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Posts tagged ‘YA books’

Enchanted

enchanted

by: Alethea Kontis

Blog note: I won a contest over at Ensis Reads, formally Don’t Read! I got this wicked awesome traveling coffee mug (LOVE IT!), and I am going to do a full post with pictures this weekend!

This is the first book in The Woodcutter Sisters series, a book based on the family of Jack and Seven Woodcutter, and featuring modern retellings of European fairy tales – quite a few of them feature in each book.

The woodcutter sisters are seven sisters born to a woodcutter and his wife (naturally).  Each of the girls is named after a different day of the week.  Sunday, our heroine, is the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter – I do love that in this world, that is equally powerful as the seventh son of a seventh son.  Sunday befriends a frog in the woods and thus starts an adventure to change the life of her and her sisters forever.  And yes, this book is based mostly on The Frog Prince, one of my favorite fairy tales.

As a protagonist, I liked Sunday a lot.  She was thoughtful and somewhat dreamy, but she still did things and was very much an active participant in the story.  The frog prince, Rumbold, is also a good character – very flawed but likable.  He spends a lot of time in the story learning to be a man, without having it be the central theme of the story.  I very much appreciate that – I feel like too often a main male character growing into manhood automatically becomes the center of the story.  Here, though, it is an important part without overpowering the story. I didn’t necessarily think he was romantic or dashing or any of the things I like my romantic heroes to be – but I did think he was an interesting character and a good fit for Sunday.

The plot was good, though the pacing was a little weird.  There was a bit too much going on, even though it’s a fairy long YA novel.  It was partly because Kontis was fairly obviously trying to set up plotlines for all the continuing book in the series, plus introduce other characters which have already had their adventures, like her sister Thursday.  (That was pretty irritating.  Thursday runs off to sea and becomes a pirate captain.  I want to read that story!) Three of Sunday’s siblings have already found their ever after; one of them finds it as a minor side plot in this story.  The writing was quite good, but there was simply too much going on.  I feel like Kontis could have worried less about making sure we understand everything that’s happened or is happening to this family and worried more about tightening up the plot.

The book, however, was engaging and I definitely stayed up late to finish it! A great sign.  Unfortunately, it also wasn’t that memorable.  While I definitely want to read other books in the series, I did have trouble recalling what happened in this book while writing this review. I think part of that is so much happened that my brain kinda gave up on it.

The characters were, as a whole, engaging and interesting but Kontis ran into the same problem with them as she did with the plot; namely, there were too many that she was trying to give too much attention to.  That means some of the characters, like Wednesday, became “tells” and not “shows.”  Sunday tells us a lot about Wednesday but the reader never gets to see her behaving in her odd Wednesday ways, so her particular storyline isn’t very convincing or engaging, even though she’s central to what happens in the story.  On the other hand, I completely fell in love with Saturday and cannot wait to read her book.  The characters that Kontis fully fleshes out are done extremely well and absolutely perfect for a YA novel.

The flaws didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story but I do think a strong red pen could’ve turned this story from a book I really liked to a book I’d rave about.  That makes me a little sad, to be completely truthful, though I’m happy I read it anyway.

If you’re into YA novels with a strong fairy tale influence or if you like ordinary teenage characters who have extraordinary adventures, you should definitely pick this one up! If you don’t like the feeling of being plunged into the middle of a series (I know it’s billed as the first, but it doesn’t feel like it), or if you like your fairy tale retellings with a darker or socially relevant edge, than alack! this may not the book for you.

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The House of Hades

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by: Rick Riordan

Hi guys! I know I haven’t posted in a while but I’ve been busy and didn’t make time for my blog!  I also have had a base case of puttingdownitis, where I read the first couple of chapters of a book and then move on to the next one.  Then I realized House of Hades had come out.  And of course I had to get it and read it and then I stayed up until 2 a.m. finishing it, without even realizing how late it was.

House of Hades is Riordan’s latest addition to his Heroes of Olympus series, which is a sequel series to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  If you’re not at all familiar with Riordan’s series, they’re based on the premise that the Olympian gods are still alive and well…and reproducing.  Children of gods are heroes, of course, and Riordan draws heavily on Greek myths to give them monsters to fight and quests to complete.

This series draws from the Roman myths as well, though I won’t say how in case somebody reading this hasn’t read the series.  It’s a shorter and, plot-wise, much, much tighter series than PJATO, so starting at the beginning is really helpful for clarity.  Riordan does a great job of lightly touching on important plot points without rewriting portions of the previous books, so you don’t have to reread the first three books to get caught up with the smaller details.

