June 24, 2012

Review: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce
Published: 2009, Random House
Series: Beka Cooper, #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Terrier

Sir Lionel shook his head. “I have no problems in working with Corus, Corporal Goodwin. My problem lies in first, the fact that we have a peace here, and I fear that you will break it, and second, in the fact that both of you are women. I would be far happier if my lord Gershom had sent men. I feel, along with others, that women’s souls are more tender, more vulnerable.”

Unlike all of Tamora Pierce's other Tortall books, Bloodhound does not pick up almost exactly where its predecessor, Terrier, left off. Nearly a year and a half has passed since Puppy Beka managed to solve the dual murder mysteries connected to the fire opals and to the Shadow Snake. She's grown a lot since then and has been an official Dog for the past year. While she may have the label of a Dog, however, she's still a junior member of the organization and has a lot to prove.

After her fourth partner asks to be reassigned, Beka once again joins ranks with Goodwin and Tunstall, her former mentor Dog team, as a new problem is slowly building in Tortall. Someone is mass-producing coles (silver-plated copper coins that are being exchanged as actual silver coins). Winter is coming, the harvest was not nearly as good as expected, and people are beginning to whisper about the circulation of fake coins. Beka, Goodwin, and Tunstall soon find that the trail of coles leads to the city of Port Caynn. Lord Gershom, the Lord Provost of Tortall, wants some of his Dogs up there to investigate. With Tunstall injured from a bread riot (an eerie foreboding of the chaos the realm will undergo if the cole problem remains), Goodwin and Beka are assigned to this duty. Although Pounce opts out of coming with them, Beka is not without help. Her pigeon friend Slapper comes along, as does her new hound, Achoo, one of the Dogs' bloodhounds whom she saved from a cruel trainer. Under the guise of a necessary break from the dangers of the Lower City, Beka and Goodwin hope to find the source of the money forgery quickly, before the economic situation in Tortall spirals out of control.

This book's publication was not as speedy as most of Pierce's work. I know that a lot of people complained about the fact that there were three whole years between Terrier and Bloodhound. Curious as to what would have slowed Pierce down on this book, I read her explanation for the delay in the back of Bloodhound. Apparently she was worried that her readers wouldn't find money forgery that interesting of a premise and so that worry delayed her quite a bit. That was not the case for me; I loved this book! I think I actually enjoyed it even better than Terrier, if truth be told. Yes, it was long and complex and there was lots of information to process and not as much action, but I think this was essential to breathing new life into the Beka Cooper trilogy.  

Beka solved two major crimes within her first few weeks of training as a Puppy. I would expect that the next book worth writing about Beka would feature something different and even more complicated. I liked that the vast majority of the story takes place in a new city. Although Beka's relatively new to being an official part of the Provost's Guard, she still has served the organization in some capacity or another for over half of her life. She is very familiar with the Lower City and understands how it and its people tick. Beka proved her ability to work in the Lower City in the first book (and presumably in the year and a half gap in between the first and second books). Now she is challenged to apply her training and skills to another city, a place where nothing is familiar.

I loved the setting of Port Caynn. Beka is out of her element in practically every way possible, pretending to be a spoiled favorite Dog of the Lord Provost who needs to spend some time away from a few dangers in Corus. She doesn't understand the people in Port Caynn, nor does she feel comfortable going out to bars and gambling the Provost's money to try to find a lead to the fake money production. Beka is definitely a prickly character, but I emphasized with her as she was forced into this uncomfortable situation.

I was also glad to see that Beka finds herself a love interest in Dale. I was glad that the first book focused on Beka and her development. Now that she's a little older and a little more confident in her abilities, it was nice to read about her reaching out and forming a romantic/emotional relationship with another person.

The time span for this book is super short (about three weeks). I'd say this was my main issue with the book. It seems like there is simply too much that happens for the events to have occurred in such a short time period. And I also doubt Beka's writing abilities in such a time. I know that some days she'll say she was writing the events of the day before. But seriously, her days are so jam-packed I don't see when she'd have the time to write up her events. Unless she just doesn't sleep. I am happy that I have not become tired of the journal format and how the story is told in first-person.

