Thursday, April 3, 2014

March Reading Madness: Tricksters Duology

I'm very excited for this post! This is by far one of my favorite series set in the Tortall-verse. All of the characters are well executed and the setting is gorgeous. There's no need for a long introduction - here's our discussion on Tamora Pierce's Tricksters' Duology. 

Who was your favorite character?
Liz: I loved the darklings; they were far and away my favorite characters from the series.I loved the rampant humor they had, the way the characters interacted with them, it was all fabulous.
Brittany: Appearances by the Graveyard Hag always make me smile. I know she’s an avatar of death, but it’s a good time when she’s around.

How did you experience the book? Were you immediately drawn into the story--or did it take you a while?
Liz: It did take me a little bit to be drawn into the story. I kept looking for Alanna and the characters from other series to appear and rescue Ally. I was a little disappointed at first just to read about Ally for so long, but then Ally grew on me, and other fantastic characters started showing up with this big conspiracy and suddenly I couldn’t get enough.
Brittany: The first time I read the story, I knew nothing about it. I also expected to see more of the old crew, but really enjoyed that the story became just about Aly and the island cast, which is very different from the Tortall cast.

Do you find Ally to be a convincing character?
Liz: At times, most definitely. There were a few moments where I almost believed her to be too smart or have her wits too much about her for a young lady who was trained but didn’t come across as having a lot of first hand experience. However, she was cautious when appropriate which kind of balanced the overall affect of her character to me.
Brittany: She’s much more like her dad than her mom, so it was interesting to have that kind of character (cunning instead of strong, sassy instead of… not sassy) in a female character. Aly is very good at planning, but I would have loved to see more of the plans go off with hitches. She seem too perfect at times.

Who in this book would you most like to meet? What would you ask—or say?
Liz: Kyprioth, the trickster. I would just like to try and hold a conversation with him or an hour just to see what would happen. I think it would be interesting just to see more of how his mind works.
Brittany: The darkings! I would like to have a few to chat with about any old thing..

Consider the ending. Did you expect it or were you surprised? If you could rewrite the ending, would you? In other words, did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not.
Liz: I didn’t find the ending satisfying because I wanted more to the story. I wanted to see the exploits of Aly as the spymaster and what the isles become after everything had somewhat settled down. When the series ended, I felt like the story hadn’t really ended; there was much to be said and done.
Brittany: I would also love to see more from this area of the world. There’s a short story involving Aly and Nawat in Tortall and Other Lands, so that does bring a little closure to the story. It’s not enough, though. I want to know more about Dove’s reign as queen!

If you were to talk with the author, what would you want to know?
Liz: Could you write more books about the Isles? Ehhh???
Brittany: Ditto!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Reading Madness: Protector of the Small Quartet

Now we come to the second in the series of discussions with Liz from Assorted Leafs. If you can count, and I know many of you can, you've probably figured out these were supposed to weekly discussions, written and posted weekly, in a weekly sort of format. I dropped this ball so hard, it's currently floating in a sea of magma in the Earth's core. Liz is the most patient blogging partner on the face of this planet and she deserves a medal or, in the very least, a cupcake.

This week, we're talking about Protector of the Small, the second lady knight series by Tamora Pierce. It features Keladry, the first girl in all the land who wants to follow in Lady Alanna's footsteps and become a knight. Keladry is definitely not Alanna - she has no magic and a very different background. Oh, and she gets to be a girl the whole series, instead of spending the first three books stuffing her pants with socks. 

I've dotted the discussion with more cover art from the books, but my choices were pretty sparse because this is a more recent series. Also, the original cover art kept the pictures in line with Keladry's description as something of a tomboy and the new art is like, "No, we have to make it floofy! Girls like floofy!" It's still pretty, but it doesn't reflect the series as well as the original art.

