July 29, 2010

Book Blogger Hop (2)

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Jennifer at Crazy For Books and it's a great way to meet other book bloggers and discuss books!

This week's question: Who is your favorite new-to-you author so far this year?

Hmm...tough choice. For YA, I'd have to say either Y. S. Lee or Rachel Hawkins. I quite enjoyed the first book in Lee's The Agency series (want to read the second one now!!) and Hawkins' Hex Hall was a light, fun, fantasy read that left me eagerly anticipating the sequel.

For non-YA, my pick would be Jude Morgan - I read (and re-read) his novels Indiscretion and An Accomplished Woman and found them to be fabulous in characterization, snappy dialogue, and dry wit, in a style surprisingly reminiscent of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.

Character Connection: Elinor Dashwood

This meme involves picking a character each week that we have connected with, and is hosted by The Introverted Reader.

I first read Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility in my mid-teens, and although I did prefer Elinor over Marianne to begin with, I don't think I was able to identify with either character all that much. Now that I am re-reading the novel years later, I have found that there's a lot to Elinor that I missed the first time around (also, Marianne is annoying me even more now).

At nineteen, Elinor Dashwood is the eldest of three sisters, and as such, she is expected to bear the brunt of the responsibility in the family. She's the most level-headed of everyone, including her mother, whose emotional and passionate, but altogether impractical, nature has been passed down to her daughter Marianne. Perhaps because she has been used to it for many years, Elinor shoulders her burdens without complaint. It's clear to the reader that even Austen herself thinks highly of Elinor: "Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding and coolness of judgment which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother...She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate; and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to govern them..."

It is this last quality that distinguishes Elinor quite solidly from Marianne, who allows her feelings to govern her. Elinor, on the other hand, guards herself from relying on her gut instincts or fleeting emotions in making decisions. Even when distraught and broken-hearted, Elinor keeps her feelings to herself, partly to preserve another character's secret, but also partly because she wishes to keep her mother and sister from sharing in her troubles. Which brings me to another excellent character trait: that Elinor frequently thinks of others over herself.

This happens even with people she doesn't like all that much - for instance, Mrs. Jennings, her daughter Mrs. Parker, and the extremely reprehensible Lucy Steele. And because her sister Marianne cannot be bothered to make polite conversation with people she does not respect or care for, it often falls to Elinor to be civil to others when she, too, has no desire to converse with them. Indeed, Marianne appears to take it entirely for granted that Elinor will always be willing to fill this role (and Elinor is so forbearing and thoughtful that she does!) This also means that Elinor is forced to tell little white lies a lot of the time, although she does her best to phrase her comments as to be honest as much as possible.

A bit like Jane Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, Elinor looks for the good in others, although it seems she often does this because she thinks she should, not because it's second nature to her. Unlike Jane, however, she quite accurately assesses others' characters, both their strengths and their flaws. She sees Lucy Steele for what she is: conniving, disingenuous, and deliberately hurtful. Yet she is so honourable that when Lucy confides in her, Elinor keeps her secret from everyone else for months, even though the knowledge pains her greatly. This unwillingness to stoop to Lucy's level is one of the things that makes Elinor Dashwood so admirable. She finds out in the worst possible way that she has been betrayed by Edward, the man she loves, and that there is likely no chance they will have a future together - and yet she doesn't strike back in anger. Elinor doesn't seek to hurt him or Lucy Steele even though in no way was any of this her fault; she has been the only one used in this situation. Indeed, she is so good as to pass on to Edward a generous offer from Colonel Brandon that would make Edward's life a little easier - and Elinor's a little more painful. It is this conscientiousness and sense of duty that makes her one of the strongest of Austen's female role models - and definitely one that a reader can easily sympathize with.

Just curious - did anyone prefer Marianne?

July 28, 2010

Waiting on Wednesday: Matched and Jasmyn

Jill at Breaking the Spine hosts this meme highlighting which books we are anxiously awaiting. My picks for this week are: Matched by Ally Condie (YA) and Jasmyn by Alex Bell (Adult).

Summary from Amazon.com:
"Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander's face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham's face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. The Society tells her it's a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life she's destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can't stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society's infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she's known and a path that no one else has dared to follow."

I generally enjoy dystopian YA and this one sounds like an awesome addition! Forbidden love in a futuristic society that arranges your marriage...how can you go wrong with that?

