Booknotized

A place to think, reflect, and talk (mostly to myself) about books I love…and a few that I don't.

Influential Book of the Month: The Iliad by Homer January 11, 2012

 

 

The Iliad by Homer

 

Written around the 8th Century BC, this epic Greek poem about the
Trojan war has influenced countless classic authors with its tragic
and quintessential tale of hubris, love, and war. With hunks like Achilles
and Odysseus, hotties like Helen, and powers that be like Ares, Apollo,
and Aphrodite, it’s no wonder this book is also prime inspriation for
today’s YA otherworldly writers.

 

Known Progeny:

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney
Nobody’s Princess and Nobody’s Prize by Esther M. Friesner
Troy by Adele Geras
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot
Achilles: A Novel by Elizabeth Cook
 
 
 
 
 

Check out the IBoTM page for more titles that have helped shape today’s YA landscape.

 

Know of another bit of offspring from any of these books that isn’t listed here? Email it to me at booknotized[at]gmail[dot]com!

 

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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer January 9, 2012

 
Publisher: Macmillan
Series: Lunar Chronicles (Book 1)
Age Group: YA (totally clean)
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley and Giveaway from Amanda at Diary of a Book Addict
Genre: Scifi + Post-Apocalyptic
Rating Breakdown: Idea 5+★; Execution 3+★
 

★★★★

Cinder is a cyborg—which in her society means barely human. Somewhere in a past she can’t remember, there was an accident that left her parentless and a surgery that gave her a foot and a hand she doesn’t want, but can’t live without. Her one glimmer of hope came in the form of a scientist from the Eastern commonwealth—a conglomerate of countries united by the emperor sometime after the devastating WW4—but was dashed before she even know about him, when he died of the Letumosis epidemic.
 
Now, stuck with a stepmother who hates her, working as a mechanic to pay bills that aren’t her own, in a country swept by plague and threatened by war from the psychotic Lunar queen, Cinder only dreams of escape.
 
And, then the Prince walks in.
 
__________________________________________________________________________________________________
 
First off, you must read this book. It’s great. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee. It’s overall tightly written, fast paced, and unique. I was drawn to the cover at first sight and couldn’t put it down!
 
But, as a connoisseur (hah!) I am truly on the fence about it. As a reviewer, I feel compelled to tell the whole truth and nothing but. So, while on the one hand it was a thrilling read, it has its flaws.
 
I love the concept—very original. Instead of a technologically backwards future of the sort we’re used to seeing in today’s post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels, this one is very techno-savvy. Reminded me of Westerfeld’s The Uglies in its tenor. Hover cars are all the rage, and human beings survive historically fatal or utterly disfiguring injuries because of extreme advances in surgical prosthetics.
 
Fairly logically-advanced versions of the internet, computers, and televisions are the main form of communication and entertainment, which helps tie nicely into the present-day world.
 
The commonwealth, and its emperor are situated in Asia, in a city called New Beijing, making this the second book to allude to fears of China’s rise to world power. However, unlike some, this book doesn’t see that as a bad thing. The Emperor and his family are just, fair rulers, and peacefully cohabitate with other ruling bodies—except those on the moon (yup!).
 
Instead of climate change, and/or oil shortage being the cause of the apocalypse (both of which have been almost overdone these days…), it’s international conflict that spawned both destruction and peace between Earthen countries. Unchecked greed and power hunger is the reason for the latest threat from the mutated inhabitants of the moon—and their mind-controlling queen.
 
Up until that point, everything was great. But, the mind control was where the book started to get under my skin. I found it to be too convenient, cheesy, inconsistently implemented, and ineffective.
 
