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)

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)

Michael Vey delivers electrifying adventure

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Book 1) by Richard Paul Evans; published by Simon Pulse/Mercury Ink, New York, 2011; 326 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.

Having Tourette’s syndrome and being small makes 14-year-old Michael Vey the perfect target for school bullies.  However, there is something different about Michael, something his mother has sworn him to keep secret.  He has powers.  Extraordinary powers.  Electrical powers.  When Taylor, a popular cheerleader, witnesses Michael defeat bullies, she shares that she has a similar gift.  Together with Michael’s friend Ostin, and help from some unlikely allies, Michael sets out to discover the source of his power.  The group, dubbed the Electroclan, discovers an evil secret that they will have to work together to defeat.

This is the first in a seven book series.  Typically, the first book in a series simply introduces characters, setting and story.  Michael Vey does an impressive job of developing characters and setting up the plot devices; but it does much more than that.  This book will hook reluctant readers.  As a librarian, I’m always on the look out for books that will appeal to this non-reading set.  I’m ecstatic when a book will appeal to a wide age range.  Michael Vey does that; while it’s appropriate for middle school readers, I think high school readers, especially those struggling with reading for pleasure, will devour this book.  Being a series is a welcome bonus; familiar characters, cliffhangers, and crazy villains will keep reluctant readers into the books until the end of the series.

The book is a solid choice for boys, reluctant readers especially, but it also offers some things to educators as well.  I could see this book as a co-curricular choice for language arts and science or health classes.  If selected for classroom reading, the website for the book (http://www.michaelvey.com/) includes a book trailer, a homeschool toolkit, and a curriculum guide for teachers.

5P     4Q     Grade Level: 6-10

Cover art:  Electric blues and lightning flashes will draw tweens and teens to the cover.  The lightning-bolt “i” in the title helps define the genre.

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

Lia and Alice come full Circle of Fire

Circle of Fire (Book 3, Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy) by Michelle Zink; published by Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2011; 359 pages.

Samael is getting stronger as Lia’s adder stone grows cooler.  Lia Milthorpe must find the last key, as well as the location for the ceremony, to close the Gate which will keep Samael and his evil troops from taking over our world.  She must also reconcile with Sonia, one of the three keys already traveling with her.  With Dimitri’s help, and the help of so many other loyal friends, nothing seems impossible.  Well, almost nothing.  Even with all these things in place, Lia must convince her twin, Alice, to join her, or the Gate may not close.

The final book in this trilogy did not let me down.  So often I feel like the concluding books rush through the resolution, or gloss over issues that I found important.  In the case of the last book in the Prophecy of the Sisters trilogy, I was satisfied with the characters’ choices, the resolutions of conflicts, and the storytelling in general.  Michelle Zink capped off her trilogy with a book as strong as the previous pair.

As in the previous two installments, little touches inside help the reader feel the setting of the book.  The

5P     4Q     Grade Level: 9+

Cover art: The use of the same model that graced the cover of the previous books, this time alone and looking stronger and more determined, helps not only tie this book to the series but also hints at the resolution inside.  The vine pattern continues across the bottom of each page and a companion wreath encircles the chapter numbers.  The jorgamond appears as a necklace on the cover…many fans will want to know where to buy one!

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

SNEAK PEEK PREVIEW: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor; published by Little, Brown & Co., New York, 2011; 420 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.  Expected release date: September 27, 2011.

Karou, age 17, is an art student in Prague.  Her peacock blue hair is not the only reason she stands out in the other-worldly European city.  She has more than 90 sketchbooks full of pictures of mythical creatures, all with names and back stories, that exist in another world.  Her imaginary world, right?  No.  Karou lives a double life.  Through unmarked gateways around the world, Karou can slip between our world and the world of her chimaera family.  In that world, chimaera and angels fight a war based on a legacy of hatred for and fear of one another.  When Akiva, an angel, crosses paths with Karou, her double life is over.  What she knows of good and evil, happiness and sorrow, love and loss, will be tested.

My summary of Daughter of Smoke and Bone cannot do justice to this remarkable work.  You can watch the trailer (actually, there are several listed after you watch this one) for different descriptions of the book.

The story line goes far beyond a fantasy of angels and demons, of good and bad.  Taylor’s depth of story, character, setting and emotion is woven in meticulously chosen words that resonate the beauty and mystery of Prague and Eretz.  For me, the exploration of the foundation of legends was most poignant.  Angels are good, pure; right?  At least that what legend tells us.  But like history, we have to consider from whose perspective it is written; is there an agenda to the storytelling?  Telling the story of Karou and Akiva means uncovering the truth behind the legends and who benefits from fueling the hatred.

I still find this review lacking.  I do not have the words to express how much I enjoyed this book.  Perhaps I can better express myself through two examples.  First, this is the first book in a trilogy.  Typically, the first book (or movie, for that matter), expends itself in establishing characters, setting, and a problem for resolution.  I usually find the first installment interesting but not remarkable.  Exceptions to this have included The Hunger Games, Shiver, and Prophecy of the Sisters.  All told a story that could stand alone.  Daughter of Smoke and Bone stands tall among these books.

Second, as I closed the last page, my only thought was that this should be in the running for the Michael L. Printz award.  I don’t make such statements often (only once before, if I’m remembering correctly…).

The biggest problem with reading an ARC of a book in a series is that the time to wait between installments is interminable! 😥  I think many young adults will agree with me.

5P     5Q     Grade Level: 8-12

Cover art: The black-and-white cover is eye-catching because of the peacock blue feathered mask.  The interesting mix of distressed fonts also adds to the allure of the book.

From Reading Lists: ARC (advance reading copy) and The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

 

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