Summary from Amazon.com: "One day, without warning, Jasmyn's husband Liam dies of an aneurysm. Wrapped up in her grief, Jasmyn is trapped in a world without color, without flavor, without Liam. But even through the haze of misery she begins to notice strange events. Things are not as they should be, and eventually Jasmyn begins to explore the mysteries that have sprung up after her husband's death. The mysteries turn out to be deeper than Jasmyn expects, and she quickly finds herself immersed in a magical story of swans, castles, and bones; of murder and a vicious battle between brothers; of a lost past and a stolen love."

This one's supposed to be a "fairy tale for adults" with a large dose of thriller. As one Amazon review points out, any book that begins, "You have never heard a story quite like this one," has something to live up to. From what I've seen of the reviews, though, it does! Also I love the cover.

July 26, 2010

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Book Journey and in it we discuss recent, current, and future reads of the week. This is my first time participating!

I recently read and reviewed The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty, and I am now currently re-reading Austen's Sense and Sensibility. The last time I read it was quite a while ago and I think I'm getting a good deal more out of it this time around!

Books to get picked up at the library at some point this week include:

The Silent Governess by Julie Klassen
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (I've seen the movie so I thought I should try the book)
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl - I've read such good things about this one!

What are you reading?

July 25, 2010

Top Ten: Favorite Male Literary Characters

This is a meme hosted by Random Ramblings in which we list our top ten choices for a certain topic. This round is male literary characters, and my first time participating! So, with no further ado (and not in any particular order):

1.) Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice

Okay, so I had to include him. Who wouldn't? He's the ultimate romantic interest who starts out as an anti-hero and then makes some major changes in his attitude to better himself for Elizabeth's sake. Sure, he's proud and snooty at the beginning, but Elizabeth has her faults too, and I'd argue the greater character development is on Darcy's side. How can you not love the guy who pays off all the debts of the wicked villain who's run off with your vapid sister?

2.) Richard Mayhew of Neverwhere

The back of the book states, "Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart," and that is a large part of what makes him so attractive to the reader. He's an average man who's sucked into the underworld of London, and quite frankly, for most of the journey, he really doesn't want to be there. I loved that about him! Often fantasy novels that involve someone from our modern day being transported to another world or time show them adapting with great ease to their situation (and frequently enjoying themselves soon after their arrival!) Richard Mayhew is the opposite: he is involved against his will and better judgment, and he just wants to go home. This quality makes it easy for the reader to relate to him, and yet, most of the time he doesn't come across as overly whiny. Richard is only in this mess because he stopped to help an injured girl on the sidewalk, and he did that out of the goodness of his heart. Faced with a London he never dreamt existed, he meets the challenges as best he can, demonstrating loyalty and courage - and in the end I think he grows to prefer his unpredictable adventures below London to his static, normal life above.

3.) Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre

Yes, the brooding Byronic hero makes an appearance here. He's intriguing, cynical, passionate, and secretive in a way that makes us long to know more. Perhaps I wouldn't really care to hang out with him in real life - at least not until his attic had been cleared of all wives - but in fiction, hey, why not? And in the end, he really does get thoroughly punished for all the lying he did to poor Jane.

4.) Frodo of Lord of the Rings

He's the classic underdog who has a heavy burden thrust upon him, and he really does astonishingly well, all things considered. Frodo matures considerably through the story arc, from the foolish country boy who carelessly wears the ring of invisibility when he shouldn't, to the courageous hobbit struggling against all odds to face down the epitome of evil, risking the corruption of his soul in the process. I think it is this transformation (and the fact that he really is the smartest of all four hobbits) that makes Frodo such a likeable protagonist to root for.

5.) Thomas Schofield of Sorcery and Cecelia

The odious Marquis of Schofield is such an appealing character. He has just the right balance of good and bad qualities, and his sense of humour is wonderfully sarcastic. Most importantly, you can count on him to always come through when others depend on him (and you can also count on the fact that he will gloat about it later!)

 6.) Mendanbar of Searching for Dragons

Mendanbar's the king who doesn't really enjoy kingship - the social niceties, the administrative duties, the schmoozing with delegations. He's smart, diplomatic, and likes to think things through rather than making a snappy but poor decision. Mendanbar's actually rather modest for a ruler, which is nice for a change, and he doesn't mind admitting when he's wrong (well, at least, not much). The one thing he is proud about is his connection to the Enchanted Forest - and why shouldn't he be? He understands it better than anyone else can. Cimorene has such a strong personality, which Mendanbar counters well with his more understated one - but he's not afraid to speak his mind when necessary.

