Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Review: Legend

Legend by Marie Lu
Genre: YA Dystopian

"What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in one of the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths-until the day June's brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets."

I love this book. I've read it twice and plan on reading it many more times in the future. It has practically everything I enjoy in a good novel: excellent writing, intriguing, realistic characters, and an intense, action-filled plot. And although there is a lot of action in this novel, I like how Marie Lu doesn't just focus on that aspect, but also fills her characters with dreams, pain, and fears. I especially enjoyed Day's flashbacks and the obvious differences between him and June. Their relationship is highly interesting, and with this thrown into a futuristic world where the government is not what it seems, the novel is riveting.

I also liked that the romance aspect in the story is not the main focus, like it is in many YA books. The plague idea in this novel is in several dystopian books I've read (Reached and Cinder, for example) so it's not that unique, but everything else is different and the novel definitely keeps the reader on his toes. I give Legend a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for older middle-schoolers and up.

What I learned: People are not always what we expect them to be and we should live in the day-to-day because we never know if we'll have tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Review: The House of the Spirits

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Genre: not entirely sure, perhaps Dramatic Fiction

"The House of the Spirits is both a symbolic family saga and the story of an unnamed Latin American country's turbulent history. Isabel Allende creates a spirit ridden world and fills it with colorful and all too human inhabitants, including Esteban, the patriarch, a volatile and proud man whose lust for land is legendary and who is haunted by tyrannical passion for the wife he can never completely possess: Clara, the matriarch, elusive and mysterious, who foretells family tragedy and shapes the fortunes of the house and the Truebas: Blanca, their daughter, soft-spoken yet rebellious, whose shocking love for her father's foreman fuels Esteban's everlasting contempt, even as it produces the grandchild he adores; and Alba, the fruit of Blanca's forbidden love, a luminous beauty and willful woman."

I had to read this novel for a World Lit class I will be auditing this fall. There is so much that happens in it (it does cover three generations of women, after all), and is a highly complex novel, so I will be glad when we discuss it in class. Much of what I didn't understand has to do with the politics and revolution occurring at the end of the novel. I understood the gist of what happened, but would like to know if it it was true and more details of the political turmoil at the time. So if you read this novel on your own, be prepared to do a little research, or perhaps you are more familiar with Latin American History, and if you are, then this will be a highly enjoyable/easy read.

The characters were exceptionally unique, especially Clara, with her abilities to see the future and move things with her mind. But because of these such highly individual and strong personalities, it was hard to relate to the characters and care for them. I was often annoyed and frustrated with Esteban, one of the main protagonists, because of his stubbornness and selfishness, but Alba, his granddaughter, softens his character towards the end.

There were also a lot of heated love scenes, which the novel could have done without (or at least less vivid descriptions), and most of them occur outside of marriage. There is also rape, prostitution, torture, and violence in this novel which I cannot shake out of my mind.

Despite these difficult elements, I'm glad I read this novel. Sometimes it's good to be forced out of your comfort zone and read things you wouldn't ordinarily choose because you learn things you wouldn't, and your view of the world is broadened. And I definitely learned more from this novel than I can even guess at. I enjoyed reading about the culture of Latin America, the clash of very different personalities and how they are resolved or not, and how people react when their lives and beliefs are in jeopardy.

What I like most about this novel is the symbolism of the house and spirits (life is fleeting and temporal), the repetition that the characters viewed their lovers just as beautiful as they always had even after many trying years, and the steadfastness of family seen in the Truebas' relationships with each other.

The rating: 2.5 out of 5, and I'd recommend it for 18 year-olds and up.

What I learned: I already mentioned this, but more specifically I'd say that anger drives people away, and being triumphant over one's enemies and being rich is worthless if it's at the cost of losing the people one loves.

*Isabel Allende's website

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Review: The Iron King

The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Genre: YA Fantasy

"Megan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan’s life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she’s known is about to change.
But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she’ll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart."
From the first words on the page, I was drawn into this story. Mysterious, dangerous, funny, and full of attitude, this novel gripped me and would not let go. The characters are interesting and very real. I also enjoyed seeing the Faery characters, how different they are from mortals, and how Megan changes in that world. Yes, at the beginning she is the woman in distress, (wouldn't you be distressed to find yourself suddenly thrown into a world where every creature would love to eat you?), but by the end she is standing on her own two feet and discovering her own fey powers. I also loved Puck, who was probably my favorite character with his humor and innocence, and how the author contrasted him with Ash, the serious dark Prince. 
The only thing I didn't particularly like about this novel was the language; there is cuss words every few pages, which always feels like an unnecessary pinch in my side. And for this reason, I give the novel a 3 out of 5. I'm not sure if I'll read the rest of the novels (there's at least 3 more); the story and world is very interesting and Megan is a like-able character, but I'm not fond of long series, especially with that much cussing.  The Iron King should probably be read by sixteen year olds and up. 
What I learned:  Making deals in the faery world is highly risky. It's important to know one's weaknesses, and holding grudges can be very painful to the person simmering with anger and other people they know. 
*Check out Julie Kagawa's website to see other books she's written. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Genre: YA Fantasy

"Harry wants to get away form the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup with Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys. He wants to dream about Cho Chang, his crush (and maybe do more than dream). He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving tow other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. Unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal-even by wizarding standards.
        And, in his case, different can be deadly."

