

Finley and Beckett are awesome characters. First off, they have fabulous names. Beckett especially - since that happens to be one of my favorite boy names. Finley is the type of girl who doesn't put on airs; what you see is what you get. She is funny, sarcastic, and kind. She is also very hard on herself. She is mourning her brother's death in a terrorist attack and is spending her year in Ireland trying to rediscover her brother, partly in hope that she can be as good as he is, as faithful as he is. But unless it's absolutely perfect, it's not good enough.

Beckett is as charming and funny as it gets. The star of a series of teenage vampire movies, I imagine him as a cross between Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner (Rob in looks and Taylor in personality). He has a jet-setting, gossip-column filled life, but we quickly realize that he is much more than that. Beckett doesn't want to be a silly teen idol. He wants to make movies that mean something and have faith in something more than him. Instead of surrounding himself by yes-men and drooly girls, he prefers to be near Finley, who spends most of her time being annoyed by him.

The banter and flirting between the characters was as cute as it gets. I loved how Beckett purposely called Finley by the wrong name, like "Flossie" and "Frannie." Beckett comes off as a little conceited, but it ends up reading as funny and even though Finley may be annoyed, the reader knows she'll succumb in the end:

"[Beckett] 'And as for girls who try to stay away from me - my charm always wears them down.'
[Finley] 'I'm up-to-date on my shots, so I'm pretty much immune to everything'"

Even better, Finley and Beckett fall in love by being friends and spending time together. How refreshing. Finley desperately wants to find a particular Celtic cross that her brother photographed. Beckett happily plays tour guide. And in return, Finley helps Beckett with lines. Her non-simpering attitude inspires him to be a better actor.

Ms. Jones' writing is easy to read and flows nicely. She came up with a good plot framework that provided reasons for Finley and Beckett's lives to intersect. A tad coincidental (okay, more than a tad), but it worked. Finley's host family was also a highlight. Her host mum and dad added a positive, strong parental influence to the book. Her host brother was adorable and her host sister was a great best friend type.

If you start thinking too much about the book, you can easily become annoyed. The Christian element, while not preachy, is too prevalent for my taste. Finley is a "normal" girl who also happens to be a hotel heiress who spent much of the past year partying (Hilton-style). Beckett's speech and mannerisms become progressively more Irish as the book goes on; oftentimes, he doesn't sound like a real teenager (i.e. "If I'm going to be your bloomin' tour guide..." - nobody below 80 says 'blooming').

Don't bother thinking while you're reading this book. You'll miss all the fun of a cute romance that progresses at a realistic pace with likable characters. There's a time and place for saccharine sweetness.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth
Balzer & Bray; February 7, 2012

*I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Summary

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief she’ll never have to tell them that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief soon turns to heartbreak, as Cam is forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and not making waves, and Cam becomes an expert at this—especially at avoiding any questions about her sexuality.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. To Cam’s surprise, she and Coley become best friends—while Cam secretly dreams of something more. Just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, her secret is exposed. Ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to “fix” her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self—even if she’s not quite sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a classic coming of age story. Cam is a character who you will come to care for and root for. The book begins when Cam is about twelve and living an All-American small town life complete with swimming, teenage hijinks, and young love. Like most young teens and tweens Cameron is discovering romance. To her surprise and fear, she realizes she is attracted to girls.

It is at this fragile time that Cam’s parents die in a tragic car accident. The book shifts gradually several years. Cam lives with her very religious Aunt and her grandmother. She spends most of her time messing around with her guy friends and falling in and out of love with various girls, making sure to keep her sexuality a secret.

The book shifts again when Aunt Ruth discovers that Cam has been having relationships with girls. She sends her off to a Christian school geared toward “curing” homosexual youth. There, Cam encounters loneliness, restrictions, and judgment, but also makes great friends who understand her better than the people in her small town.

As I said at the beginning of the review, Cam is the star of this novel. I loved her. She is emotionally reserved, but you can feel the sadness and anger boiling up within her. She is somewhat rebellious, but not overly so - she doesn’t go out of her way just to prove a point like some of the other characters in the novel. I also loved that she kept an open mind about almost everyone. A lot of people in her life were trying to hurt her or hold her back, but she didn’t flatly demonize them.