7.) Taran of The High King (and the other Prydain Chronicles, but this one's my favorite)

I love seeing the confident, mature, intelligent Taran in this novel (as opposed to previous books in the series, where he is sometimes quite foolish). It's great seeing his character develop, of course, but the end result is even better! He's loyal to his friends, he understands compromise and loss, he's got a big heart, and he is a fabulous leader. What's not to like?

 8.) Mr. Tilney of Northanger Abbey

Well, I'm an Austen fan, so more than one Austen character was bound to pop up. There are too many to choose from, but Tilney's one of my favorites. He's got an eye for irony as well as muslin, a charming manner, and he's willing to stand up on the dance floor (unlike Mr. Darcy...). All right, so he's flawed - he makes fun of Catherine's wild imagination, although it must be said he does have a bit of a point - but so are the best characters, right?

9.) David of Uglies/Pretties/Specials

David's an admirable character simply because he never gives up on Tally. She starts out average - in looks, in social status, although she's smart and gutsy - and he likes her. Then she becomes model gorgeous, ditzy, and falls in love with another guy (I never really saw the attraction of Zane, apologies to his fans) and he still holds out hope. And then she turns Special, acquiring the latest in cutting-edge technology in her body and an icy, predatory personality with a ruthless streak - and his loyalty to her does not falter. He's now her enemy, theoretically, and yet he never harms her when he can help it; to him she is still the same Tally he fell in love with. That kind of devotion doesn't come along very often.

10.) Gabriel of Archangel

Gabriel's a bit of a Mr. Darcy, but in angel form. He's extremely self-assured, has a keen sense of justice, and has a habit of ordering others around and being obeyed. However, he is very much the gentleman; he doesn't seek love elsewhere even though there is none to be found (at first...) in his arranged marriage. His constant arguments with his wife cause him to undergo important character developments, and by the end of the novel he is a good deal better at listening to others and considering things from more than one perspective (although he does retain a bit of a bossy streak, I think). Nevertheless, by the end his good qualities far outweigh the bad - he's loyal (I think that's a theme throughout this list!), passionate about bettering his country and doing his utmost as Archangel, and determined to win over his wife Rachel's heart no matter what it takes. And it takes a lot, because Rachel is prouder than he is and scared to let herself get close to anyone. Indeed, I felt sorry for Gabriel by the end; as Rachel's friend puts it, "I look at you and Gabriel, and I see a man who has made himself over because he loves a woman. And I see a woman who has shunned the man at every turn." Really, Rachel doesn't appreciate what she's got!

So, thoughts? Agree? Disagree?

July 24, 2010

Obedience: Review (Adult)

Will Lavender's Obedience is the type of book that you need to devour all in one sitting. It's a read-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning mystery with a huge dollop of psychology thrown in, and an ending that you will either love or hate. I loved it.

Set at a university, Obedience follows the lives of three university students - Mary, Brian, and Dennis - through a school term. All three are taking Logic and Reasoning 204, taught by the mysterious Professor Williams. No one knows exactly who he is, and yet he soon has the class eating out of the palm of his hand, each student eager to demonstrate they can be the one to crack the case he sets before them: a hypothetical murder. Who can discover the potential killer - and back it up with clear logical reasoning - before the term ends? Each week he gives another clue - time, place, motive, circumstance - but for a select few students, the events of their own lives are starting to bear eerie similarities to those of the assignment. And eventually they are forced to ask the question: just how much of this is a made-up exercise in logic - and how much of it is reality?

The books involving college or university students as protagonists are few and far between, and I certainly wish there were more like Obedience. I don't like my mysteries full of blood and gore, and thankfully this one is all about messing with your mind, with very little violence at all. The writing style kept me frantically flipping the pages to see what would happen next (I think I finished it in about two days.) It's one of those novels that gets you to question everything you're reading, look for hidden connections, and try to make sense of the seemingly impossible. Everything was written as though it were hiding something; you can tell this from the very first line in Chapter 1, "The strange thing about Williams was that nobody had ever seen him." While I never really connected strongly with any of the protagonists, it wasn't really that necessary for my enjoyment of this novel (which is unusual, because generally I like to be able to sympathize with at least one main character). Rather, it was all about figuring out the mystery, and the characters were just pieces of a larger picture.