This book took me longer to read than usual. This is not because I didn't enjoy it although with a plot more focused on subtleties and intricacies like this one, there are definitely slower points. I think this is a strong second novel in the series, although I have to admit that between the first and second books, I have absolutely no idea where Pierce will take Beka's story in the third and final installment of the trilogy, Mastiff.

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June 19, 2012

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week everyone is supposed to post the top ten books on his/her summer TBR list. 

Summer's usually my time for light reading. In between reading lots of academic and more critical books for school and then writing papers about them, I savored having more fun reads in the summer, where I could focus on characterization, plot development, and writing styles as little or as much as I wanted. Now that I'm not in school right now, I can read my "summer reads" type books all the time. So my top ten books on my summer TBR list don't necessarily have anything to do with the summer and everything to do with what I need to read within the next few months. And unfortunately I live over 1000 miles from any beach, so these books below will probably be read in my air-conditioned house. I want a mostly fantasy-driven summer, so here are my top ten picks for my summer TBR list.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – I bought this for my Kindle, so it will be read in the very near future. I am super excited about this one, particularly because YA high fantasies do not seem to be in high demand lately. And this has gotten rave reviews by just about everyone. Fantasy is my favorite genre, and high fantasy is my favorite subdivision of that. If anyone has recommendations for great YA or adult high fantasies, please let me know! 

Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore – Since there are three books in this series, this counts as three of my books. I read Graceling a few years ago and I enjoyed it very much. I remember a great story with a strong female protagonist and very detailed world-building. I am such a sucker for a strong female protagonist – it's a bit ridiculous, really – and Katsa doesn't disappoint in the slightest. I loved the idea of certain people being gifted with "Graces." I started to read Fire last summer, but realized I didn't remember Graceling enough so continuing with Fire would have become very difficult. Now that Bitterblue has just been released, I think it's high time to reread Graceling so that I can move on to the next books in the series.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – I was not the biggest fan of An Abundance of Katherines, but John Green receives so much praise for his books that I feel obligated to try out something else of his before I make any lasting opinions on his work as a YA author. I'm fully prepared for the range of emotions I'll go through as I read this book. This can be my one true contemporary read of the summer.

The Stand by Stephen King – Reading this book is going to be a task in itself, I just know it. The unabridged version of the book is over 1000 pages. But I have yet to read any Stephen King, so I need to remedy that problem. My good friend is a huge Stephen King fan but has not read this book of his either. This is apparently one of his classics, and one of the books that helped to establish him as a great force in the horror/science fiction genres. We're going to read the book at the same time, so hopefully through discussions and moral support this won't be too difficult to read through.

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta – Since the beginning of the year, Melina Marchetta has become one of my favorite YA authors. I adored both Finnikin of the Rock and Jellicoe Road. While I'm a little more hesitant to read Froi of the Exiles, knowing that Froi is the protagonist now, I'm more than willing to give it a try. After all, Marchetta has taken many unusual twists in her writing and they've all ended up being executed perfectly. 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – The premise behind this book sounds really interesting, and I love the fact that it seems to transcend the YA and adult audience boundaries. Plus this just won the 2012 Locus Award for Best First Novel. And apparently it's just come out in paperback, so I may even go and purchase a physical copy of it.
Insurgent by Veronica Roth – My biggest regret with Divergent was that I read it during the week. Being unable to read until the wee hours of the morning and having to go to work in the mornings was super frustrating. I just wanted to stay home and do nothing but read the book. For Insurgent I plan on reading it over the course of a weekend this summer. That's if all the people on the library waitlist can hurry up with their copies.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers – I have not read a zombie book yet. Not only has this book been receiving great reviews, but I love how it uses the premise of a zombie invasion to really examine six high school students and their interactions in the midst of a terrible situation. I don't think I'd mind a contemporary book masquerading as a horror/sci fi book at all; I love intense focus on characterization in books, which is what this promises to be.

