The Graceling Realms
By Kristin Cashore
A Graceling is a person who possesses a particular skill, a Grace, far surpassing the capabilities of ordinary people. This skill might be practical – such as cooking, fighting, math – or something paranormal, such as mind-reading. Gracelings are distinguished from an early age by their eyes: each eye a different color.
In the land of seven kingdoms, Gracelings are treated differently. In most kingdoms, Gracelings are offered up to the kings. If the king had a use for a particular Grace, the Graceling lived at the court, trained, and served the kingdom. If their Grace was not useful, they were sent home to lead a normal life, although they were often ostracized by their neighbors.
Graceling (published Oct. 2008): In Cashore’s debut novel, Lady Katsa, niece to the king of Middluns, is graced with an unbelievable ability to fight. Trained by the royal guard, she becomes known as the king’s thug, his enforcer. She is the one he sends to enforce his will or punish those who disobey him.
However, as Katsa grows older, she begins to use her Grace for good. She and a trusted group form the Council, under which they attempt to right the wrongs committed by monarchs across the seven kingdoms. After one of these such quests, she meets and befriends Prince Po of Lienid. Together, they embark on a long journey against Katsa’s toughest adversary yet, an adversary she shouldn’t have a chance against.
Spoiler: During this adventure, Katsa rescues 10-year old Princess Bitterblue of Monsea and falls in love.
Fire (published Oct. 2009): The second book in the Graceling Realm series is sort of a prequel to Graceling. Only one character from the first book appears in Fire. The character does not play a huge role in the story but we do get a glimpse of his past, which is not detailed in Graceling.
The main storyline in Fire revolves around a monster named Fire. The only human monster left in Dells (the other monsters in the story are colorful, hypnotic animals, most with a taste for blood), beautiful Fire struggles to distinguish herself from her father’s awful legacy. Like all monsters, Fire’s presence is alluring. People are drawn to her, sometimes in attraction and other times in hostility. However, Fire’s kindness and morality overcome her father’s legacy of violence, cruelty, and selfishness as she embarks on a journey to help save the monarchy in Dells and limit the damages of civil war.
Bitterblue (written with Ian Schoenherr, published May 2012): Graceling ends. Fast-forward eight years. Bitterblue is queen of Monsea. Under her leadership, the kingdom is working to recover from life under Bitterblue’s crazy, manipulative predecessor.
However, Bitterblue’s advisers and subordinates are beginning to act strangely. She’s unable to implement the programs she wants to. Her advisers are seen wandering the castle at odd hours. In an attempt to gain some space and freedom, Bitterblue begins sneaking out of the castle into the city. She becomes drawn by glimpses of the past, of unanswered questions. As her advisers act increasing odd and her new friends in the city are threatened, Bitterblue isn’t quite sure what to do. Katsa, Po, and several other characters from Graceling are around to help Bitterblue out.
Review: One of the awesome things about my book club is that every one of us has a different taste in books. Graceling was chosen by an elementary school media specialist-librarian. For the third time, her pick was a success (see: Hunger Games and Life As We Knew It). I really enjoyed Graceling, so much that I couldn’t wait for the second and third book to come from the library. Thank you, Nook.
Overall, this was a great series, a very quick, light read. After the second book, I was wondering if it was necessary to read them in order. I still think that the first two books can be flip-flopped, if really needed, but Bitterblue pulls the stories together beautifully. (Nope, not going to explain how Fire is tied in with Graceling. I don’t want to spoil anything for you.)
Each of the three books has very similar themes: a little romance, fighting tyrants in the kingdoms (both living and after their death), overcoming perceptions… It sounds like the typical formula, but I was sucked in. The characters were fun and a little quirky. I especially enjoyed the strong female roles in the first two books.
I only had one complaint with these books. No, with one book, Bitterblue. There were parts of Bitterblue were the voice was wrong, the dialog a little off. The moments were few and far between, but there were definitely moments when I raised my eyebrows at something out of character (such as a “man,” suck at the end of a sentence, something similar to a “come on, man”). I suspect this comes from the fact that the third book was co-authored, unlike the first two. A minor detail, but I hope that if Cashore continues on with the series, that she either writes new books herself or she/her editor pay closer attention to the changes in voice.
This was a great fantasy-ish young adult series that I’d definitely recommend. Because of the heavy dose of romance, the series had a more chick-lit feel to it, rather than fantasy. It’s a great beach book.
A Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop was born a witch but after her parents died, she wanted nothing to do with being a witch. She avoided it every way possible – she refused to use her powers and refused to learn about witchcraft from her aunts. Instead, Diana ran, rowed, and did yoga to get out her excess energy caused by the bottled up magic.