I can't say too much without spoiling everything. Some Amazon reviews have complained about the ending as being too much of a cop-out, and while I can see where they're coming from, I still really enjoyed it. When I finished reading this book, my first reaction was just: WOW. Really, the only thing I find unfortunate is that I can never again have the exhilarating experience I had reading it for the very first time, now that I know all the secrets. Other than that, it's brilliant!

5 out of 5 shooting stars.

Just a head's-up that this is an adult novel and it does contain some sexual content and explicit language. Also, another warning: You may not want to read it right before bed!

July 23, 2010

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop is hosted at Crazy For Books and it sounds like a great way to meet other bloggers. I am new to the book blogosphere so I thought I would try it out this week!

What am I currently reading?  Well, I just finished The Ghosts of Ashbury High (see previous review) and quite thoroughly enjoyed it. Jaclyn Moriarty really gets inside characters' heads well, and I've read all the other novels in the Ashbury-Brookfield series so I was happy to get back into that world for a while. Just wish there was another one in the series coming!

Hi to anyone who hops along to my blog and welcome!

July 21, 2010

The Ghosts of Ashbury High: Review

So I've been anticipating The Ghosts of Ashbury High for a while now (I am a big Jaclyn Moriarty fan) and while it didn't perhaps live up to all my expectations, I did enjoy delving into the Ashbury-Brookfield world once more with the characters I have grown to love. I'll note here that this is the fourth in a series and really wouldn't work that well as a standalone - better to have read at least The Year of Secret Assignments (and possibly The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie) beforehand.

Moriarty's latest is perhaps the most difficult of all of her books to summarize: in essence, it is a collection of exam essays, blog entries, transcripts, and letters detailing the events of a most interesting year at Ashbury high school. Two new students - Amelia and Riley - have arrived and Ashbury is in an uproar trying to figure out their secrets and befriend the strangers. They don't say much, but when they want, people listen; they don't always show up to class, but when they do, people sit up and take notice. Amelia and Riley have a mysterious aura of charisma the entire school wishes to soak up (with, perhaps, the exception of Lydia). But ironically, they've settled on Lydia as the Ashbury student most useful for their purposes - too bad she's blind to their plans. Add to this telltale signs of a ghost in the Art Room (well, if Emily swears by it, it must be true), Toby's obsession with the memoirs of Irish convict Tom Kincaid, and Amelia's own hints at a most unsettling past and present... and you have the perfect modern Gothic tale.

Moriarty's writing is so vivid, and the individual characters' voices leap off the page. I love how unique each student's voice is, and that she manages to keep them consistent and true to life (although the content, it must be admitted, is often quite fanciful). The one character's personality I couldn't quite believe was Constance Milligan, one of the adults on a trust fund committee; her comments were always so far-fetched (and later in the book we see some letters she writes that almost assure us of her mental instability). At least the other committee members eventually recognize that she is a few cards shy of a full deck, so it isn't all in the reader's head! I also wish we could have gotten more of Amelia's perspective. While her poems are thought-provoking and give the reader a small window into her mind, we never really get the whole picture of her; she is seen only through the eyes of others. As I think this is probably deliberate on Moriarty's part - others' perceptions of both Amelia and Riley go through large transformations throughout the novel, ultimately revealing more about the observers than the observed - I don't really have a problem with it. It did make me less sympathetic to Amelia, though, even after her history has been revealed (and I never ended up liking Riley AT ALL).

This book is the most fanciful of the series, straying into the realm of the fantastical at certain points. (Well, hmmm, perhaps Feeling Sorry for Celia did that quite a lot too, with all those letters Elizabeth "receives" from made-up organizations). Yet for Elizabeth's story, the fantasy element didn't really need to be explained; you could either choose to believe she was indeed receiving these letters, or there's always the option that her imagination was going rather wild. In this one, the connection between Tom and Maggie's story from so many years ago, and Amelia's experience in the Heritage Park, was a bit too much to swallow (not giving details here to avoid spoilers). I think this was partly because the whole book had been written as a mystery, with unreliable narrators and a very blurry line between reality and fiction, and I had been hoping that the mysterious, impossible events discussed would turn out to have perfectly rational explanations, seeing as it was set in a modern day high school with most of the entries coming from exams/projects/actual correspondence. Either that or I had hoped that what actually happened in the Heritage Park would be left to the reader to decide.