Cameron’s open mind influenced my opinion about all the characters. I easily could have hated Aunt Ruth or Pastor Rick or Lydia - the people who were trying to “cure” Cam - for not realizing that they were doing far more harm than good. But because of the writing and Cam’s outlook, I was able to view them with empathy and some sympathy (well, maybe not for Lydia). Aunt Ruth and Pastor Rick were well-intentioned if misguided. Cam’s friends were also well-developed three-dimensional characters. We got to know Jamie, Adam, and Jane Fonda the best. None were perfect and none were characters I would have been friends with, but I understood them.

Emily Danforth’s writing is fabulous. I particularly loved her descriptions of Montana. She made the setting come alive with its rugged beauty. In fact, everything came alive - the characters, the plot, and the setting - through her prose. Ms. Danforth clearly has a literary bent. Call me pedestrian, but I don’t always like reading “literary” novels. The prose tends to overshadow the plot. There were a few instances were I thought the writing started to get in the way, but for the most part, the beautiful prose enhanced the reading experience.

A few complaints though. First, the book is long. Llllooonnnngggg. Almost 500 pages! It’s a character driven novel that meanders through Cam’s teenage years. 200 pages easily could have been filtered out and the book wouldn’t have suffered much. Because of its length, it dragged quite a bit. I remained interested in the story throughout the book, but I would have been happier if it was shorter. Second - not as much a complaint as it is personal taste - there was a lot of drug use, alcohol, and language in this book. The prevalence of pot smoking bothered me most. On one hand, it’s a realistic reflection of many teenagers’ lives. I think that YA should reflect teenagers as they are not as they should be. On the other hand, I really don’t approve of teenagers being potheads and prefer books that show the negative effects of drug use in addition to the fun times. It made me uncomfortable with the book. But as I said, that’s not a flaw per se, but more about my reading tastes.

On the whole, The Miseducation of Cameron Post was an extremely well-written, engaging book with characters that I cared about. I would love to read a book about Cam’s life in her mid-twenties to see where she ends up.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton

The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton
September 27, 2011; Tor Teen / Macmillan


Summary

Debut novelist Kiki Hamilton takes readers from the gritty slums and glittering ballrooms of Victorian London to the beguiling but menacing Otherworld of the Fey in this spellbinding tale of romance, suspense, and danger.

The year is 1871, and Tiki has been making a home for herself and her family of orphans in a deserted hideaway adjoining Charing Cross Station in central London. Their only means of survival is by picking pockets. One December night, Tiki steals a ring, and sets off a chain of events that could lead to all-out war with the Fey. For the ring belongs to Queen Victoria, and it binds the rulers of England and the realm of Faerie to peace. With the ring missing, a rebel group of faeries hopes to break the treaty with dark magic and blood--Tiki's blood.

Unbeknownst to Tiki, she is being watched--and protected--by Rieker, a fellow thief who suspects she is involved in the disappearance of the ring. Rieker has secrets of his own, and Tiki is not all that she appears to be. Her very existence haunts Prince Leopold, the Queen's son, who is driven to know more about the mysterious mark that encircles her wrist.

Prince, pauper, and thief--all must work together to secure the treaty... (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Faerie Ring is one of the more difficult books to review that I've read lately. On one hand, I absolutely adored the book. On the other hand, from an objective standard, I can see numerous problems with the novel.

The good side first...The Faerie Ring carried me away. It is the perfect combination of historical fiction and fantasy. The book is set in Victorian England. You get to see the extremes of wealth and poverty in this novel since Tiki, the main character, lives on the streets while Leo, another main character is the son of Queen Victoria and lives in Buckingham Palace. I like how the book doesn't glorify the poor while demonizing the spoiled rich. Tiki is obviously our hero, but the wealthy characters in the story, while a bit careless, were good people. It's really fey versus humans. Ms. Hamilton did a wonderful job capturing the feeling of the poverty of Victorian London. We see dirty streets, little ramshackle hovels, flower sellers, and pick pockets. Yet we also see equally good descriptions of wealthy London - grand balls, palaces, and fashion.