Lovely, lovely Liz is in Green and I'm in Blue.
What was your favorite book from the series and why?
Liz: I loved the second book in the series the most; the struggles that Kel faced at every turn seemed very real and gripping to me. It also showed her courage, perseverance and leadership at every stage.
Brittany: I loved the last book. It wrapped up a lot of things, but also didn’t end with Kel getting into a nonsense romance for romance-sake. Pierce is very good at not falling to the “It’s YA, Romance is Required!” schtick. Kel is obviously human - she loves and she learns and she gets hurt- but she ends the series as she started, incredibly independent and awesome.

Who was your favorite character? What did you appreciate about them?
Liz: I appreciated the presence of Neal in the books. I’m not entirely sure that he was my favorite, but I think he brought a lot of dimension to the story in...interesting ways.
Brittany: I love seeing familiar faces come back. I had completely forgotten that Daine and Numair were in this series, so the continuity of blog posts is going to go right out the window after this one. Ah well - I heart Numair, so it’s enough.

Which character would you most like to meet? What would you ask—or say?
Liz: I would most like to meet Alanna from this quartet as she’s older and perhaps wiser than the last time we saw her. I’d like to pick her brain about the role of females in their present day society.
Brittany: I would love to meet Lalasa and get some sewing lessons! I also want to know how her business is doing and see all of her amazing work.

Is the story plot or character driven? In other words, do events unfold quickly? Or is more time spent developing characters' inner lives?
Liz:I think both arguments could be made. I prefer to read the stories as character driven since it felt more like a grand coming of age story in regards to Kel, but I could see the argument being made for a story plot.
Brittany: I agree with Liz - there are significant elements of both.

What scene resonated most with you personally in either a positive or negative way? Why?
Liz: The moment where Kel had to climb the tower to save her maid. It resonated with me positively because she was able to overcome her paralyzing fear in order to save a life. It was such a badass moment.
Brittany: There are so many! I think the one that I go back to the most was Kel taking over during the fight with the bandits in "Page". Her year-mates learned that, when you're facing true danger, it doesn't matter who is what gender. 

Did you think Kel had a harder time overcoming gender barriers than Alanna did? Alanna had the benefit of hiding her gender and later revealing herself after she had proven she could be a knight, but Kel was open about her gender through the whole series. What do you think of how that played out?
Liz: I do think Kel had a harder time dealing with the gender barrier as every turn it seemed as if she was set up to fail. I think she was only set up to fail because of her gender rather than what Alanna went through with everything being more difficult because they were all ‘boys’. I think it could have played out a little better if as Kel graduated, another female or two also tried to work through the system regardless if they succeed or fail. Alanna paved the way for Kel (kind of, a rough rocky way) but I wanted to see Kel create a better way for the females who followed her.
Brittany: I also think Kel had a harder time, but I also think Kel was more focused and more determined. A lot of Kel’s “distractions” during her training years were minor compared to Alanna’s, which allowed Kel to focus more on training up her weaknesses.

Friday, March 21, 2014

March Madness: Song of the Lioness Quartet Discussion

Here we are in March and I haven't written a review since early January. Such is life, I suppose.
For a few months now, Liz from Assorted Leafs and I have talked about doing a focused book discussion month. We're finally getting to that and starting with one of our favorite authors - Tamora Pierce

Nostalgia Factor x100: My first book!
Now, I panned Battle Magic as something awful, but that's the exception, not the rule. Tamora Pierce has always been a favorite author. She has a rich and prolific writing resume and stands as one of the best authors for character-driven stories with awesome female AND male characters.

Disclaimer: Liz included a disclaimer on her page about our discussion including spoilers, but, seriously, the first book in the series was released in 1983. If the book is older than I am, no disclaimers for you. 

I will give a disclaimer that I haven't read this series in more than a year, so my answers are a little vague. I promise to make that up with the remaining series. Serieses? Seri? All the rest of the bookies. 

Our first series is Song of the Lioness, which has four books to it; 
Alanna: The First Adventure 
In the Hand of the Goddess 
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man 
 Lioness Rampant. 