Of course, I am quibbling a bit here - by and large I loved the mystery of it. I was totally unable to guess most of the secrets (with the exception of the one of the unknown commenters on Emily's blog, which wasn't very difficult!) The unreliable narrator approach I sometimes like and sometimes dislike; on the one hand, I hate discovering partway through that the narrator has been holding out information or deliberately misleading the reader, but on the other hand, the technique makes the reader question the validity of the story, which heightens the suspense and makes the plot more intriguing. In this case, I think it worked well.

I definitely enjoyed seeing some more of the characters introduced in Moriarty's previous novels and getting to know them better. Despite the fact that I wasn't particularly keen on the Irish convict Tom's story, it was neat to see more of Toby, and he didn't seem nearly as annoying as he had in The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. His own voice was quite humorous (I really liked his discussion of black holes and his penchant for relating everything back to them) and seeing him take an eager interest in something academic (the historical letters of Tom Kincaid) was great.

However, I was disappointed some of my favorite characters didn't make an appearance (Liz and Charlie are barely mentioned, Christina not at all, and neither is Sergio) as I was hoping to find out some more about how their last year turned out. Even Cassie, who was in this book along with Emily and Lydia, didn't have much of a role to play! Another quality that I missed was the dialogue and interactions between characters; in previous novels we were given more of that through the letters, but this book was mainly made up of lengthy essays from each main character's perspective. Because there wasn't so much back-and-forth between characters, I found myself wanting to skip ahead once I'd read a few pages of one character's version of events, to see how the other characters were involved. This happened particularly during the entries written from Tom Kincaid's perspective, partly because I didn't see what it had to do with the rest of the storyline, and also because it kind of jerked me out of the flow of the plot and I was more interested in the Ashbury happenings.

Ultimately, though, the fact that I was missing some of the previous book's protagonists only emphasizes Moriarty's skill at characterization! I would love another Ashbury-Brookfield book but as far as I know there are no plans for that at present, which is unfortunate indeed.

My overall rating: 4 out of 5 shooting stars.

July 12, 2010

Monday's Question of the Day

This meme is hosted by Eleni of La Femme Readers. The question:

"When you're reading do you need a quiet environment to focus or can you read through a natural disaster?"

Personally, I do need my surroundings to be quiet to truly enjoy reading (and just to concentrate, really). Loud noises will make me lose my spot! Also irritating is the music piped through the speakers at Chapters - perhaps they are subtly influencing people to buy the books instead of sitting there for hours reading like I do?

July 10, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: the Mysterious Howling (Book 1)

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling is actually a kids' book, not YA, but it sounded like a lot of fun and I read some good reviews of it beforehand, so I thought, what the heck, I'll try it.

I'm glad I did, because this is such a quirky read and I love the snarky, tongue-in-cheek quality of the narration (and also the protagonist on occasion). Fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, newly graduated from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, is hired as governess to three children belonging to Lord Fredrick and Lady Constance of Ashton Place. Little does Penelope know that these children are orphans Fredrick found on a hunting expedition in the woods...and they have literally been raised by wolves. A comical slew of mishaps ensues as Penelope endeavours to drum into the childrens' heads everything from the poetry of Longfellow to the schottische dance. But it seems that Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia aren't the most serious terrors lurking at Ashton Place - something is hiding in the attic, and the coachman Old Timothy seems to be most adept at sneaking around...

Maryrose Wood's writing style is simply wonderful. I love how the narrator manages to poke fun while using such a prim-and-proper tone, and the vaguely Victorian setting is charming. Almost every chapter begins with some kind of pithy comment on life that sets up the rest of the chapter. For instance, from Chapter 9:

If you have ever opened a can of worms, boxed yourself into a corner, ended up in hot water, or found yourself in a pretty pickle, you already know that life is rarely (if ever) just a bowl of cherries.

Or, from Chapter 5:

As you probably know from personal experience, there are children who love to take baths, and there are children who absolutely do not.

Unfortunately, this is only Book 1 in a series, and the reader is left dangling at the end of the last chapter ("to be continued...") with none of the problems resolved (except, perhaps, that the children are a little more educated and well-behaved than when Penelope first arrived!) It is more the mere beginnings of a story arc than a fully executed plot, and the feeling when the reader turns the last page is that the book is only half-finished.