One day, everything changed. While doing research in an Oxford library, Diana calls up an ancient alchemy manuscript, Ashmole 782. The manuscript is cursed and releases a long chain of events that forced Diana to return to her roots. She gets thrown into a world of vampires and unknown magic, mystery and conspiracy.
Recommendation: If you enjoy the paranormal, than this is a book for you. Stories of witches, vampires and daemons are intertwined with the present and the past. There was just enough flare of romance, violence, and mystery to keep the reader engaged.
I’ve heard someone compare A Discovery of Witches to Twilight. If that’s what you’re thinking, I would disagree. Sure, A Discovery of Witches has love between a vampire and a non-vampire, but I felt this book was a far cry from the Twilight series. While still classified as a young adult book, it did not feel like one while reading it. The characters were older and much more mature. There were scholarly strands running through the book as the characters consistently referenced alchemy and great authors and works of the past.
I was disappointed when the book ended. I wanted to reads the next part of the story. You know it’s a good book when you keep thinking about it after you’re done, and stalk the author’s website for information about the next book. Unfortunately, book 2 in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, isn’t due to be released until summer 2012. It’s going to be a long way
Edit: Read my review of Shadow of Night, book two in the series, here.
By Jennifer Donnelly
When I began Revolution, I was not sure I would enjoy it. The book began with a glimpse at Andi Alper’s life, which was falling apart. Andi and her mother were both hit hard over the death of her younger brother. Andi blamed herself and was suicidal. Her mother was consumed by grief and unable to function normally. Andi’s father lived far away, uninvolved in her life. When he showed up, the father and daughter butted heads and could not understand or relate to one another. Andi had lost interest in everything but her music, but even that couldn’t keep her out of depression and away from suicidal thoughts.
I thought this teenage anguish would dominate throughout the book, but it didn’t. Andi’s emotional turmoil was still there,but did not dominate the story.The first two-thirds of Revolution flashes between Andi in the present and the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a French woman who lived during the French Revolution. Andi becomes increasingly interested in Alexandrine’s life – her time living with the royal family as a companion to the prince, her close relationship with prince Louis Charles (Louis XVII), and France during the French Revolution. As Andi continues her music, both playing her guitar and researching a French composer for her thesis, and delves deeper into the diary, she takes the first steps to overcoming her grief and guilt over her brother’s death.
The last third of the novel consists of Andi’s “trip” back to 1795, where she lives the history she had been reading about. Initially Andy was convinced that she had overdosed on her antidepressants. Before long, Andi starts making connection back to Alexandrine’s life and as well as that of the composer she was researching.
These experience bring Andi back to life. She starts to overcome her problems and regains the will to live.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend Revolution to anyone who enjoys historical fiction novels. While I was originally concerned that the book would have too much teenage anguish, I found that the French history played a much stronger role in the storyline than Andi’s emotional struggles. There was just enough there to maintain a connection with the characters but not get bogged down in her depressing thoughts. I found the storyline creative and addictive – I didn’t want to put the book down!
Grade: A- (4 of 5 stars on goodreads)
The Hunger Games Series
By Suzanne Collins
I decided to review this series as a whole because much like the Harry Potter books, once you start this series, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, not since Harry Potter has a young adult series grabbed my attention quite like this one.
There are some spoilers below. I tried to keep the descriptions brief so that I don’t give away too much, so forgive me for the short descriptions!
Background: Set in the future, the nation of Panem took the place of what was once known as North America. The Capitol rules Panem, made up of the Capitol and 12 surrounding districts, with an iron fist. Each year, the Capitol reminds the districts of how powerful they are by forcing each district to send a boy and girl (drawn by lottery) to fight – for survival, for a better life for their district, for love – in the annual Hunger Games. Only one participant will survive.
The Hunger Games: In the first book in the series, we follow the representatives from District 12, Katniss and Peeta, in their quest to win the Hunger Games. Trained by the only living Hunger Games victor from their district, Katniss and Peeta enter an uneasy alliance as they fight for survival and for a better life for their district.
Catching Fire: Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 heroes – not only did they win, but both got to return home, a first in the history of the games. However, the Capitol (the creepy President Snow, in particular) is furious with Katniss for ensuring their dual victory. Both are forced to return to the arena, along with former winners from the other districts, to once again fight for their life.
During all of this, it becomes increasingly easy to get immersed in the two subplot lines of the book: a Katniss-Peeta-Gale (Katniss’s best friend) love triangle and a the beginnings of what may become a revolution against the Capitol.