Similarly, though I appreciated the attempt to align this with the original Cinderella story, a few of the plot elements at the end were too forced. This is a problem I have with a lot of fairytale re-imaginings: they don’t seem to realize you can pick and choose which elements to include—and even then, you can bend them a little to fit your setting. This book tried too hard to get them all in…and didn’t bend or wield them skillfully enough to fit. For one, the “carriage” (an old rusted out automobile) was a potentially really intriguing twist that just didn’t deliver and faded out as abruptly as it appeared. More importantly, however, the ball was just totally out of place, in my mind. Not only was it a virtual impossibility (all the citizens of one major city invited at once?), but then, why such an outdated ritual in full 17th century style was the one tradition that held over from the old to such a futuristic world wasn’t explained. It wasn’t the right scene for the confrontation, and as a result, the final scenes were just not cathartic enough.
 
As for characters, the evil queen wasn’t very believable—her dialogue made me chuckle at some points. And, last but not least, Cinder just wasn’t a decisive or confident enough character for my taste. Why she waited so long to work on the Prince’s robot—meanwhile the dropped hints and reminders of its import were abundant—I just couldn’t figure out. And her two obsessions—her own imperfection and escape—were overdone to the point of threatening the story not only plot-wise, but overall by making her slightly annoying.
 
That said, however, I really enjoyed the concept and the world, and will definitely be looking out for book 2—which I hope will benefit from its freedom from the original story and license to do fantastic things with a fantastic concept.

 

Series Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, Forever) by Maggie Steifvater November 10, 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 1, 2009; July 13, 2010; July 12, 2011
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls
Age Group: solid YA (implied/described sexual content; graphic violence)
Pages: 400; 368; 400
Rating: Idea 4★; Execution 4★; Style 4.5★
Genre: romantic fantasy

★★★★

Shiver / Linger

Grace is relatively happy living in her rural home with parents who are rarely ever there…it’s lonely, but she creates her own structure: good grades, no late nights…

Only when she begins to feel drawn away from the warmth and light into the quick chill of the Boundary Wood that fringes her house—toward the pack of wolves that roams there—does she realize that something is missing, and perhaps always has been.

Then the boy appears—and he is one of them, she is sure. His yellow eyes belong to the wolf, the stormy gray wolf who saved her all those years ago.

And then, he is Sam. And she cannot imagine life without him. So she doesn’t…

…but the cold, and his earthy, shaggy, winter body remembers. It will claim him.

It might be calling her, too.
 
Forever

Sam is stable…as much as he can be without Grace.
Where she is…what she is, he can’t be sure. He only knows he needs to find her, fast.
Now that a second death has been blamed on his pack, they only have so much time before the hunters begin closing in. It may already be too late.
 
____________________________________________________________
 
This series is sort of in a class by itself. It is a dark, brooding romantic fantasy of a similar brand as that of Twilight, but the style (and LACK of love triangle) is superior enough to make that comparison invalid. And, I think the quality of the writing has only improved with age. Out now, the third book has all of the same qualities as Shiver and Linger, only more crystallized and focused.
 
For one, the world is built with integrity. Fitting to the plot, it is tight and limited, but the text makes it visceral. Metaphor is a key descriptive player and it is used in fresh and surprising ways. Sam’s favorite poet Maria Rainer Rilke is quoted often, and I daresay the text benefits immensely from that—in style as much as in content.
 
The characters are multi-dimensional, but focused and consistent. They grown and learn—about themselves and others—over the course of the trilogy. (You would think that would be a given, but I’ve learned the hard way that this is an unusual characteristic in YA lit these days! So, when I see it, I like to point it out.) The side characters are intriguing (bad-boy Cole is there for those of us who like a scruffy egomaniac) and take on a life of their own as they become more central to the storyline in Forever. This is in part due to the multiple-point-of-view format of the book, which I found refreshing (each chapter is written in a different character’s voice). Overall, they (Sam, Grace, Cole, Isabel, etc) aren’t extremely deep, and sometimes their realizations are slightly obvious, but it’s not to the point of annoying. The crux of the book really is the plight of the werewolf, and, of course, the two soul mates caught in the crossfire between an errant biology and an ignorant humanity.
 