This is my favorite novel of the Harry Potter series, and I'm not quite sure why. It could be the exciting competition and danger inherent in each event, the nail-biting exciting game of Quidditch at the beginning, the mysteries woven into the novel, or that this novel is less depressing/dark than the later ones, and Harry is becoming a great wizard. Most likely it's all of the above.

I love how creative this novel is; I've read it probably three times before, but as I listened to it again, there was much I had forgotten. Rowling is the best author at world building that I have encountered thus far. She fills her novels (especially this one), with details that bring the reader right into the protagonist's life, as if the idea of a wizarding world is as natural as the dirt on the ground. All these tidbits, like the kinds of candies the wizards eat, the classes they take and what they learn, the games they play, etc. fascinates me and makes me feel as if I've stepped right into the wizarding school of Hogwarts and not want to leave.

I understand why people don't let their children read these books, but they are some of the cleanest novels I've ever read and full of fun. Yes, they get darker toward the end, but good always triumphs, and readers learn that life is not all peaches and cream, and love is worth fighting for. I give this novel a 4.5 and recommend it for middle-schoolers and up.

What I learned: Constant Vigilance! (gotta love Mad-Eye Moody.) Friendships are invaluable, and fretting over the future does no one any good.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Review: Pirates!

Pirates cover French edition


Pirates! by Celia Rees
Genre: YA Historical Fiction, Adventure

 "Thrown together by chance, ambitious for adventure by nature, Minerva Sharpe and Nancy Kington defy the expectations of everyone around them and take to the high seas on the pirate ship Deliverance.

This novel was interesting and a lot of fun to read. There's always something going on, and the characters are very likeable. Although, I liked Minerva better than Nancy, even though the story was told from Nancy's point of view. In my opinion, the main protagonist should be the 'strongest' character; the one who changes the most and directs the story. It would have been interesting to read some of this daring, pirate tale from Minerva's p.o.v, but I still enjoyed hearing from Nancy. 

This story has some great imagery, and seemed (as far as I could tell) fairly accurate about slave plantations and early life in England as a woman, which I found highly interesting. I wish the ending was a bit more specific, but it was still a satisfying ending. 

This was an excellently written novel and highly enjoyable to read, and my complaints about it aren't major. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 and recommend it for older middle-schoolers and up. 

What I learned: Men who go on the account (become pirates) were usually plain old sailors at first, and pirates have their own rules that can't be broken. I also learned the importance of a good, true friend who sticks to you no matter what. 

*By the way, I believe this novel is based on a true story. Thus, you must most definitely read it!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Review: Lost Voices

Lost Voices by Sarah Porter
Genre: YA Fantasy

"Fourteen-year-old Luce has had a tough life, but she reaches the depths of despair when she is assaulted and left on the cliffs outside of a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village. She expects to die when she tumbles into the icy waves below, but instead undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid. A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: the mermaids feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks. Luce possesses an extraordinary singing talent, which makes her important to the tribe—she may even have a shot at becoming their queen. However her struggle to retain her humanity puts her at odds with her new friends. Will Luce be pressured into committing mass murder?" 

I am obsessed with ocean/mermaid stories; I'll read nearly almost any I can grab my hands on. I think this is partly due to the fact that I live a long ways from any sea (or water) and have always been fascinated by the sea. So, when I saw the cover of this novel and read the back of it, I was immediately interested, although wary of the siren/singing kind of mermaid it portrayed. Why do authors all of a sudden think mermaids have to be some kind of evil creature that lures young men to their deaths? 

I've read several books in the last few years about this kind of mermaid, and Lost Voices was unique from the other stories I've read and seems more real (yes, I know it's about fantastical creatures). The mermaids who have become mermaids in this novel have changed because humans were horrible to them, which I think is a fascinating and poignant idea. 

I also like how the main character struggles with who she is now, but the author doesn't solve the problem by just turning her back into a human at the end. I also love how the singing is described in this book, in a way where I could almost actually hear it. 

However, there is a lot of drama between the girls in the main character's mermaid tribe, which I found a bit irritating, the mc's lack of action also bothered me at times, though I suppose she had a good reason for being like that. There is also some cussing and saying God's name in vain, which bothered me more than anything. For these, I give the novel a 2.75 out of 5. 

I started reading the sequel, Waking Storms, which looked promising, but it cussed several times in the first pages, which made me decide not to continue the story. Mrs. Porter is an excellent writer and the plot is really interesting, but why do young adult authors think that they can just throw in cuss words whenever they want? Oftentimes it distracts the reader from the story and is just plain uneeded. Sigh. 

What I Learned/was reminded of: Humanity is messed up. Material possessions do not solve anything or bring happiness.