Tiki is a fabulous character. She's a professional pick-pocket living on the streets. Such a difficult life could harden a person, but Tiki has remained kind. She puts up a good front, but at heart she's a teenage girl with insecurities and fears. I loved her "family" as well, the group of waifs she lives with, particularly the littlest girl. I had some difficulty telling the older characters apart.

The main guy in the book is Rieker who is handsome and most of all mysterious. Also a professional pick-pocket, he appears to protect Tiki...or is he trying to harm her? He figures out quickly that Tiki is involved in stealing the Queen's ring and knows an unusual amount about its faerie origin. What I loved most about Ms. Hamilton's portrayal of Rieker was the mystery. For much of the book, Tiki instinctively distrusts him. My reaction was the opposite - I assumed he was trustworthy. But there were enough oddities in his actions and personality that neither Tiki nor I could be sure about Rieker for most of the book. I liked discovering Rieker alongside Tiki.

My favorite part about The Faerie Ring bleeds into my least favorite part. When I was reading this book, I was transported across a continent and back 150 years. I was transfixed by Tiki, Rieker, and the other characters. I marveled at Tiki's ingenuity and was awed by her gorgeous outfit at the Queen's ball (what would a good YA book be without some fashion?). I was terrified by every close call and the increasing danger of the fey. It is unfortunately rare for a book to make the world disappear around me.

So that's good...but once I finished the book, all these doubts crept in. The world-building is considerably lacking. We don't discover much about the fey legends until the end of the book and even that is incomplete. And the book is full of inconsistencies and big coincidences. Obviously you have to suspend some belief for a book centering on a ring that symbolizes peace between the fey and humans, but so many things worked out "just in time" for Tiki. And the theme of a poor girl really being a lady and blossoming once you put a pretty dress on her is overplayed. In retrospect, I don't like the ending. It is both too perfect and incomplete, for different reasons.

In some ways I loved The Faerie Ring and in some ways it was lacking. I give it high marks for carrying me away as I read it, but lower marks for not holding up well after I finished it.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vampire Empire Giveaway: Ends Tomorrow Feb 7!!


The authors of one of my favorite book series, Vampire Empire, are hosting a giveaway. It ends tomorrow February 7. Check out the GIVEAWAY at Clay and Susan's blog.

You can win a replica of Adele's Geomancer Talisman:


Regardless, make sure you check out Clay and Susan's books: The Greyfriar and The Rift Walker. I can't recommend them highly enough.

Manga Mondays Meme (88): Dengeki Daisy vol. 4 by Kyousuke Motomi

New Manga Mondays Meme!

I've been doing Manga Mondays every week since I started my blog 18 months ago. It's always been a personal feature, but now I'm going to try turning it into a meme. There are quite a few people who do Manga Mondays. I don't claim by any means that I owned or created the idea of Manga Mondays - it's an obvious choice given the alliteration. I think a meme would be a good way for everyone to publicize their own Manga Mondays and get a little more publicity.

The linky will be below my review.

Dengeki Daisy vol. 4 by Kyousuke Motomi


Summary

Teru and Kurosaki continue to investigate the fake DAISY incident and are on the verge of solving the case when Teru gets kidnapped! What does the kidnapper want with her, and will Kutosaki be able to rescue her in time?!(courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

*Warning: Potential spoilers. My manga reviews tend to be more of a summary than a review. I find it hard to review manga in the same way I do regular books.

Anytime I see the word "kidnapping" in a plot summary, I think "drama." And drama is indeed the best way to describe volume 6 of Dengeki Daisy. I was surprised that the kidnapping was not the main subject of the volume. It infused the entire plot, but it happened early on and a lot more happened after it was resolved.

The plot keeps getting more and more complicated. A little silly, I suppose, but this isn't the type of manga that you expect to be particularly realistic. I do like how all the characters have layers. The bad guys aren't purely bad and the good guys aren't purely good.