Yes, it’s a tender, emo love story. However, even though soft, skinny, sensitive Sam is not really my type, he is such a well-drawn character, you can’t help but like him. The poetry—Rilke’s, not necessarily Sam’s—often would step in to redeem him for me, giving him a deeper facet than most other series’ boy toys have. He so clearly needs Grace that you can’t help but root for them. Grace herself is all but perfect, but not in an unlikable way. She’s beautiful, but strong (kind of like Bella Swan should have been).
 
Really, for all of the wolf in them, they are both very human.
 
The plot is fairly strong: catching and medium-paced. I got slightly impatient at times, so it wouldn’t have worked for me to read all 3 books in a row. I read them as they came out, and I was actually happy with that. The world is compelling enough to make revisiting a pleasure. Some reviewers did not like the ending of the trilogy, but I did. True, it’s ambivalent, but not in a cheap, incongruent, copout, “no questions answered” way like the Incarceron series. There’s the hint of what could happen, but not the confirmation. Frankly, it totally fits with the style, and I was ok with that.
 
In fact, the most striking characteristic of the books for me lies in the style—in the “feeling” the writing gives: of cold.
 
True, the story is purposefully set on the borders of a wilderness in Mercy Falls, Minnesota, where winters are long and harsh: cold is what makes a werewolf shift into a wolf. But it’s one thing to simply state that fact—another to weave it into the fabric of the text. I don’t quite know how to explain what I mean, but for all the warmth of Sam and Grace’s relationship, I always came away from the text with a chill. It was as if there was somehow something delicate lying between me and them, a subtle frosty whisper that fills and parts the air.
 
That, I found totally masterful.

 

Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien November 7, 2011

Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Series: Birthmarked Trilogy
Age Group: solid YA (mild graphic violence/birth scenes)
Pages: 368
Rating: Idea 4.5★; Execution 4.5★
Genre: dystopia

★★★★1/2

Being a midwife is never an easy job—things happen, babies are stillborn, women bleed to death—but at least most of the time it goes well. Mother is reunited with the soft bundle she has loved and nurtured for 9 long months…and will for the rest of her life.

Unless, of course, you live outside the wall. There, conditions are harsh, and babies—like water—are rationed, a practice 16-year-old, brand-new midwife Gaia goes along with…because she must. That is, until her mother and father are suddenly taken prisoner, and Gaia finds she can no longer abide by the unjust laws of the Enclave. She must get them out, even if it costs her life.

Where they will go afterward, no one knows. The settlement has been carved from the arid, post-apocalyptic wasteland of (now) Unlake Superior—and it stretches almost beyond the reach of legend.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Leon and his dangerous interest in her. Yes, what on earth is to be done about Leon (and her smoldering interesting in him)…?
 
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
 

For starters, I enjoyed this book immensely, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Prized, the sequel—out tomorrow, Nov. 8.

I was hooked on page one, which drops the reader wholly and without hesitation or apology into an intense, visual, and rather daring (if you asked me) birth scene. My first thought was, Whoah!… and then Well, any book that starts with a jarring, evocative line like “the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia’s ready hands,” is bound to be taking chances elsewhere. And I like books that take chances.

I wasn’t disappointed.

(I ♥ the PBK cover.)

The setting for this book is unique—something like the 1st-century Middle East. At least, that’s how I envisioned the small, twisting streets, bright flowing garments, water cisterns, and stretching desert. And, it is incredibly well evoked. The artistry of the book really is in the details that are woven throughout. Well-placed flashbacks and everyday events illuminate and develop protagonist Gaia into not only an empathetic character, but an almost living, breathing entity one feels drawn…even compelled to follow under the wall and down the perilous streets of the Enclave—though it very well may cost you your life!! (Hyperbole, I know, but I was into it!)

The love interest, Leon, is singular (*handful of confetti*) and irresistibly compelling (*bag of confetti*), on account of which the ending—a cliffhanger, and normally a turn-off for me in series books—is really shocking, painful, thrilling, and, well, just excellent. (*confetti storm*)

Of course, this means that one (read: I) must acquire a copy of book 2 ASAP, or one (read: I) really might burst…but enough about that.