This was Pierce’s first book series, the first book series in her Tortall Universe, and was originally a single novel written for adults. At the suggestion of her agent, she broke the original manuscript into four books and rewrote them for young adults. If you ask her about the original manuscript, she'll tell you it's lost somewhere in the annals of time, which is a shame. I'd love to read it.

I'm wearing the lovely shade of BLUE, as always, while my cohort, Liz, rocks GREEN. I've tried to wrangle the formatting, but there might be some weird spots because this was originally written in Google Docs. 

As a complete aside, this series has been reprinted many times and every.single.time, there was awesome cover art. I've highlighted a few of my favorite throughout this post, but I highly suggest you Google for the rest of it. 

What was your favorite book from the series and why?
Brittany: I would have to go with the first book because I have epic amounts of nostalgia attached to that book and I will never, ever stop loving it. It always sticks me.
Liz: I would say the last book, Lioness Rampant, as there were a lot of conclusions in it that really completed the story for me. It left a lot of warm fuzzies and I kind of always loved who she wound up with in the end.

Who was your favorite character?
Brittany: George’s mom! She’s such a strong character and obviously has gone through a lot to raise a good human in George. I was super excited to read the Beka Cooper series because she has a cameo.
Liz: George’s mom was GREAT, but I have a close tie between Alanna and George; I’d rather say that my favorite relationship was between George and Alanna. Their dynamics and moments were great.

How did you experience the series? Were you immediately drawn into the story--or did it take you a while?
Brittany: A friend recommended the series to me when we were in the 9th grade. In addition to cementing a lifelong friendship that I still have to this day, it was one of the first stories that I read with a female character who knew who she was, what she wanted, and had no time for any BS, including romantic relationships. I devoured the whole series and every Pierce book I could find after that.
Liz: Back in my middle school days, I read close to 25 books a month or so. I was a very avid, enthusiastic reader. As such, I antagonized my favorite librarians into recommending books to me which led me to The Song of the Lioness Quartet. While I read the series, it made me feel like I could take on the world. I was immediately drawn to follow Alanna’s story as she was courageous to fight for who she wanted to be rather than accept what she was expected to be. I enjoyed the strength of the relationships that Alanna forged and did little else until I finished the series.

Do you find Alanna to be a convincing character?
Brittany: I do, because she’s so focused on being a great knight that she ends up flawed in other ways
Liz: I find Alanna to be a convincing character because of the dynamics between her strengths and flaws. She seems to be a much more realistic character because of it and there are plenty of reasons throughout the stories that made me want to rally behind her rather than scoff at her.  

Who in this book would you most like to meet? What would you ask—or say?
Brittany: George Cooper and his mom. They just seem like very open, welcoming people.
Liz: I would like to meet Thom, Alanna’s twin brother, just to see if there was more to his story. I was curious to find out how his training was and who he had made friends with or what his daily life had been like.

Consider the ending. Did you expect it or were you surprised? If you could rewrite the ending, would you? In other words, did you find the ending satisfying? Why or why not.
Brittany: I will admit it’s been awhile since I read the entire series, but with the way Pierce writes her world, Alanna’s story is still continuing. I like where she’s gone as a character, as seen through the eyes of her daughter, and that she’s still a solid, independent character who didn’t fall into the trap of becoming a faceless parent-character.
Liz: I did like the ending because I felt like there were enough endings to many of the characters I had come to know yet it left it open enough where there could be more stories about Alanna. With her personality, I have no doubt that her adventures continue (as we see in the Trickster’s Duology) but there was enough to know that her life had reach a happy point where she could forge forward to have a good life, if not a little chaotic.

If you were to talk with the author, what would you want to know?
Brittany: What are the primary differences between the series as it was published and how it was written when it was an adult fantasy novel?
Liz: If you could go back and rewrite any parts of the series, what would they be and why?