I'll see how many of these books I actually end up reading this summer (hopefully most – if not all – of them!). What's on your summer TBR list?
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June 15, 2012

TGIF (1)

TGIF is a weekly meme hosted by Ginger of GReads! She posts a book-related question or a prompt that's open to everyone in the book blogging community.

Most Valuable Book: 
From your personal collection of books, which ones hold the most value to you - is it signed by the author? or maybe it's your favorite story of all time? Share it with us.

All of my stories are valuable to me, simply because I value each and every book. I chose the three books listed below because they hold a sentimental value to me, both for the story inside of the covers and the one outside of them.

The actual act of buying this book holds so much significance to me. The final Harry Potter book came out the summer after I graduated high school. Words can't even express how amazing it was to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. That was also the summer that my family moved 1000 miles away from the town I'd grown up in. I was about to start college in the fall, as were all of my friends. Any way you look at it, the summer of 2007 was a transitionary time for me. So it was beyond perfect that I came back to visit my hometown and high school friends at the end of that July to participate together in the final hours-long wait for the final book's release. We brought food, made a Harry Potter-inspired CD, a mattress to sit on, and just read aloud and talked about our love of the books. It was just perfect, and the copy I bought from my hometown's local bookstore will always remind me of that.

Be warned: this book will show up on literally every meme I participate in until more people start reading it. When I was younger, my mom and I created a mother-daughter book club for some of my friends and their moms. It lasted a number of years, and this is my favorite book that we read for it. I remember picking it out as a potential read from a Chinaberry magazine (anyone remember those?). The book starts out as a more typical YA fantasy read, and then Megan Whalen Turner starts throwing in all of these plot twists from left field and they're brilliant and the book goes from enjoyable to something incredibly clever. All of my friends and their moms were in agreement that this book was amazing. And what was even more amazing was finding out with my friends a few years later that this was not a stand-alone. This is one series I want to continue forever.

My signed copy of this book brings together so many of my interests at once. Julia Alvarez came to my school as part of April's National Poetry Month and my entire creative writing class went to the presentation together. It was amazing to hear her present. And it was also great timing - one of my good friends is Dominican-American and kept telling me that as an English and Spanish double major with an interest in writing and historical fiction, I really should check out this Dominican-American writer's work, specifically In the Time of the Butterflies. Alvarez was very gracious and I even got to speak to her for a minute. This is a great work of historical fiction that deals with a cruel dictatorship and four sisters willing to oppose it in a country we normally don't hear too much about: the Dominican Republic.

So these are three of my most valuable books. Let me know what some of your most valuable books are!
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June 13, 2012

Review: Terrier by Tamora Pierce

Terrier by Tamora Pierce
Published: 2006, Random House
Series: Beka Cooper, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book

I well knew the rules to follow with our training Dogs: Speak when you're spoken to. Keep out of the way. Obey all orders. Get killed on your own time.

Tamora Pierce is one of my favorite YA fantasy writers of all time. We have a long history I remember buying the second book in The Immortals quartet, Wolf Speaker, back at a middle school book fair. I was introduced to Pierce's Tortall through Daine's quartet, and then went on to read The Song of the Lioness quartet, the Protector of the Small quartet, and Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen. I have read each of Pierce's series multiple times. Through her Tortall books, Pierce has established such an intricate and intriguing world and many strong female heroines. So I don't know what happened to me with the Beka Cooper trilogy. I think I waited so long to pick these up because they were published as I moved and entered college. During college I did not read much outside of class, and what I did read tended to be more adult fiction. But I love YA fiction, too, so I've been working to catch up on some fantastic series I've missed, including the Beka Cooper trilogy.