There was only one element I thought could have used “more,” and that was Gaia’s parents. Because of the circumstances of the plot, they were kind of glossed over/incidental, and dealt with rather abruptly at the end. Considering the obvious care taken throughout the rest of the book, I can’t help but wonder if that was a result of the story’s unexpected evolution from 1 volume to 3 (an anecdote O’Brien revealed at the Brooklyn book festival this September). As much as I usually begrudge the after-effects of a publisher-pushed sequel, however, I am equally (oh, who am I kidding? more) glad to be able to revisit Gaia and her world.

And, I have a sneaking suspicion it will turn out alright: the mastery really is in the writing—the style, the vocabulary, the excellent metaphors. Those elements, and a tight plot with elemental (detailed) integrity, set Birthmarked apart from others in the genre.
 
For another perspective on this title, check out my good friend Shanella’s review.

 

Book Review: Paranormalcy by Kiersten White October 18, 2011

Publisher: Harper Teen
Release date: August 31, 2010
335 pages
Age Group:
solid YA +
(some slightly sexual innuendo, references to language, though not actual)

★★★★

The Center is being attacked, and paranormals everywhere are dying inexplicably. She’s supposed to be protecting them, but Evie can only think of one thing to do: run.

Ever since she was a child, and the IPCA (International Paranormal Containment Agency) discovered that she could see through (thus identify) paranormals’ glamours, Evie has been living at the medicinally white-walled Center, working the whenever-they-need-her shift, capturing and tagging vampires, werewolves, hags, and more with ankle bracelets that prevent their wreaking any more havoc. It’s not much of a home, but it’s better than bouncing through foster care like the abandoned child she was. Besides, life is fairly normal…she finds out all she needs to know about “real” teenhood from her favorite high school TV drama, Easton Heights. And she shops. Oh, and that weapon she uses to subdue the paranorms? It’s called Tasey. And it’s pink, like her stiletto boots.

So, it’s no biggie that she is intrigued by the (seemingly) teenage guy—whose face is like water, and whose eyes are utterly unforgettable—that they’ve captured downstairs.

So what if she’s not supposed to see him? So what if he’s classified? So what if he’s the only person she’s able to save when everyone else is in danger? So what if her life is suddenly and completely turned upside down?

So what…now?

__________________________________________________________________________

Evie’s story is a captivating one, not necessarily because it’s terribly unique content-wise (young person with strong personality and an inexplicable power vs. paranormal creatures gone awry), but because of the endearing, fun, and spunky style in which it’s told. Evie is a unique personality, and her story glows with her spirit and humor. The action is consistant throughout the book, and the love interest, truly interesting. There’s no triangle (TG!), and the world—as limited as it is by Evie’s infrequent exoduses from the Center—is well-represented.

I really enjoyed the book, particularly its uniquely positive overtone. When I first heard “pink heels” and “perky,” I moaned internally, but take my word for it: it’s expertly infused with cheek and irony in a way that makes it fun instead of groanilicious. (My totally manly husband is actually the one who recommended it to me.) I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel Supernaturally (which came out this July) and, based on this, all things Kiersten White.

 

Book Review: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare August 3, 2011

Titles: City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass
Release Dates: July 2, 2007; March 25, 2008; March 24, 2009
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Series: The Mortal Instruments
Rating: Idea 3★; Execution 2★

★★1/2

Clary lives as normal and uncomplicated a life as anyone can in NYC—bohemian mom, quiet best friend Simon, father-like family friend Luke… There is nothing more to Clary’s world than the everyday—until reality comes crashing through the thin veil of her mind late one night in a sketch downtown club. One glimpse and Clary’s mundane life becomes utterly complex: mother’s missing; Simon’s hopelessly in love with her; angels exist, so do demons, werewolves, and vampires (aka “downworlders”); and the only person who seems to know what’s going on is the single most arrogant, cold, and freakishly HOT guy Clary has ever seen. His name is Jace, and he calls himself a Nephalim—half human, half angel.