Mockingjay: Mockingjay is the final book in the trilogy and the battle for Panem unity and for the Capitol (yep, gave that away). Anyone who survived the all-stars Hunger Games of Catching Fire is pretty much messed up, despite being considered the face of the revolution. Will the Capitol survive? With the districts and survivors be defeated? Read it and find out! (Hey, I’m trying not to have too many spoilers! So that’s it, that’s all you get for the last book.)
Recommendation:Love the plot line – so creative. I really couldn’t put this series down. My one complaint with the series (and I felt like this with parts of Harry Potter as well) is that some of that characters in this last book got a bit whiny. Maybe it’s something about young adult books, but certain characters really grated on my nerves in the last book. Or maybe it’s just me.
However, that being said, I’m so glad I read this series (and no, there’s no way not to finish it once you get started). I would absolutely recommend this book to teenagers and adults alike. If you’re a Harry Potter fan or don’t mind sci-fi / futuristic books, then this is a must read. If you dislike these genres, then skip it.
Life As We Knew It
By Susan Beth Pfeffer
Life As We Knew It was the latest book for our little book club. A young adult book, once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.
This book was about the life of a 16-year old girl and her family living in Pennsylvania after a meteor hits the moon and knocks it out of orbit. This spurs off a series of natural disasters – tsunamis, storms, droughts, blizzards, effecting the lives of everyone. Ordinary life shifts rapidly to a life with spotty or no electricity, little to no news about the present circumstances or predictions for the future, and limited food supplies (whatever you have stocked up on). The family struggles to cope with these challenges and prepare for an uncertain future, sacrificing so much for each other.
This book really makes you realize just how quickly things can change, and how we should remind ourselves how lucky we are. There are so many things most people today take for granted – a never-ending supply of food and gas; electricity; heat and air conditioning; telephones; etc. Life As We Knew It takes away all of these things, and reminds us of what is important – family.
I found Life As We Knew It to be a quick read but highly recommended.
If you liked this book… there is one other in the “series.” The Dead and the Gone has a similar storyline but is written from the perspective of a cityboy, and of what life is like in a city at this time. I have not read it, but have been told that it is a bit more graphic and darker than Life As We Knew It.
A third related book, This World We Life In, is also expected to be published on March 31, 2010.
So after my first experience with a book on tape, I decided to try out a couple more. The first book was a bit odd, and probably not the best choice for a book on tape. Since I do mostly local travel, I decided to listen to a couple books by Avi, who writes for young adults. I remember reading his books when I was in grade school, and enjoyed them, so thought I’d give them another whirl. Both books were easy to listen to (only about 4 hours each), so perfect for my local drives.
About the Author: Avi began his career in writing as a playwright, but I know him best for his young adult books. However, when I was checking out Avi’s website, I discovered the Avi also has written all sorts of works, including picture books and short stories.
Don’t You Know There’s a War On? : This book tells the story of a boy who has a crush on his teacher, who is fired. As the boy, Howie, follows and tries to help his teacher, you get glipmses of what it is like living in NYC during WWII – war bonds & stamps, rations, air raids, etc.
My favorite part of the book, however, was not the story but the language. Howie, both the main character and narrator, speaks in slang for most of the book. This completely took me into the book!
Poppy: Poppy is a young mouse that first gets in trouble for going into the forest without the great horned owl’s permission. When her family asks the owl permission to move to New House, they are denied because of her actions. Poppy then goes off on her own to seek out the real reason for the owl’s refusal, encountering many adventures along the way.
I did not enjoy Poppy as much as Don’t You Know There’s a War On? Perhaps it can be blamed on the narrator of the story (since I was listening to it), but I felt like the story was told incredibly dramatically, considering it was a mouse. I’m not sure what I was expecting out of this book, but as I was listening to it, I felt like it should be a picture book, like the Peter Rabbit stories, and not a young adult book, as I thought it was.
My blog has been pretty heavy on the cooking lately, so I thought it was time to do a more formal book review. Still learning as I go with the blogging, so we’ll see how this goes.
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
by Julia Alvarez
This is the second book I’ve read by Julia Alvarez, the first being In the Time of the Butterflies. Both books were very good. Both are fairly quick reading (being classified as fictional young adult books) although the topic of In the Time of the Butterflies makes it a bit harder to get through (but completely worth it!)
Alvarez was raised in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic, and both books reflect that heritage. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is the story of four sisters who fled to the U.S. with their parents, after their father took part in a plot against the Dominican dictator, Trujillo. It is a book about family, culture, and adjusting to a new country and way of life. (In contrast, In the Time of the Butterflies is set in the DR and tells the story of the Mirabel sisters, founders of an underground opposition movement – their detention by the secret police and ultimately their murder.)
I enjoyed both of Alvarez’s books and appreciate the insight she gives to this part of the Dominican Republic’s history.