Happy book discussions and reading month!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Behind the Times Review: Crewel, by Gina

Edition: eBook (Overdrive/Library)
Author: Gennifer Albin
Goodreads: Crewel
Release Date: October 16, 2012

Incapable. Awkward. Artless.
That’s what the other girls whisper behind her back. But sixteen-year-old Adelice Lewys has a secret: She wants to fail.

Gifted with the ability to weave time with matter, she’s exactly what the Guild is looking for, and in the world of Arras, being chosen to work the looms is everything a girl could want. It means privilege, eternal beauty, and being something other than a secretary. It also means the power to manipulate the very fabric of reality. But if controlling what people eat, where they live, and how many children they have is the price of having it all, Adelice isn’t interested.

Not that her feelings matter, because she slipped and used her hidden talent for a moment. Now she has one hour to eat her mom’s overcooked pot roast. One hour to listen to her sister’s academy gossip and laugh at her dad’s jokes. One hour to pretend everything’s okay. And one hour to escape.

Because tonight, they’ll come for her.

This is an older book, so I'll spare you my version of a summary and jump right into my opinion of the book: I really, really, really disliked it. The writing was inconsistent. The main character is supposed to be a Strong-Willed Strong Female and comes across as an unintelligent brat. And, in all honesty, you could remove her completely from the narrative and just let the story be what it's really about - Ambassador Cormac's rise to power through manipulation of everyone around him. This is not a female-focused book, despite the fact that the main character is a female. Everything plot device in this book further's Cormac's story, not Adelice's - until the last chapter when Adelice grows a spine and a brain and suddenly figures out a way to escape Arras. 

Let's be honest here, when talking about Adelice - mouthy does not equal (!=, for my programmer fans) smart. Adelice is given plenty of advice to shut up and observe the situation she's in before acting out and, instead, she goes about pissing everybody off and acting like it's okay because she just can't help herself. She has no control over herself because, ultimately, Adelice just cares about Adelice. As much as she talks about want to protect her sister and stop Cormac, her actions show that she really just wants to be the center of attention. 

This is not a series I intend to finish. I gave it two stars on Goodreads only because the idea of the world is so damn interesting. In the hands of a better writer, the world could have flourished - instead, it's shallow, like the characters.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Open Discussions: Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

Liz over at Assorted Leafs and I continue to attempt to have discussions about books, while basically having the same (but witty and hilarious) opinions.  Here is our discussion about Allegiant, by Veronica Roth.

My original review is here.
Liz's original review is here.

In the following discussion, Liz is THE GREEN COLOR and I am THE BLUE COLOR.  

What made you want to read it?
B: I only picked this up because I read the first two books and, while I wasn’t super impressed, I at least wanted to see where the story went.

L: I enjoyed Divergent, I was okay with Insurgent, but I was looking for a storyline redemption in Allegiant.

What were your hopes and expectations going into the book and why?
B: I had none. Insurgent had been a real slog for me, so I all I was hoping for was something that was a little more engaging.

L: Storyline redemption all the way. I wanted an explanation for the ruined state that Chicago had become because the first two books built up to made it seem that almost anything could be possible. The second book had more writing hiccups and I was looking to find the vigor of the first book.

At what point did you want to throw the book across the room in aggravation?
B: As soon as they started giving history on the Gene War. I originally wanted to study genetics in college, so I have a slightly-better-than-average understanding of the basics of genes, and, for the love of all that is holy on this Earth, genes DO NOT work like the book wants to make them work.

Now, having thought about it a bit, there may be some wiggle room I’m missing. There’s a lot of talk of propaganda and the like throughout the book, and how the government has covered up past wars, so it’s entirely possible the whole thing is a farce perpetrated by the government to control the… I don’t know what.

