Raven Boys sequel dark, brooding thrill ride

The Dream Thieves (Book 2, The Raven Cycle) by Maggie Stiefvater; Scholastic Press, New York, 2013.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.   Expected publication date is September 17, 2013.

Continuing the quest for Glendower proves darker, more brooding and definitely more dangerous in book 2 of The Raven Cycle.  Ronan’s back story is featured in this installment, just as we learned more about Adam in book one.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more dangerous for Blue and her Raven Boys, more characters with very sinister designs are introduced.  Once again, the book concludes with a moment’s breather for the seekers but we all know it’s a temporary respite.

I am so glad that Blue’s family plays more interesting roles in this story.  I am also thrilled that the character development of the Raven Boys continues.  Blue seems more of a wallflower in this installment, but as the foil, more characters developed around her.  Richly developed characters are but one reason I love the first two books in the cycle.

The Dream Thieves is more sinister than book one.  Characters from the real world as well as the dream realm are heart-thumping scary.  And that’s a good thing.  While book one enchanted me, book two has drawn me further into the world of ley lines, psychics and meddling teenagers.

Without a doubt, Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is one of my top series.  Since The Dream Thieves was so well-woven, I’ve no doubt the final two books in the series will continue to dazzle.  I half expect to see phantoms from the corner of my eye for the rest of my life!

The down side of reading pre-publication copies of books is that I have that much longer to wait for the next installment to hit my Kindle!
5P     5Q     Grade Level: 8+
The Dream ThievesCover art: Well, at first the cover perplexed me.  I didn’t like it.  But after reading about Ronan and his “gift,” I get it.  Will teens pick it up based on the cover?  Perhaps.  More likely they’ll select it because they’re anxious to learn more about The Raven Boys.

From Reading List: ARC (Advance Reading Copy), The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Beautiful Creatures entertaining but relies on stereotypes

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl; published by Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2009; 563 pages.

Although Ethan has been biding his time before escaping from his stuck-in-Civil-War-reenactments South Carolina town, he finds escape in his friendship with the new girl in town.  Lena lives in the suspiciously haunted house on the outskirts of town with her reclusive Uncle Macon.  Ethan and Lena have a connection, a supernatural extrasensory bond.  They dream about each other, even waking wet or muddy or in some way physically affected by the environment of the dream.  They hear each other’s thoughts.  Obviously, they are not typical kids next door.  Nothing in this town is like it seems.  Together, Ethan and Lena have to work to save her from her family’s curse.

Beautiful Creatures is full of stereotypical Southerners obsessed with the Civil War.  It is also full of stereotypes of witches and other paranormal creatures.  And yet, I was entertained.  I was swept to the end of the book.  When it was done, I felt kind of cheated as several strings of story line were left dangling, never fully fleshed out and never resolved.  Even so, I thought it was better written than other paranormal romances intended for teens and has potential in the sequels.

This is the first book in a new Not Just for Teens adult book discussion group I created with two coworkers.  I’m curious to hear what patrons have to say about this in comparison with, say, Twilight.

5P     3Q     Grade Level: 9+

Cover Art: The black, silver and purple cover is blatantly witchy.  Paranormal romance fans will snatch this up.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Finnikin eclipsed by Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles (The Lumatere Chronicles, Book 2) by Melina Marchetta; published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2011 (2012 first U.S. publication); 593 pages.

Three years after coming to Lumatere, Froi has pledged his bond to Isaboe and Finnikin.  Refugees from Charyn are amassing on Lumatere’s border.  In an attempt to prevent another imposter king from taking over their beloved homeland, Froi is sent to Charyn as an assassin spy to kill their king.  Pretending to be Olivier, a “last born” consort of the king’s mad daughter Quintana, Froi learns that things are not always as they seem.