As for the book itself, it’s pretty darn good.  It’s definitely an action-adventure book.  It’s fast-paced, fun, and easy to get caught up in.  We’re following seven heroes on a quest to – what else? – save the world.  Violence may abound, but clever words and tricks, Odysseus-style, save the day a time or ten.  I always love a fast-paced book that remembers violence isn’t always the answer.

The character development is actually pretty good, though occasionally they’re written a tad bit too simplistically and I wish there was a bit more of it.   One of surprisingly good things about this series is the diversity of the characters, especially as it’s set in American (where the Olympic gods have moved to), where more and more people of mixed ethnicities are being born every day. I think it’s very realistic, for instance, that a half-Greek and half-Latino demigods was born in Texas. Riordan doesn’t do a whole amount of developing the cultural background of his characters – any of his characters – but he does incorporate where he can.  Generally, though, they’re too busy trying to stay alive to allow much time for anything else.  And they’re all narrating characters, as well.

And, of course, shout out to all his amazing female characters who are smart and strong and flawed.

Riordan switches character viewpoint every few chapters and does so surprisingly well, though that’s partly because he relies on third-person limited point of view.  This book focused, more than the previous three, on the heroes finding their strength and deciding who they are.  It’s kinda cool that they do this in the book before the big finale, rather than right before or during it.   I think it will make the final battle, and there will be a final battle, more a test of strength and endurance, rather than the main character magically leveling up right when he needs to.

We don’t get to see many of the big 12 gods in this story, which is a bit sad for me.  We do get to meet quite a few new minor gods and monsters, as well as some older friends and enemies.  I love seeing how the gods adapted to our modern world!  Riordan’s writing is good but not great – but his plot lines and use of Greek myths and gods is fantastic.  I will say the writing is definitely directed at preteens and teenagers and every once in a great while the teenage voice is a bit forced.

There were one or two deus ex machina points in the story, which I saw coming and rolled my eyes at.  There were also a few unexpected twists and turns that mostly made up for it.  And I loved the handling of character-character relationships, as Riordan tries to look at nearly every possible relationship.  (I could do with a bit more emphasis on the female characters’ interactions with each other in this book, but I do seem to remember The Mark of Athena focusing more on them, so maybe in balance I’m happy.)  The book overall is smooth and you’ll quickly find yourself getting lost in it, just like the previous three.  I should mention I like this series more than the previous one and I think they’re better written, overall.

Overall, if you like exciting action-adventure books or if you love the Greek gods and myths, you should pick up Riordan.  If you’ve read him before and enjoyed it, please continue reading! The books are all fairly equal in quality, which is rare and wonderful.  If, however, a teenage voice written for a young audience doesn’t excite you or if you want a lot of deep character development and growth in your fantasy, then, alas!, this may not be the book for you.

Spirit’s Princess

 

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by: Ester Friesner

Spirit’s Princess is the story of Himiko, a legendary Japanese empress (Of whom I know nothing; the afterword states that she’s somewhere between myth and fact.)

 

It takes place in the 3rd century, when Japan was not a country but a collection of clans, somewhat isolated. Himiko is the daughter of  chieftain, just starting out in life – I think she’s about 8 or so when the book starts.  The book follows her through up until she’s 16 or so, as she begins to learn what her calling is.

It’s all in first person, so be prepared to deal with a character who is a young child – somewhat whiny, a little bratty, can be annoying.  It never bothered me, because, hey children are like that, but I could see how others would dislike it. Eventually, she grows out of it and becomes more sure of herself and aware of how her actions affect others.  Eventually.

 

 

One of the things I really liked about this is that Himiko’s character development isn’t tied to a romantic interest or storyline, even as she goes through puberty and her younger teen years.  Often, characters this age have stories that are centered around young love (especially female characters).  Himiko, on the other hand, has a small crush and a couple of conversations about marriage with her family without being defined by a significant other.  I definitely feel like this is a teenage experience that is underrepresented in young adult fiction.

 

I can’t speak to the book’s historical authority (there are some reviews on Good Reads that are not afraid to) but I can say, that compared to the mangas and animes I’ve read or watched, it does feel more than a little American.  Or maybe Western in general.   It definitely didn’t feel terribly foreign, though the historical part was more or less convincing.  (Not terribly convincing, but I’ll buy it.)