L: The same point. If my aim had been a little worse, it would have hit a window. When the blanket explanation was just ‘LOL GENETICS’ I had metaphorical square kittens. I didn’t want to read about a government conspiracy (also the whole “I inherit my job position” is some sort of hat nod to current politics or kingdoms; still dislike it either way). I wanted something atrocious that would at least give a little more meaning to all the deaths that had already occurred in the previous books. If Veronica Roth wanted me to believe in the ‘genetic explanation’ than there should have been more emphasis on the purity wars to make it seem like a more real and relevant point. I would have found it more believable if we had been able to see the other cities, to see the residents of other places, or to even see a different science center. I would have liked a better representation of the government, more of a presence than just the scientists.

Did you think the characters and their problems/decisions/relationships were believable or realistic?
B: I think they came off realistic, although I’m always a little leary of relationships in post-apocalyptic war situations. Sometimes the personalities just don’t seem to mesh right and no one ever asks, “You know, in any other situation where we weren’t about to die at any moment, would we actually be together?” I think the answer, for Tris and Four, would actually be a no. At least not in the long term. They have some serious trust issues that never really get addressed or fixed. Yes, they talk about it, but it just kind of ends up being Scumbag Steve-style, “Of course I’ll never lie to you again. ~lies less than 3 pages later~”

L: I thought that Tris and Caleb were unbelievable for how their relationship had even happened. I don’t care if it’s her brother, the betrayal should not be forgiven so easily nor should he be trusted with important tasks. Based on Tris’ character in the previous two books, I found her character slightly believable yet still greatly dislikable.Tobias/Four seemed to become an angry paperweight. Like, “Here, hold this concept for a few chapters by being angry about it” and he did.

B: I love the phrase, “angry paperweight” - it fits Tobias perfectly. His rage was short lived, misplaced, and distracting. And then Tris would say something that would make it all better, and then go back to lying about everything.

Who was your favorite character and why?
B: I didn’t really have one, except maybe Tris’ Mom. She seemed like a strong-willed, awesome person, and I would probably read a series just about her.

L: ….I kind of liked Amar because he had a smaller role and couldn’t be ruined.

How did the book compare to the other books in the series?
B: Not any worse or any better, over all, except for the Bad Science.

L: I feel that it’s worse just because it was SO DISAPPOINTING. I wanted that redemption but it was not happening anywhere. I wanted to see more characters outside of Tris and Tobias, or even more about Tobias’ parents who were the main leaders of the warring bodies of old chicago! There were so many important people just glossed over.

What else struck you about the book as good or bad?
B: I have a hard time with Roth’s writing style, because it’s choppy and a little disjointed. She’s built a very interesting, possibly believable world (depending on where the propaganda line starts and stops), but some chapters, the writing makes it feel like I’m reading a book written for much, much younger readers.

L: I found it incredibly unnecessary to switch narrations between Tris and Tobias. I agree with Brittany wholeheartedly about the writing style, I would like to take it a step further to say that she really seemed to have lost her way in the book. It just seems like she was digging a very deep hole from the beginning. I think the book just proved that the author didn’t know how to manipulate world mechanics and brushed over any explanation with ‘because’.

However, I enjoyed the dose of reality of how emotionally removed the scientists were from the residents of Chicago whereas Tobias was very invested because he knew them personally. It seemed to be one of the few realistic aspects of human nature that was portrayed well.

Did the book end the way you expected?
B: I wasn’t expecting her to kill the main character, since that doesn’t happen often in YA, but it also felt like a completely pointless death. I’ve never bought into the idea that fiction should be “realistic” and people should die because people die in real life. I know people die in real life, because real life sucks, and I read books to escape real life, damn it.

L: I thought it was inevitable that Tris would get killed, I’m surprised that Tobias wasn’t killed as well. When the narration was split between two characters I immediately prepared for narrator murder and horrible third person perspective ending. Instead I got Tris death, and Tobias repeating the same sentiment that had been happening all book.

Were you glad you read this book?
B: Meh.

