Books. Opinions. Good times.

Posts tagged ‘YA fiction’

Ever

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by: Gail Carson Levine

I’m a huge fan of Gail Carson Levine.  Ella Enchanted was the first re-imagined fairy tale that I fell in love with and her Princess Tales series was a favorite of mine growing up.

But I didn’t like Ever.  It was cute and the premise was good – I really wanted to like it!

Ever is the story of Kezi, a girl who lives in an alternate version of Ancient Mesopotamia.  (The cover models are oddly white, considering that.)  Doomed to die young, she falls in love with Olus, the Akkan god of the wind.  To be together, they must go on an epic quest and overcome great odds.  If they survive, they stand a chance of gaining their happily ever after.

Like I said, the premise is good.  Ancient Mesopotamia, powerful gods, a doomed woman, epic quests and dangerous situations.  Levine is a good writer and I generally like her characters – strong, intelligent, relatable – as well as the world she creates.  The setting in this book actually is fairly reminiscent of Ancient Mesopotamia, without losing its ability to relate to the modern-day reader. There a lot of everyday touches that really work to put you in the time period, and the dialogue is a nice mix of modern and old-fashioned so you’ve never jolted by the characters’ speech.  (That is a pet peeve of mine.)  She also uses some of the Sumerian language (I’m assuming here) which is a nice touch.

It’s told in first person perspective, alternating between Olus and Kezi.  It’s not my favorite, but she transitions well and uses it to build tension fairly well.

Like I said, the set-up is for a fairly good novel.  But Levine keeps this novel so simple that it becomes simplistic and looses all depth.  Now, it is a young adult novel and often they’re written on a lower reading level but that doesn’t mean that the novel has to be simplistic.  Simple can include depth.  The characters seem almost stunted.  They’re not very well-developed – I mean, they have an appropriate number of different traits and virtues and flaws, it’s just that everything about them is so straightforward and lacking depth.  They are completely scared, or completely grateful, or – their emotions just seem to lack complexity.

The situations are the same – they should be more exciting but everything is linear that it takes away from the suspense.  I don’t know – on its surface this should be a great book but it just doesn’t work on anything but a surface level.  I wish it did – I really do love Levine’s work.  But this book just doesn’t have anything going on besides the plot and the plot, while not terrible, isn’t enough to make up for its shortcomings.

It’s a quick read, so if you’re interested in Levine’s work or fictional representations of Ancient Mesopotamia there’s no harm in reading the first chapter or so.  The book is pretty consistent throughout, so if you like the first chapter you’ll probably like the rest.  Otherwise, you may want to give this one a pass.

Anyway, I’m interested in seeing what others thought of this book. Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments!

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Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase

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by: Jonathon Stroud

(gif from his US website)

Jonathon Stroud is one of my favorite children’s authors – the Bartimaeus trilogy is amazing and is the reason I am constantly irrationally excited for, and then immediately disappointed by, footnotes.  Stroud has a lot to answer for.

Stroud’s newest work is the first in a new series – yay! Told in first person point of view, it’s the tale of Lucy Carlyle, a young ghost hunter in an alternate London plagued by an epidemic of ghosts.  After a harrowing experience with her first boss in a small village, she runs off to London and joins Lockwood & Co, London’s smallest ghostbusting* agency.

Lockwood and Co is no ordinary agency.  It’s run entirely by children, with a lack of adult supervisors.  (In this London, adults can’t see ghosts, though they can be hurt by them.)  It has only three members, all of which are uniquely talented.  And they are eager for the cases that nobody else can solve.

First of all, don’t read this book right before bed if you’re a big ‘fraidy-cat like I am.  Stroud is a master of creating a dark, tense atmosphere and I ended up huddled under my covers, rationalizing away my sudden fear of the dark. (However, I am a gigantic ‘fraidy-cat.  I read Pet Sementary at 16 and for months afterwards I was scared to feed our lambs after dark.)

Secondly, it was a really excellent book. This books works both as a stand-alone and as a set-up for a longer series.  The ending wrapped up the big questions while leaving a few smaller details that can neatly lead into an overarching series plotline.  Plotwise, it was very well done.  Tight, suspenseful, well-paced enough that the reader never feels lost but is still on the edge of their seat – just amazing!

Lucy, the main character and narrator was intelligent, observant, and mature, though not eerily so. My favorite part of her was how she was beginning to really note when things were unfair; no fits, just silent, slightly puzzled observation.  Part of growing up is finding out in lots of little ways that the world isn’t fair.  Stroud does a good job of capturing this process.

Of note, Lucy comes with both traditionally feminine and masculine traits, which were treated as both strengths and weaknesses, depending on the situation.  It was nice to see a female character that was strong because of her feminine traits but who was also forced to be realistic about associated weaknesses.

George, the third partner comes off a little underdeveloped, but it works because that’s how Lucy sees him.  I think he’ll develop more as Lucy learns to appreciate him as a team member – we see a little of that, and you get glimpses of George through his actions, but I think in further books he’ll really shine.

Anthony, the leader, is bigger and louder than George, so we see a lot more of him throughout the book.  He’s much more developed, partially because Lucy is more interested in him as a person, and partially because the reader gets to interact with him more.  He’s charming, confident, and a big thinker, whereas George is quiet, flustered, and a details person.

Beyond that, this book does set up a conflict between children and adults, which is not my favorite.  (Now that I think about, that was a theme in the Bartimaeus trilogy as well.)   It does allow the children to exist as the true masters of their stories,  but all adults are portrayed with the same anti-child overtones, which gets boring.

Overall, I really enjoyed this action-adventure supernatural fantasy.  If you like ghosts, alternate yet similar Earths, or suspenseful tales, please give this one a try! (And Do Not let it being a children’s book deter you.  Adults will enjoy this book without feeling infantilized.)  If you shy away from all things scary, or if you truly dislike young teen protagonists, then this, sadly, may not be the book for you.

Did you like this better or worse than Stroud’s other works, especially the Bartimaeus trilogy? Please leave a comment letting me know what you think!

*You just can’t talk about ghosts without referencing “Ghostbusters” somewhere!

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.