Terrier introduces a new Tortallan heroine: Beka Cooper. Beka lives in Tortall's Lower City and writes about her life as a Dog in the Provost's Guard, rounding up criminals and protecting the inhabitants. Beka has a strong sense of duty and is protective of the city she calls home, so when she begins her year of training to become a Dog (trainees are referred to as Puppies), Beka chooses to work the most dangerous part of the Lower City, the place she once called home. As with other Pierce heroines, there's far more to Beka than meets the eye. She can hear the dead spirits that ride alongside pigeon carriers. She can communicate with swirling bits of wind, gathering up what information they have to offer. She also has a black-furred, purple-eyed cat who is more than he appears(!). Paired with the Lower City's best team of Dogs, Beka is ready to capture every criminal who threatens the peace of her beloved city.

The Beka Cooper trilogy takes readers back to Tortall, but this time hundreds of years earlier than the age of Alanna, Daine, Kel, and Aly. I'm not going to lie – when I started reading Terrier I was a little nostalgic for fifth-century H.E. Tortall. I loved how Pierce's other Tortall series built upon one another, and how the main characters from previous books made appearances in the newer series. I also really liked the focus on the nobility and knights in the other Tortall books, but it was a rather limited view of the world of Tortall. Once I got over the disappointment that Beka's Tortall is two hundred years earlier and lower class, I realized the many perks and added information that Terrier brings to the Tortall world, things I wasn't even aware I wanted to know, like the history of the Court of the Rogue and another appearance of a certain purple-eyed cat.

All of Pierce's novels deal with acceptance and maturation, with her heroines starting out in a new place and needing to prove their worth, and this one is no different. Beka has heard all the stories about the fame (and infamy) of Goodwin and Tunstall, the two Dogs assigned as her mentors. After a humiliating first day, Beka strives harder than ever to prove herself. Her determination and strong sense of justice allow Beka to find unconventional ways to solve crimes and help the people. While this is a coming-of-age story as much as any of Pierce's other novels are, Terrier is also a crime/mystery story. I don't think I've ever willingly chosen to read a story like this, but I did enjoy reading about Beka trying to find ways to solve these mysteries. I did figure out the identity of the main killer quite a while before the big reveal, but I'm not sure if this has to do with me being a few years older than the intended audience or if the clues are too obvious.

Beka is a great, believable character. I didn't love her, per se – but I am incredibly biased in my opinion here since she has fierce Tortallan heroine competition – but I really respected her character. I feel like I really understood her motivations and I loved her strengths as well as her weaknesses. She's super conscientious about her role and duties as a Puppy and must balance what's expected of her and what extra assets she can bring to her Dogs and to the Provost's Guard in general.  She also is painfully shy and uncomfortable with human interactions. It was so nice to see how her training as a Puppy assisted in her evolution into a stronger, more confident person. She takes her duty so seriously and she's definitely the kind of person I'd want protecting me. I loved her nickname Terrier and found it to be super fitting.

This book represents a break from Pierce's traditional mode of storytelling. All of her other Tortall books are told in third person, and this is told through Beka's diary entries. Diary entries have the potential to be really annoying; I tend to ignore dates and all other heading information when reading epistolary novels (which I know isn't good, but I just want to read the story without any interruptions). But Beka's diary entries are not bad at all they're long and broken up just like chapters. After the first few chapters, the story is fast-paced, and it only takes place over the course of a month and a half. The epistolary format allows the text to be riddled with the idioms and different speech patterns of people from the Lower City, but fortunately Pierce always includes appendices full of glossaries and other reference materials. It was nice to get Beka's internal thoughts on events, especially since she doesn't express them to others. In this case, I think the writing style worked and made sense.

I really enjoyed getting back into the Tortall world, even with quite a few differences between this and the other Tortall books. I have Bloodhound ready to go and can't wait to see what happens to Beka next!
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June 10, 2012

In My Mailbox #4

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren. It's a great way for book bloggers to showcase books and other literary things they've received over the past week.

This week I only acquired one book, but that's all right because I'm pretty sure the sheer awesomeness of this one book counts for many ordinary books.