Still, it is a quick read and the tone is so priceless that I would recommend it for that alone! The references to other pieces of literature (Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, and Hamlet, to name a few) might go over the heads of younger readers but will amuse the older ones (and any adult readers!) Of course, since the target audience is children there were a few scenes I am sure I would have enjoyed more as a young reader, but on the whole it held my attention very well. Indeed, it almost seems as though the book has been written on two levels - one for children who will laugh at the antics of the wolf-raised siblings, and another for the adults who will laugh at the dry wit of the narrator and the poor plight of Penelope. I only wish there were more of it!

I am eager to find out about what is living in the attic, not to mention who is targeting the three children... More please!

4.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

July 8, 2010

Once a Witch: Review

I was a bit dubious about this book originally, just because witches have been done to death in literature and I wasn't sure how much fresh new insight could be brought to the topic. However, I noticed that it got some good reviews so I decided to give it a try.

Carolyn MacCullough's Once a Witch centers around Tamsin, a girl born into a family full of witches, prophesied to be a beacon among them - who is now seventeen years old and has yet to show a glimmer of Talent. Frustrated at constantly being the "family misfit," Tamsin jumps at the chance to prove herself when a stranger strolls into her family's bookshop - and undercover magical agency - needing help in finding a particular clock in the picture he carries. The stranger mistakes her for her powerful older sister, Rowena, and Tamsin does nothing to dissuade him of this notion, instead promising to take on the task. But it proves more difficult than she'd thought, and she turns to her childhood friend Gabriel, whose magical Talent is finding anything he searches for. Gabriel soon realizes the clock doesn't exist in their world - or rather, in their time. When they both Travel back to 1899 in order to find it, they unleash a series of events they never expected, putting Tamsin's sister Rowena into the clutches of a man who feasts on power over others. It is then that Tamsin discovers she is not as Talentless as she may have believed...and it's just in time, because she will need to figure out how to use her newfound powers to save the ones she cares about before it's too late.

Carolyn MacCullough does breathe new life into the interpretation of witches and magic, although she  keeps to some traditions (such as incantation circles and invoking the elements.) I enjoyed the idea that the witches each have their own unique power, be it reading minds, teleportation, persuasion, etc.


Of course, the exception to this is Tamsin, really, in that her power basically can negate anyone else's powers (and moreover, she can learn anyone's Talent provided they use it on her often enough). I wasn't expecting this to be her Talent, so that was a bit of a surprise, although I thought that the concept of others' Talents 'rubbing off' on her, so to speak, was a little too convenient. She could become awfully powerful that way rather quickly (indeed, by the end of the book she is throwing fireballs everywhere and freezing people on the spot). I was also a little disappointed that the book succumbed to the archetype of the unlikely hero/heroine suddenly discovering they possess great powers no one else does and that they are the one destined to save everybody and destroy evil. However, I suppose the novel wouldn't have been quite so interesting if Tamsin really had been so very Talentless as she originally thought.

I also thought that all the loose ends weren't tied up so well. For one thing, what exactly does Tamsin do when she touches the clock in the train station? How does her grandmother's power affect her? This isn't explained well enough for my liking. Not to mention how Tamsin suddenly becomes the Keeper at the end (and why Alistair gives up and goes back in time - I'm assuming that's where the door leads - without Rowena. What does he hope to accomplish?) I did think it was cool that Tamsin's "clocket" as she calls it becomes the object to hold all the power (that clocket was mentioned way earlier in the book and I didn't suspect a thing!)

Hence I am really hoping for a sequel. I mean, the bad guy seemed to be vanquished kind of easily at the end. I wouldn't expect Alistair to give in without way more of a fight. Plus, Tamsin's going to have some major life changes now that she has Keeper responsibilities. And whatever becomes of Agatha? We never find out.

These quibbles aside, I definitely enjoyed the mystery that surrounded Alistair, the clock, and the history between the two families. For the first half of the novel I was really lost as to what was going on, but not so confused that I gave up reading - just enough to make me keep puzzling about it. In retrospect, things make more sense (or about as much sense as a story involving time travel can make), and MacCullough obviously didn't want to give everything away right from the start.