Before she can even remember to object, Clary is thrown headlong into a serious interspecies conflict led by a rogue Nephalim—Valentine—whose very name inspires the shivers. As the whole shadow world struggles to decide whether to combine forces and stop Valentine from claiming the 3 powerful Mortal Instruments or to give in and allow him to fulfill his diabolical plans, it slowly becomes apparent that Clary is the unsuspecting lynchpin.

In order to stop him, she must face a host of challenges—physical, psychological, and romantic—before confronting the ultimate choice to sacrifice what matters to her most, or live with the devastating consequences.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

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**—Spoiler Alert—**

(I won’t give away whole storylines, but will hint at things that aren’t revealed until bk 3.)

I knew that sooner or later it’d have to come along: my first negative review. However, please bear in mind that I’m not saying not to read these books. Though I got frustrated and sometimes put them down (for the reasons outlined below), I wouldn’t have not finished them. Hence the 3 stars (where I was tempted to give 2). I don’t think that I will pick up the new *surprise* book 4, City of Fallen Angels though…and I don’t really think back on the ones I did read…at all.

That’s because this trilogy falls firmly into the group I’d call “cotton candy”: look pretty, smell pretty, melt in your mouth and are gone. They are, seemingly without remorse, a very cheap thrill—a la Twilight & Co.—and for that reason, very hard to put down. I found myself alternatively groaning with gusto and sighing with teen fever.

If you’re interested to know the details of why I wasn’t so keen on them, keep reading. If not, skip to the next set of stars.

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*     *     *    *     *

In particular, these 4 things bothered me:

1) Simon. Love triangles are common enough that I’ve devoted an entire category to them here. But, some are achieved more or less annoyingly than others. This was not in that group. Simon, Clary’s friend-turned-gaggy-crush, doesn’t stand a chance—he’s a clear 2nd best to the cold, heroic heartthrob, Jace. Although, there is one “turn off” about Jace that is supposed to make us doubt his destiny to be with Clary, it was so un-deftly played that I never bit. As a result, Simon ended up looking even dorkier than intended, and, well, just grated on my every last nerve.

2) Incessant Foreshadowing. A literary device full of potential, it became something of a dead horse in these books. I knew the answers to the “burning” questions (and was 100% confident about them) some 500 pages before they were answered. This was, in part, because the narrative was a little too transparent, but also partly because the author spent so much energy trying to keep the questions burning that she smoked the answers out. I like a little more cleverness to my mysteries—otherwise, what motivation do you have to keep reading a not-particularly-well-written 1500-page series?

3) Reckless Manslaughter. Like George in HP, a sibling of a supporting character dies in the final book. However, this series wasn’t brave about it: the character is so minor to the plot as to be useless; its removal more of a hiccup than heartstop—and the motive such an obvious attempt at evoking pathos that I almost laughed…then got angry (see Tweet proof). The poor kid’s role—who, unlike George, we never get to know and love—is reduced to something like a cute puppy who gets bopped on the head to make softhearted girls go “awww!” Truly, this piece of the narrative was ridiculously clumsily pulled off (enough to deserve two –ly adverbs!). If the writing’s good, it will evoke tears through its art—not by stabbing the reader in the hand with a fork.

4) Clamoring Clichés…and a lot of familiar motifs. There is a chunkton of rather unoriginal material in this series. I don’t necessarily mean the demon/angel/etc lore—but in actual motifs of the storyline. (Those spoilers I told you about hit most here.)