Purchased for my Kindle:

I feel like I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, but I think a large part of the reason why is because I've been reading so many contemporary books, or even paranormal/dystopian books that take place in a time very similar to our own. High fantasy has always been my favorite genre, and I can't wait to read an epic tale once more. A medieval fantasy world influenced by Russian history and culture? A female heroine with magical powers? Yes, please! And the reviews by and large have been very positive. I am super excited to read Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone!

So that's what was in my mailbox this week. Have you read this book? What books have you received this week?
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June 8, 2012

Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Published: 2011, Harper/HarperCollins
Series: Shatter Me, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

I feel more exposed than I ever have in my life.
For 17 years I’ve trained myself to cover every inch of exposed skin and Warner is forcing me to peel the layers away. I can only assume he’s doing it on purpose. My body is a carnivorous flower, a poisonous houseplant, a loaded gun with a million triggers and he’s more than ready to fire.

All of her life, Juliette has been kept at an arm's length, for whenever she is touched or people touch her bad things happen. Juliette doesn't know how or why this happens, but she's been kept away from human contact as a result. The last time she touched someone, she ended up killing him and was put away in jail.

But now the Reestablishment, the ruling force of Juliette's dystopian world, has realized that perhaps the girl with the deadly touch could become a valuable asset in its continual efforts to control the populace. Juliette feels like a monster because of her powers. She is not interested in Warner's offers for her services on behalf of the Reestablishment, services that would force her to harm and kill others purposefully. But Juliette also doesn't think that any good can come out of her life until Adam, another solider for the Reestablishment, offers up his perspective of Juliette. One that shows her as a kind person, a person who treats others with respect even when scorn is thrown her way due to circumstances she cannot control. He allows Juliette to consider the possibility of a life where's she's not simply the victim or the villain. 

I love dystopian books! It's interesting to read about different interpretations of how the world can go wrong (you know, read knowing that this is fiction and something like this could never happen in our actual world). The dystopia that Mafi creates is a little more disconcerting because it actually feels like the way our society is headed - not enough effort made to preserve nature has caused weather systems to become ruined, there are food and animal shortages, birds can no longer fly. There are just enough hints to our reality and how we currently treat the earth to make me a little uncomfortable.

Juliette is a wonderful protagonist. She's completely insecure and not even sure if she's sane at the beginning of the novel (as a reader I wasn't even sure she was sane). She has refused to look in mirrors for years, afraid to see the person she has become. She has nothing to hold on to except for this dream in which she sees a white bird with a golden crown fly. By the end of the novel she still doesn't have it all figured out. But that's okay. She's learning to trust others and, most importantly, learning that her special powers do not have to define her.

I actually enjoyed the romantic relationship in this novel, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise. I've had major issues with the majority of the YA romantic relationships I've read recently. I found Juliette and Adam's relationship to be very touching (no pun intended). They do have a history, but they still take any steps towards a relationship cautiously. That's all I want in my YA books - normal progression towards a real relationship even if there are the initial sparks of attraction. Love isn't easy, and it's far more difficult for Juliette, given her past, than for the average person. Juliette and Adam must learn to trust and respect each other before they can be anything more than friends, which makes the evolution of their relationship and characterizations that much more powerful. 

I was both frustrated by and in awe of Mafi's writing style. At the beginning I was annoyed by so many crossed out words, the disregard to punctuation, and the more poetic writing style. It was not easy to read and really reflected Juliette's mental state as she sits in her cell and counts the amount of days she's gone without human interaction. As the story goes on and Juliette finds herself outside in the world and acclimating to human interactions again, the writing style evolves and became more normal. This was definitely a unique approach and a risky move on Mafi's part, but I think it was executed very well.

The ending made me wish that I already had the sequel to Shatter Me in my hands. I loved this novel's unique take on special powers and dystopias. 
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June 5, 2012

Rewind! (Top Ten Favorite Fictional Couples)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a rewind week, so I got to pick any past topic.