I liked Tamsin's voice as well - she has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humour I could relate to and appreciate. Sure, she complains about being the only one in the family without Talent, but given her situation, I don't really blame her. However, sometimes she came off as sounding too mature for her age (she herself admits to being "self-aware" which most teens aren't), and yet she sometimes does some very immature things. For instance - I could not figure out why she would leap into the past to find a clock for a stranger when she doesn't even understand his motives. Surely she would know that time travel usually has grave repercussions? (For that matter, why does Gabriel go along with it so easily? Sheer curiosity? Or just to please Tamsin?) I understand, obviously, that this event was critical to furthering the plot, but surely she could have had a slightly better reason for it. Simply wanting to "prove herself" to her family and sister (and what would she be proving except that Gabriel has the ability to find things in the past?) really isn't good enough to risk messing up the fabric of time for a man you haven't even done a background check on yet.

The romance that develops between her and Gabriel was sweet and not too rushed, although of course you could see it coming a mile away (if anything, my complaint would be that there could have been a bit more of it!) Still, I did enjoy Gabriel's character and the lightness he brought to the conversations between the two of them. The only thing I didn't really like was that Gabriel sometimes prioritized Tamsin's wishes over the smarter choice of action (for example, when he blindly Travels back in time with her).

Finally, I thought Alistair was a great villain up until the climax, where he seemed to lose some of his edge. The way he fed on Rowena, draining her while building up his own energy was intriguing (although I'd like to know a bit more about how it works, and how he was able to influence Rowena so strongly. Also, what exactly does he use Agatha for?) I must admit, I really disliked Rowena too; the snooty, condescending, admired-by-all older sister was characterized to perfection, and I admired Tamsin for fighting as hard for Rowena's life as she did (considering how much Tamsin also appeared to dislike her). However, Alistair was written in such a nasty fashion that MacCullough succeeded in making me feel a little sorry for Rowena (though once Rowena returned to normal she went right back to being very irritating, of course).


Overall, a fun read, particularly if you don't want to think too hard about the intricacies of a plot involving a feud between two magical sides across time. My rating: 3.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

July 3, 2010

Banshees, Changelings, and Time-Travelers

So it's been a little while since my last review, and in order to make up for it this post will have three! I may not have been blogging so faithfully but I have indeed kept up with my reading.

1.) Heir to Sevenwaters - Juliet Marillier (Adult)

I hadn't realized there was a fourth book in this series; I had read the first two years and years ago, and had heard the third wasn't very good so I hadn't bothered to continue (I did mostly enjoy the first one, and found the second one interesting, albeit a bit weird and complicated.) Still, I decided to try out her most recent one as the premise sounded intriguing, and I am most certainly glad I did! This may be my favorite of the three I have read, in fact.

The family tree of Sevenwaters is extremely complex, so to keep matters simple, all you really need to know is that the protagonist Clodagh is the daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters. Her mother gives birth to the long-desired male heir to the estate towards the beginning of the novel, but things go terribly wrong when the boy is switched for an Otherworld changeling while in Clodagh's care. Clodagh is blamed, and the situation worsens when she realizes that she is the only one who sees the changeling for what he really is - to the rest of her family he appears as only sticks and stones. Deemed a liar, Clodagh flees with the changeling to search for an entrance to the Otherworld in a bid to get her brother back. She almost immediately bumps into Cathal, a man talented at fighting and seeing the future, who proves to be an immense help along the way. Together they batter their way through countless obstacles, and Clodagh's affection for both the changeling she has named Becan, and the steadfastedly loyal yet infuriatingly mysterious Cathal, deepens. But when she finally comes face-to-face with the faerie lord who has stolen her brother, a secret she never expected threatens to destroy any future she could possibly have with the man she's given her heart to.

Juliet Marillier's quality of writing is excellent as always, and although some references to events in previous novels were lost on me, the story can easily be enjoyed by someone unfamiliar with the rest of the series. I particularly liked seeing the love Clodagh develops for Becan, the changeling who is a) a constant reminder that her brother has been kidnapped, and b) a being that resembles a tree more than a human. Cathal was also an appealing character, although occasionally his refusal to open up and explain things to Clodagh became irritating (especially when it was clear that if he'd shared a bit more information, they might avoid some of the messes they get into entirely). Still, his taciturn nature was compensated by his devotion to protecting Clodagh no matter what the cost. Honorable mention goes to the faerie Lord of the Oak, who was one of those villains we love to hate.