I loved the way the kidnapping went down. It was the perfect romantic solution. Teru had to use her smarts, bravery, and humor to get herself out of the problem, but Kurosaki still had the chance to come in and play hero. They both emerged stronger. I do love how strong a character Teru is consistently throughout all the volumes. Kurosaki is there to protect her, but she is capable of caring for herself. Kurosaki is good moral and romantic support.

There wasn't enough romance in this book for me. I love romantic tension, but the tease can start to be overdrawn. And that's what I'm worried that Dengeki Daisy is becoming. I want to see Teru and Kurosaki really be together. I want more romantic scenes that Motomi is so good at drawing.

I'm curious to see where the series goes from here. Hopefully I can read volumes 7 and 8 soon.

Sign up for the Manga Mondays Meme!


Saturday, February 4, 2012

In My Mailbox #65

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.

I'm Alison (on the off chance you couldn't guess that from the name of my blog). I review Young Adult novels with a few Middle Grade books and a weekly manga feature.

Review


Love? Maybe by Heather Hepler


Won

*Thanks to Lindsay Cummings!!!!


Irises by Francisco X. Stork


Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg



The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George


Library Stash


Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
*Already finished this. Great read.



Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
*I'm almost done with this. Not sure what I think about it. I'm irritated that it took 200 of 300 pages for it to become interesting.


Everneath by Brodi Ashton

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Feature and Follow Friday #82

Welcome to the Feature & Follow


Gain new followers and make new friends with the Book Blogger Feature & Follow! If this is your first time here, welcome! You are about to make some new friends and gain new followers -- but you have to know -- the point of this hop is to follow other bloggers also. I follow you, you follow me.

The Feature & Follow is hosted by TWO hosts, Parajunkee of Parajunkee's View and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

How does this work? First you leave your name here on this post, (using the linky tools -- keep scrolling!) then you create a post on your own blog that links back to this post (easiest way is to just grab the code under the #FF picture and put it in your post) and then you visit as many blogs as you can and tell them "hi" in their comments (on the post that has the #FF image). You follow them, they follow you. Win. Win. Just make sure to follow back if someone follows you!

What sets this Hop apart from others, is our Feature. Each week we will showcase a Featured Blogger, from all different genres and areas. Who is our Feature today? Find out below. Just remember it is required, if you participate, to follow our Features and you must follow the hosts (Parajunkee & Alison Can Read) as a courtesy. How do you follow someone? Well, if you have a preference, state it in your #FF post. A lot of blogs are transitioning to Wordpress in which they do not have the luxury of GFC, so an RSS subscription is appreciated or if you choose an email subscription. If you don't have GFC please state in your post how you would like to be followed.


A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
September 1, 2004; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Summary

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams but little hope of seeing them come true. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore, where hotel guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace's drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder. Set in 1906 against the backdrop of the murder that inspired Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Jennifer Donnelly's astonishing debut novel effortlessly weaves romance, history, and a murder mystery into something moving, and real, and wholly original. Includes a reader's guide and an interview with the author. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

A Northern Light is a stark, haunting, beautiful novel. As one would expect from a book described as stark and haunting, much of it is dark and depressing. I generally like darkness in a novel. But sometimes I am in the mood for something cheery. I was, unfortunately, in such a mood while I was reading A Northern Light. If I'd been smart, I would have put it down and picked it up at a different time, but I'd been wanting to read the book for such a long time that I pushed through it. I enjoyed A Northern Light, but I probably would have liked it more if I'd been in a different mood.

Mattie is the star of our novel. She is an avid-booklover and wordsmith, which makes her immediately endearing to the reader. Mattie is stuck between a rock and a hard place. She desperately wants something more of her life: to go to college, get of of her small town, and become a writer. Yet with her mother's death, her father's embitterment, and her family's poverty, the chief burdens of care-taking have fallen upon Mattie. Her family needs her. Mattie may want out, but her love and duty to her family comes first.

The book alternates between the past and present - not a significant difference - between about spring and summer - and finally merges together at the end of the book. In the spring, Mattie wants to get away but is wracked with guilt. In the summer, Mattie has gotten away - to a job at a nearby resort - but thinks she'll probably never go further from home than that. All this changes when Mattie reads the letters of a young woman, a guest of the resort, is murdered.