  • Brother-sister a(ttra)ction (Starwars)
  • Sociopathic, racist villain whose name begins with “V”—every mention of which name strikes fear—whom the adults of the book went to school with and knew as a “less than purely evil young man,” and who plans the purification of the world from inferior races by means of 3 magical artifacts…(Need I go on? Of course, I do mean Voldemort.)
  • A triumvirate of mystical objects, which, when combined, achieve world-changing ends. (Harry Potter series; His Dark Materials trilogy)
  • Heroine who has the power to write or read magical runes/glyphs/letters that alter reality. (the Dreamdark series; His Dark Materials trilogy)
  • Protagonist who discovers they have a powerful parent they’ve never known when they go off to a haven for their “like kind.” (Percy Jackson series; His Dark Materials trilogy; Fever Crumb series)
  • Heroine who is small/weak, and needs protecting by the tall, cold, quiet heartthrob. (Twilight series)
  • Tall, cold, quiet heartthrob with burning golden eyes and slightly jealous siblings. (Twilight series)
  • World with a somewhat malevolent group of special-powered rulers, sitting in a remote European corner of the globe, unbeknownst to the rest of society. (Twilight series; Harry Potter Series; Percy Jackson series; Vampire Academy series…)
  • Death of a supporting character’s sibling. (Harry Potter series)
  • Etc.

Now, I’m not saying I believe much (if any) of our contemporary literature can claim full originality—it’s just not possible, nor would it be much fun. The art of storytelling for the entire history of man has coincided with the art of borrowing. (That was, actually, my masters thesis in a nutshell.) And, J. K. Rowling is a primary example—her work is a virtual collage of borrowed mythic and literary artifacts. However, her story is also extraordinarily complex and subtly original in its own right. The Mortal Instruments books, however, don’t have the same complexity by far, and thus their recycling comes across as rather obvious and forced than intriguing, clever, or allusive.

*     *     *    *     *

All in all, if you are looking for an easy, fast, rollercoaster ride through romantic conflict and paranormalcy, I do recommend this trilogy. The love story (and hunka-hunka hero) was enough to pull me through. And, pull me it did, I must admit. I was dying to know what happened to Clary and Jace at the end (…even though I already knew…). But, if you find yourself groaning at the obsessive hint-dropping, see-through emotional triggers, and overall mundaneness of style, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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*     *     *    *     *

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(P.S. They are making this into a movie…about which I was excited, until I heard that they had cast Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace.

Nothing in particular against him, but he just DOES NOT fit my image of Jace. Not substantial enough. Not symmetrical enough. Overall? Just not HOT enough to be Jace! (Sorry, Bonnie! It’s just true.)

(If you’ve ever seen him in the Camelot series, you know what I mean…)

 

Coming Soon: Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs July 25, 2011

Hardback

After being in half-frozen, medieval pseudo-Britain for the last month (courtesy of my obsession with A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings), I’m thinking it might be kinda fun to take a trip south to the magical, Mediterranean climate of ancient Greece. A couple of the reviews hint that it’s a “fluff” read, but I’m not entirely against those. I am curious to see if the writing style is any more sophisticated than that in Percy Jackson’s neo-mythology—and in what ways a female character contrasts to our beloved water boy. Stay tuned for the verdict.

_____________________________________

Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: May 1, 2008
Series: Oh. My. Gods.

Paperback

“Phoebe Castro is a distance runner who plans on winning a full-ride cross-country scholarship to USC with her two best friends. Then her mother returns from a family reunion abroad with a Greek fiancé who runs a private school and announces that she and Phoebe will be moving to an island in the Aegean. The news gets worse as the teen arrives to find out that there is no scheduled ferry service from the island. To top off everything, she learns that every other student is descended from one or more Greek gods. Her new stepfather tells her that she cannot share this fact with anyone, for the safety of everyone on Serfopoula. Things seem to be looking up when she meets an absolutely gorgeous guy while running on the beach and, despite her lack of divine ancestry, she is granted a provisional place on the cross-country team. The IMs fly back and forth between Greece and southern California, magical hijinks abound, and classes and practice keep the protagonist busy. The story is part “Harry Potter,” part Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief(Hyperion/Miramax, 2005), and part shojo, and it will keep teens, particularly girls, reading to find out if Phoebe will finally fit in, get her crush, and make the team.” (via Amazon)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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