Once Clodagh's journey began, the plot was perfectly paced, with the right amount of exciting near-death moments and character-building scenes to give the reader a sense of the danger Clodagh and Cathal were facing while allowing for a romance to develop. Perhaps the beginning chapters were a bit slow-moving, but it was needed given that this is the fourth in a series, and the history between Clodagh and Cathal needed to be set. Overall, a fantastic journey right to the very end!

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

2.) My Soul to Take - Rachel Vincent

I honestly wasn't expecting all that much from this book - it looked mildly interesting but I thought it would be a typical teen paranormal romance. However, I was happy to be wrong! Sure, the plot isn't terribly intricate, but I really liked the premise: Kaylee Cavanaugh is a bean sidhe, or banshee, who can't help but scream whenever someone is about to die. Although she is naive to her true nature, the death of three young girls in her town in three days strikes her as alarming, and she sets out to unravel what she believes is murder.

This was an easy book to breeze through, but it held my attention (I never found myself really skimming) and I thought that Vincent implemented the idea of banshees in a modern-day setting very artfully. Unlike the myriad of vampire, angel, and ghost books floating around the YA universe, the topic of banshees is a new one. Also, Nash was a wonderful romantic interest, and although he was considered the "hottest guy in school" it wasn't a stretch of the imagination that he would fall for Kaylee, since they are both banshees (you learn this fairly early on so it's not really a spoiler!)

My Soul to Take is followed by two more sequels (and there may be more planned, I don't know), and I am looking forward to reading them. For one thing, I want to know more about Tod and his past, and also his relationship with Nash. And...I can't tell at this point, but do I sense a love triangle in the making???

Excellent start to a fresh paranormal YA series. 4 out of 5 shooting stars.

3.) The Hourglass Door - Lisa Mangum (this review may be somewhat SPOILER-ish)

I can't quite decide how I feel about this one. It was a little bit different than most of the YA I read, and while I liked the uniqueness of how Mangum tackles the concept of time travel, some of it felt a bit flat to me. The story in a nutshell:

Abby's life is going along just fine when a mysterious new guy named Dante shakes everything up. Time seems to freeze when she's with him, and then she starts getting glimpses of the future... Despite everything that's warning her that Dante is more than just an Italian student on exchange, Abby can't resist the almost magnetic pull he's exerting on her. But Dante's secret is so dangerous it could threaten her life as well.

The good things:

I really couldn't quite figure out exactly what Dante's mystery was for the longest time. I knew it had something to do with time, but the prologue had been dramatically obscure and though I'm sure I guessed 'time travel' at some point, I really didn't understand all the ins and outs of how it worked and why it caused certain things to happen. However, this was actually really great because it kept me guessing and wanting to read more.

The metaphor of the river and the bank was philosophical, and yet it was actually steeped in concrete reality (with an actual 'river' of glass and a bank). I enjoyed this interpretation of how someone might feel 'in' and 'out' of the flow of time, and why Dante was bound to keep flitting between the two.

The villains were well written - I liked that they weren't so much pure evil as just totally selfish (and I empathized with them a bit too, because they really did want to go home and felt trapped in Abby's time). I also thought the way they channeled their emotions into their music so that their audience was also affected was quite ingenious... This really emphasizes how much music can move us in real life, and the emotional kind of reactions we can have to it.

The bad things:

I didn't really buy the romance between Dante and Abby that much. Or maybe it was just that Dante's character didn't come off as feeling that realistic. It may have just been that Mangum wanted to illustrate how young men from 16th-century Italy behaved, and remain true to the language and social conventions from back then, but he seemed a little too perfect. Also, while I could understand Abby's interest in Dante ("mysterious good-looking guy with a secret"), Dante's feelings for her seem to come a bit out of the blue. Perhaps this will be explained in the sequel but in this book at least there was no explanation for why he chose her (and yet he significantly calls her his "Beatrice" so it's pretty obvious he thinks they're destined for each other).

I wanted the metaphor of the river/bank to be more thoroughly explained. Time travel can get very sticky, it's true, but the idea of the "balance" was just a little too vague. I think it's a great idea, but I couldn't picture it very clearly in my mind as I read. (And since a major problem revolves around upsetting the "balance" it would be nice to have a better sense of exactly what that entails.)

Also, we never got to find out why Abby started seeing the future. However, this may well be elucidated in the sequel so I will wait and see.

Overall, I enjoyed the execution of the mystery surrounding time travel, but the character portrayal and development was somewhat lacking. I'll read the sequel at some point, but I'm not on pins-and-needles waiting for its release.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

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