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged a review.  This book, and the book reviewed in the next post, are the reasons.  I’ve needed time to process what I’ve read.  Oh, but don’t let that comment, or the length of the book, prevent you from reading Froi of the Exiles!!!  You’ll miss one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Marchetta’s ability to weave a story has grown exponentially as this book exemplifies.  Finnikin may have been the narrator of Finnikin of the Rock but it was really Isaboe’s story.  So it is with Froi of the Exiles: Froi is the narrator, but this is purely Quintana’s story.  Subplots involve the stories of characters we were introduced to in the first book of The Lumatere Chronicles.  Through them all we get a view of the tragedies of war from multiple perspectives.  We are also reminded that there are always at least two sides in every war.  Is Lumatere completely without blame in their battles with Charyn?  Is Charyn the breeding ground of everything evil or could there be enlightened citizens there?  Many of these questions could be explored in real life current events.

I was most affected by Marchetta’s exploration of corruption in many forms (political, spiritual and personal) and the subsequent ripple affect.  At times, her subject matter was very difficult to read.  She was restrained in her descriptions and left much to the imagination; so for me (as an adult), the abuse of women was thought provoking and disturbing.  For teens, or young adults, the subject matter is delicately handled but might need to be discussed with younger teens.  In my opinion, this book puts Marchetta on the cusp of young adult vs. adult author.

Read. This. Book.  In my experience, reading Finnikin of the Rock, the first book in The Lumatere Chronicles, is mandatory.  The first few chapters of Froi of the Exiles will offer subtle reminders of the first book (a nice refresher asit’s been awhile since I read Finnikin) and help establish the direction of Froi’s story.  Marchetta’s ability to describe setting is at its best in this book as well and takes up much of the detail in the first third of the book.  Infrequent pauses in Froi’s story are offered in chapters which relate the experiences of certain Monts and Lumaterans which help drive the theme.  By about the middle of the book, I was on a slippery slope of reading without sleep as I desperately needed to know how the story ends for all of the characters.  Alas, the cliffhangers are breathtaking and demand resolution.  But the next installment is not due to be released until October, and that’s just the Australian release; we’re talking 2013 in the U.S.  I need the third book, Quintana of Charyn, and I need it NOW.  Anyone know how I can get my hands on a coveted ARC of this?  Anyone in Australia willing to mail me a copy in October?  Please?  Please?  Please?

Is it possible for a companion novel to be considered for the Printz award?  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here predicting that Froi of the Exiles will be considered for multiple awards in 2012.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 11 and up

Cover Art: I was slightly repulsed by Froi’s face–his eyes are too creepy, too corrupt.  But that’s how he is described by those in Lumatere and Charyn alike.  And once again, one shouldn’t judge a person by appearances.  The medieval looking sword and tumultuous sky together with Froi’s visage are intriguing.  Fans of the genre will be intrigued.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Nothing is as it seems in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; published by Quirk Books, Philadelphia, 2011; 348 pages.

Jacob’s life seems ordinary enough.  His mother has a career that keeps her away from home and his father can’t seem to finish a project.  He has only one friend, and that seems to be based on mutual need.  The only person that means anything to the 16 year old is his grandfather, Abraham Portman.  Their bond grew threw the years as Grandpa Portman shared his collection of bizarre pictures, supposedly images of other children he grew up with at Miss Peregrine’s Home for children in Wales, a sort of safe harbor for children during the horrors of World War II.  With his grandfather’s grisly death in the woods behind his Florida home, Jacob sets off for Wales to inspect the home and try to come to terms with the truth about Abraham’s past.  What Jacob discovers bends reality and obliterates time.  His life has become extraordinary.

I once spent weekends combing through boxes of old, old photos at flea markets with a long-gone boyfriend.  We liked to find the most absurd, scary, silly and strange images and make up stories.  If I knew then….  Ransom Riggs has combined some of those creepy images with a mind-bending tale of good vs. evil.  Without the images, the book would be just another atmospheric tale set somewhere in the Twilight Zone.  With the images, the creep factor is cranked up a notch.  Riggs’ writing is formal, like the memoirs of an old man; and for telling Abraham’s and Jacob’s stories, the style fits perfectly.  Add end pages that mimic old books and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the complete, creepy package.