L: Eh, yes...I just wish it had been more of a worthy endeavor.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 - Three Favorite Books I Didn't Blog About

2014 is currently peeking around the corner every few seconds to see if we're still watching, so that it can pounce on us when we're not expecting it, full of new promises and no few disappointments. I started this blog at the end of June and I've been less than diligent in keeping up on reviewing books, so there really isn't much to summarize for the year. Instead of doing a, "My Favorite Top 10 Greatest Books of 2013 Ever!" post, I'm going to give you three quick reviews for books that I didn't review, for whatever reason, in 2013.

Review #1: Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Reason not reviewed: Not YA! Not new in 2013!
Publication date: September 29, 2009
Edition: eBook
Goodreads link: Boneshaker

Summary: Boneshaker derives its title from the Bone-Shaking Drill Engine, a device designed to give Russian prospectors a leg up in the race for Klondike gold. Unfortunately, there was one hitch: On its trial run, the Boneshaker went haywire and, long story short, turned much of Seattle into a city of the dead. Now, 16 years later, a teenage boy decides to find out what is behind that mysterious wall. Can his mother save him in time? Zombie lit of the first order.

This is a great novel for introduction into the Steampunk genre. The setting is America during a time that everyone is familiar with, but the addition of Steampunk properly throws the history we know on its ear. The idea of walling off a section of the city with a wall tall enough to keep the gas in took a little adjusting to, but there was definite believability in almost every other aspect of the story. The zombies play a very small role in the story, much less so than the summary would have you believe. I preferred this, because it gave the story room to become more than just a steampunk-era survival horror story. It becomes a story about family and legends, and how you can never really know the full truth unless you seek it out for yourself.

Review #2: A Latent Dark, Martin Kee
Reason for not reviewing: Not YA, not published in 2013, and possibly not even read in 2013.
Publication date: August 22, 2012
Edition: eBook
Goodreads: A Latent Dark

Skyla has lived secretly within the city walls of Bollingbrook for eleven years, playing among the airship factories and trainyards. As one of the Gutter District’s nameless destitute, it has gone undiscovered that she has a unique talent: when Skyla looks at a person’s shadow she sees through it and into another world. She can see people’s fears, desires, their past sins--all as swimming, living creatures.

Her mother has never told her the real reasons why they must remain hidden, never explained the true dangers that exist outside the city walls. But when her mother’s past catches up with them both, Skyla finds she must flee out of the city and into a world still recovering from a second Dark Age, a world of adults with secrets only she can see.

For a stranger has recently moved into Bollingbrook, a man some call the Pope of the South, a witch hunter to some and a hero to others. When more children begin to disappear, suspicions are raised and an unlikely search party is formed to find Skyla in the hopes that they aren’t already too late.

I picked this book up as part of an ebook bundle and it took me awhile to get to it, but I've read it twice this year and loved it both times. It looks like steampunk on the cover, but much of the aesthetic comes off at Gothic more than gears-and-wires. This is a very dark world, full of monsters that almost always look human at first glance, and Skyla is one of the only ones who can see the monsters for what they are. The main character fits the young-but-clever trope, but you never forget that she's still a child.

Just reviewing this book makes me want to read it again for the third time. Good thing I'm off from work until Thursday! 

Review #3: Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
Reason for not reviewing: Not published in 2013 (not even close)
Publication date: 1986 (see?)
Edition: eBook
Goodreads: Howl's Moving Castle

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
The highlight of 2013 was discovering Diana Wynne Jones for the first time. How did I make it all this time without reading a single book of hers? I really have no effing clue. The movie of Howl's Moving Castle has been a favorite for years and, much to my joy, the movie watches like reading the book and the book reads like watching the movie. Jones' writing style is as whimsical and gorgeous as the art in the movie. Since reading Howl's over the summer, I've devoured the rest of this trilogy, in addition to The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin. If you've wondered why I haven't blogged much, it's because much of my reading has been books that are so old, you should have read them by now.