I particularly liked some of the side characters. Mattie's best friend Weaver was a likeable, layered character. He was scary smart, funny, and loyal. As the only black young man in their small town, he aspired to become a lawyer and bring forth justice. He also tended to overreact at any perceived slight, which was understandable but not particularly smart given the time period. Ms. Wilcox, Mattie's teacher, was also wonderful. She helped open Mattie's eyes to the beauty and sorry of the world. I even liked Mattie's quasi-beau Royal. Like may not be the right word, but I appreciated him. He was handsome, arrogant, narrow-minded, and dull, but he felt real. I liked the role he played in the book, even if many of his actions were despicable.

The writing of this novel is both good and bad. Prose good, plotting bad. Donnelly's prose is full of imagery and emotion. Her words soak into your skin as you read them like a warm, sunny day (sorry - my attempts at artful prose is not as good, but you get my drift). It's like reading poetry.

Unfortunately, the plotting is not as good. The book is overly ambitious. There are a dozen plot points and there isn't time enough to explore even half of them thoroughly. I like books that challenge me to think as I'm reading, but this made me work and then left me hanging. I particularly disliked the fact that the murdered woman's letters are set up as being the keystone of the novel, but they didn't appear until we were significantly through the book. While I could tell what influence Donnelly wanted me to believe the letters had on Mattie, the book didn't really convince me. Also, the time shifts were confusing. They were often sudden and there was no notation whether it was past or present. I was able to figure it out eventually through context, but it took away from my enjoyment of the plot. I appreciate the use of time shifts as a literary trick, but I would rather marvel at the story itself than the craft of writing.

A Northern Light is a good book, but could have been better. Luckily, Donnelly appears to have learned from her early works, because her new YA book Revolution is absolutely wonderful. I still recommend A Northern Light to anyone who likes skilled prose, a strong main character, historical fiction, and dark themes.

Rating: 3 / 5

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What Books? Books You Can't Believe You Haven't Read

What Books? Books You Can't Believe You Haven't Read

It's time to get back to my "What Books?" feature. It's been quite awhile since I've had one of these posts. I should get back into the habit.

What is the "What Books?" feature?

I have so many book memories from my childhood. Different books touched me in different ways and had came to me at important times. I plan on running this feature every other week and featuring books that I love(d) for different reasons.

A lot of the topics and books that come to mind feature books that I liked when I was in elementary and middle school more than books I liked in high school and later. So there is more of a middle-grade focus. But this particular post will feature books that I loved as a child and that I love now.

See prior editions of What Books? here:

Movie Is Better Than The Book
Favorite Not-Super-Popular Book Series
Favorite Ghost/Scary Stories
Favorite Obscure Childhood Book
Favorite Books To Re-Read
Favorite Books That You Didn't Love At First
Favorite Cry Your Eyes Out Books
Books That Totally Freaked You Out

Books You Can't Believe You Haven't Read

I think my ideal job would be one where I could just sit and read all day long. I suppose that would be called "retirement". As much as I do read, there are still tons of series and books that I want to read but haven't yet gotten to. Some of them it feels like I'm the only person who hasn't read them.


Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan


Anything by John Green (I've only read Will Grayson, Will Grayson)


The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (I've read the first two books)


The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (I've only read 2 of the books)


Anything by Tamora Pierce

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass (His Dark Materials #2 and #3) by Phillip Pullman (I've read the first book)



Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


House of Night by P.C. Cast


Vampire Diaries by  L.J. Smith


Evernight by Claudia Gray


Jessica Darling by Megan McCafferty (I read Sloppy Firsts years ago but no others)



The Queen's Thief by Megan Whalen Turner



Anything by Robin McKinley (I've read Sunshine but that's it)



Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shepard



Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini




The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky



That's a brief list of the books I haven't yet read. It doesn't even touch the adult fiction and non-fiction realm (other than Tolkien) or the classic children's literature I missed (other than Narnia and Percy Jackson). I'm sure I'll think of tons more after I post this.


What Books Can You Not Believe That You Haven't Read?

 
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