Not convinced about the weird creepiness of this book?  Tim Burton is rumored to be interested in directing a movie version and a screenwriter has signed on.  IMDB.com lists the project as “in development” and its release is expected in 2013.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 10+

Cover Art: An image from the body of the book is on the cover, with more displayed on the back.  Creepy.  And the font used in the title is at once old-timey and Stephen King-creepy.  Perfection.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

The Shattering makes magic seem natural

The Shattering by Karen Healey; published by Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2011; 314 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  The book was published in September, 2011.

Three stories intertwine in Karen Healey’s novel set in New Zealand.  Keri is a Maori; she’s athletic, driven, and has a plan for every possible disaster that could happen in her life.  Janna’s a blonde bombshell; she’s the bass player in a band that’s going places, and that’s just want Janna wants, to get out of Summerton after graduation.  Sione (“See-OH-ney”) is the poor little rich boy; he’s a shy Pacific Islander that feels like he’s on the outside of everything around him.  The only thing the three have in common is the apparent suicides of their older brothers.  In fact, there is a suicide every New Year’s Eve in the tourist town of Summerton.  Together, they will unravel a frightening magical twist that affects their idyllic town and the lives of locals and tourists alike.

I could almost believe that magic is real, that it happens around us and we’re unaware of it, by the way Healey has incorporated it into the fabric of this story.  The Shattering read like a good old fashioned “who-dunnit” but with a supernatural twist.  There are cold-blooded killers on the loose who wreak havoc in the name of doing what’s right.  I like that the horror was balanced with realistic characters.  Her storytelling has made fantasy read like contemporary fiction.

I also liked that one of the main characters just happened to be a lesbian.  No big deal was made about that fact.  It was just a part of the character development as the ethnic backgrounds of the characters.

Admittedly, there were highs and lows in the book; sometimes I wanted to scream at the pages to reveal the story faster and at other times I had shivers at the horror involved.  Another issue was the point of view shifts.  Keri’s chapters were always in first person narration but Janna and Sione were always third person.  If readers are privy to Keri’s thoughts, why not the other two?  And if we knew what she’s thinking, she couldn’t know what the internal dialog was for the others, so why the shift?

You can find out more, including the author’s ideas for what happens to the characters after the story ends (SPOILER ALERT!), at the author’s site website: http://www.karenhealey.com/books/the-shattering/.

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover Art: The ARC I was sent had a grayscale image of a face and the sea shattered like broken glass, with an orange, grey and white banner across it declaring the title.  I think it was very appealing to the target audience.  According to the author’s website, there are two covers since its publication (one is shown below).  I still prefer the orange to the purple; I think the orange appeals to both sexes while the purple makes this seem like chick lit.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Get Gothic thrills in This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein

This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein, Book 1 by Kenneth Oppel; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011; 298 pages.

Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with reanimation began long before the creation of his infamous monster.  In seventeenth century Geneva, the Frankenstein family lives a rather unconventional life.  On Sundays, the family makes dinner and waits on the household staff.  Twins Victor and Konrad are home schooled.  Under tragic circumstances, their cousin Elizabeth is brought to live with them; and their best friend, Henry, is often an overnight guest.  Myths and legends about medicine are dismissed by Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, in favor of science and fact.  The family’s ancestors were not always as practical.  On an adventure inside the family’s castle, the four teens discover a hidden passage to a dark library filled with books on alchemy and other mystical arts.  The significance of their discovery is revealed when Konrad becomes gravely ill.  When the most noted physician of the time cannot cure Konrad, Victor, Elizabeth and Henry use the information in the books on the dark arts to fashion a cure.  With help from an ostracized alchemist, Konrad’s cure seems inevitable.  However, nothing in the shadows of this haunting story is as it seems.