I only just started my blog, so having a rewind week excited me because there are so many old prompts I wish I could have answered! I chose to pick my top ten favorite fictional couples in books. I think that at heart I am a romantic. My recent reads haven't helped me feel like that, but I think that's because I have a very difficult time finding YA books with a completely believable romance. Yes, I love reading about romance and stomach butterflies and first kisses and the way it's able to instill hope in the characters. Romance in a novel is so good when it's done well. But I'm also a skeptic - if characters have just met, there's no way I'm going to believe professions of love and a willingness to do anything for each other right away. Relationships and love require more than simply physical attraction, but actual work between the two people involved. Accordingly, no instalove relationship is going to be anywhere on my list below.

Disclaimer: These descriptions are not spoiler-free. But with the exception of Finnikin of the Rock, all of these books have been out for quite a while and/or are well-known in the literary world. I did not include spoilers for my favorite literary couple of all time, but that is only because knowing who those characters are ahead of time would literally ruin the books and any possible suspense while reading them. 

Here are some of my favorite literary couples ever: 

The main relationship in The Queen’s Thief series – Anyone who has read the books should know exactly which characters I'm referring to here. And if you have not, mentioning the names of the characters would be a huge spoiler. These two form my favorite literary relationship of all time. Yes, their relationship is that good. Their relationship has so many ups and downs and is definitely one of the most complex relationships I've ever read. Megan Whalen Turner adds in so many subtle moments to show how their true feelings evolve and they learn to trust themselves and one another. It's just beautiful.

Elizabeth Bennet & Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice – Honestly I don't know who could argue that these two aren't absolutely perfect for one another. She's prejudiced against him due to his initial actions and the pervading stereotypes of people like him while he's too prideful to admit that she could be his equal in any way. Yet somewhere along the way, they both are able to recognize their own flaws and see the other person for what he/she really is. His proposal to her is also just made of win.
Meliara Astiar & Vidanric Renselaeus from Crown Duel & Court Duel – Like Elizabeth and Darcy, Mel and Vidanric's relationship starts out full of misunderstanding. She seems to make a fool of herself every time they meet and he acts like the coldly distant courtier she expects him to be. But there's so much more to both of them, which in time they come to realize. And there's nothing better in the book than when they're united. I have just one final thought here - white is now my favorite rose color (or one of them...).

Ella & Char from Ella Enchanted – I was heavily invested in their relationship from the beginning. Finally a Cinderella worthy of her Prince and vice-versa. All of the letters they sent back and forth when Char is away in Ayortha are just so sweet and utterly romantic. And the ending where Ella describes her hopes for the rest of their lives together just clinches it for me: “My contrariness kept Char laughing, and his goodness kept me in love. And so, with laughter and love, we lived happily ever after.” 

Alanna & George & Jonathan from The Song of the Lioness quartet – Yes, I’m cheating here. But honestly, I have a hard time deciding whether Alanna is better off with Jonathan or George, despite knowing how the series ends. Jonathan is just the perfect golden prince who knows her secret early on and loves Alanna despite that (or perhaps because of it). And George is a commoner thief whose heart gets so easily stolen by a feisty redheaded female warrior. Both relationships bring out positive changes in Alanna and help her become a better, stronger person.

Lyra Belacqua & Will Parry from His Dark Materials trilogy - There's something so beautiful about first love. Lyra and Will were raised with such different backgrounds and views of life, yet they're willing to use their differences to learn from one another and save the world. And along the way they happen to fall in love. It's not love-at-first-sight, and the evolution of their relationship mirrors their personal maturation throughout the course of the trilogy, which is awesome. And the way the trilogy ends breaks my heart every. single. time.

Ron Weasley & Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series – I have been a proud Ron and Hermione shipper from the beginning. They bicker. They ignore each other. They hurt each other so many times throughout the series. But Ron helps Hermione see that there's a lot more to life than books and taking everything so seriously, while Hermione helps Ron how to see past stereotypes and the power that comes with knowledge. 