 

It’s not a great book, overall. It was interesting, and I liked watching Himiko’s character develop but I was never so engrossed that I couldn’t put it down or was dying to know what happened next.  Himiko’s relationship with her older brother was nice, though he was a little too dependent on the nice, older brother stereotype.  There were a lot of side characters and more than a few of them weren’t developed beyond a name and one or two personality traits.

 

 

Her father was supposed to be a complex character: a good leader, a misogynist, someone who fell deeply in love, and someone who keeps his household in fear of his temper.  It doesn’t quite work – he just comes off as a giant asshole whom everyone submits to because he can yell really loud.  (In other words, a bully.)  We’re told all the time that he’s not all that bad but we never see it.

It’s not a great book, but if you like Friesner’s writing or if you’re looking for a female character who never falls in love, I’d say it’s worth reading the first chapter or so in the bookshop.  If you’re at all invested in historical and cultural accuracy or if you’re not a huge fan of magic and shamans, then I would give this book a pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for Alaska

by: John Green

This is the second John Green book I’ve read, the first being The Fault in Our Stars.  I’m just going to come right out and say that this book wasn’t as good as The Fault in Our Stars.  It wasn’t.  Green may never write another book as good, honestly.  

That  being said, this is still a really good book.  It’s narrated, first person, by Miles “Pudge” Halter, a teenage boy obsessed with last words, off to find his Great Perhaps.  (taken from the poet Francois Rabelais’ dying phrase “I go to seek the Great Perhaps.”)  Halter, a disconnected adolescent with a desire for adventure, sends himself off to boarding school in the belief that it would be a waste to wait for death to find his own Great Perhaps.  There he meets the Colonel – jaded, angry, and incredibly intelligent – and Alaska, bright, young, and self-destructive.  The story chronicles Miles’ first year at Culver Creek Boarding School.

The second half is better than the first half – and this is a book with definite halves.  I didn’t much care for Miles at first – for all his nonsense about the Great Perhaps, he is completely disconnected from the people and world around him.  It takes a good deal of the book for him to truly invest in his own life.  I have little patience for that, though it didn’t deter me from reading.  He doesn’t really speak out for much of the novel, whereas I’ve always been attracted to characters with a voice, with a purpose.  I liked the Colonel much better, though – he was angry and loud and opinionated.  Not angry as in yelling at everyone always; angry in that deep-down kind of way that isn’t directed at anyone in particular. (There are a lot of passive young adult heroes where part of the journey is learning to find their voice.  I guess I never had any trouble finding mine, so I don’t really relate.) 

Alaska, on the other hand, is wildly disappointed with life and herself and doesn’t know how to handle either.  I don’t know if I liked her or not; I don’t think it matters all that much.  She’s deeply unhappy and incredibly intelligent; she’s an emotional mess yet fun and generous; she doesn’t know herself and is uninterested in furthering the acquaintance.  She captivates Miles the first time he sees her (but Miles is too young and in love to understand her.)

I really liked the format of the book and Green’s mastery of foreshadowing – there were times when I was consumed by a sense of sickening dread.  It’s set up into Before (a countdown to) and After (a count from).  Green’s an excellent writer – no complaints on that side.  And it’s well-paced and a quick read; I wish it had been a little slower to give more time to process while I read but that’s all. 

Thematically, Looking for Alaska deals with being a teenager; sex, love, grief, the discovery of others as complete human beings, and learning one’s self and one’s beliefs. Green spends a fair amount of time on the musings of beliefs that are associated with religion (but not necessarily indicative of it.)   Suffering, the afterlife, the purpose of life – these are all contemplated in one way or another by the characters.

In a favorite moment of mine, Alaska asks “How do we get out of this labyrinth of suffering?” And as much as I didn’t like Miles, his innocence of suffering at the beginning of the book is key.  He can engage with such questions philosophically but not emotionally; he explores the questions not struggling to escape from emotional quandaries but careening towards them.  A more unique perspective and yet one that I feel is part of being a teenager. 

Green also touches on responsibility in complicated and real ways.  The responsibilities in both the big moments and the small moments are equally emphasized. Intertwined with the examination of responsibilities is the question of forgiveness; the two are rather inseparable.  I loved the way he did that but can’t formulate thoughts without spoilers! 

I really liked this book.  I didn’t quite love it, but if you like thoughtful, well-written books about growing up, if you like serious YA literature, or if you like beautifully sad books, than you should give this book a try.  John Green is not known for his happy endings, so if that’s your thing, or if you dislike passive or self-destructive characters, this may not be the book for you.  

As always, spoilers are fine in the comments!