Oppel has undertaken the daunting task of writing a prequel to Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.  Her story is one of only two books that I reread annually, so writing anything about the man and his monster would probably disappoint me.  I don’t know how he did it, but This Dark Endeavor is written in the style and Gothic spirit of the original.  I found myself wincing in grotesque horror at some descriptions and gasping wide-eyed at unexpected plot twists.  As I closed the back cover, I felt I had read Mary Shelley’s lost manuscript.

Even the production of the book mimicked a Gothic story.  The end pages are printed in an antique pattern and show damage from age and wear.  The use of keyholes to separate chapter sections reflects the cover art and ties the whole package together.

Thanks to the popularity of Steampunk, I think interest in this book will be huge.  I hope that teens who finish this are encouraged to pick up the original to finish the tragic story of Victor Frankenstein and his ego-maniacal obsession.

On the author’s website, resources from the book are available (http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/darkendeavor.shtml).  I was especially fond of viewing Victor Frankenstein’s sketchbook but the book trailer, author interview, and reading group guide were also very well done.

By the way, according to IMDb, a movie adaptation is in production and is expected in theaters in 2013.

5P      4Q     Grade Level: 8-12+

Cover Art: Dark and brooding is how I’d describe the cover.  We, perhaps as the adult Victor, peer from the dark side through a keyhole that shows the young Victor bathed in beautiful sunshine outdoors.  The font reflects the era appropriately.  Fans of steampunk will be interested in the art on this book.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

Lesser known gods set Wildefire ablaze

Wildefire by Karsten Knight; published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2011; 400 pages.

NOTE: This review is based on an ARC (advance reading copy) provided for free by the publisher.  The publication information is subject to change.  The book was published in July, 2011.

Ashline Wilde, and her sister Eve, are Polynesian sisters who were adopted by a Jewish couple.  As if that combination weren’t enough to attract all the taunts and bullies of high school, Eve has run away.  Her return ends in the cruel death of Ash’s rival; a death not only cruel but suspicious.  It seems that Eve can control the weather and sent a lightning bolt to fry the poor girl.  Fast-forward a few months, and Ash has transferred to a remote school on the California coast, across the country from her New York home and family.  If Eve’s abilities were strange, things are about to rocket off the strange-o-meter for Ash.  Apparently, a girl with an oracle’s gift has called disparate teens from all over the world to the school to fulfill a quest given her by the mysterious Jack.  Worlds, gods and teens collide and it’s not going to end well.

I adore that the characters represent gods of different cultures.  Obviously, children and teens are interested in the Greek gods (hello, Percy Jackson, and thank you for coming to the party).  But there is a rich mythical history around the world that we are not often introduced to.  Knight introduces us to Polynesian, Norse and Haitian myths, just to name a few.  Teens who are familiar with the Trickster stories from picture books of their childhood will understand that Ash’s quest is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Aside from the mythology, the sibling rivalry and typical teen struggles add interesting subplots.  However, I had a hard time overlooking an issue with the dialog.  The female characters, particularly Ash and Jackie, don’t ring true to me.  I felt like I was listening to guys trying to win a bet by talking the way they think tough girls talk.  Once I got drawn into the story, I could overlook it.  And, oh, the heart palpitations start midway through the book without many chances to catch a breath as identities, abilities and conflicts start piling up without letting up.  Just when I thought I could relax, the shock of the end caught me completely off-guard.  Now I await the sequel, impatiently!

By the way, the book is divided into sections that reflect the timeline of the story, which is also reflected in the chapter titles.  I think this was a great way to help readers keep the passage of time straight as even flashbacks are noted as such.  Thanks for helping the story progress without being distracting! 🙂

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover Art: The significance of the smoking calla lily is revealed in the book.  Without knowing the story, the black cover, the glowing flower with tendrils of smoke curling skyward, all appeal to fans of genre fiction.  The play on Ash’s name and ability are aptly referenced in the title and the font seems to reflect the genre as well.

From the Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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