Beauty & Beast from Beauty – I think that Robin McKinley is the queen of fairy-tale retellings, and the way she captures Beauty and the Beast's relationship in her novel Beauty is just perfect. "Beauty and the Beast" is one of my favorite fairy tales, and certainly the one about which I am most knowledgeable. Something always gets me about the beautiful and intelligent girl who is able to see past appearances and find love in the most unusual place. I'm not particularly picky here - any novel that depicts this fairytale relationship in a convincing way counts as a great relationship to me.

Scarlett O'Hara & Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind – Both Scarlett and Rhett have the tendency to be spoiled, cruel, manipulative, and selfish. They really are the perfect match for one another. I love how Rhett forces Scarlett to gain some perspective on her actions (and I assume that she does the same for him). I do think the story's ending makes sense given their characterizations, but the romantic in me wishes it ended differently. 

Finnikin & Evanjalin of Finnikin of the Rock – I have not read Froi of the Exiles yet, so my decision to include Finnikin and Evanjalin stems solely from my reading of Finnikin of the Rock. I love how determined and resourceful Evanjalin is and how she challenges Finnikin to become something more, to hope and to realize that the battle to regain Lumatere is not over. And how, when they're together, neither of them feels quite so alone and lost in a world that refuses to acknowledge their heritage.

Do you agree with any of my favorite relationships? Let me know what other fictional couples you believe are some of the best!
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June 4, 2012

Review: Vanish by Sophie Jordan

Vanish by Sophie Jordan
Published: 2011 by HarperTeen
Series: Firelight, #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Firelight.

It’s with these words that I know what my life would be like if I stayed here. It wouldn’t be a bad life. Cassian would always be my friend, would always have my back, and he would help me regain acceptance among the pride. And I eventually would – if I could do my part...
If I could pretend I wasn’t miserable inside. It’s all up to me.

Based on some other reviews I've read, perhaps I'm in the minority when I state that Vanish provided one of those rare instances for me where I was glad to continue with a series after finding the first book to be less-than-spectacular. Vanish answered a few of the questions I had after reading the first book and featured some strong worldbuilding and character development. 

Sophie Jordan’s Vanish continues right where Firelight ended. By manifesting into her draki form to save Will’s life, Jacinda broke the most sacred tenet of the draki – revealing the secret of the draki in front of hunters, no less. And so once again Jacinda, Tamra, and their mother find themselves on the run. But this time, they’re going back to their pride. They need the protection the pride can provide, but after all the events that happened since they left the pride over a month ago, life in the pride can never be the same for any of them. 

I enjoyed how this book focuses in particular on life in the draki pride. One of my complaints about the first book was that I was unaware of what life inside the pride was like, so I had no basis of comparison for how Jacinda’s life changed when her mother moved the family to the desert town of Chaparral. Since Vanish takes place within the confines of the pride, Jordan is able to provide an in-depth look at the inner workings of the pride and what normal life is like for the draki. It was also really cool to find out about all the different types of draki. 

I loved how Tamra became a much more present and important character in this book. She's no longer the new girl striving to be popular in high school, but is able to become more secure in herself and her abilities, which was nice. In some ways, I wish that the narrative voice could have changed from Jacinda to Tamra. Given her evolution in the second book, it would have been interesting to see her perspective on things. But, regardless of that, I really enjoyed seeing the dynamic that is provided between the twins change as they form a stronger relationship.

The characters in general became more developed over the course of the second book. I began to feel a little more sympathetic for the mother – whom I derided most thoroughly in my review of Firelight. But back in the pride, I can understand the mother and her motivations just a bit more. I also liked learning more about Cassian, who, it turns out, is actually a relatively decent guy. And getting to read about Severin and the elders in some scenes greatly helped my understanding of the pride and pride dynamics.

I complained about the romantic relationship in my review of Firelight, so I would remiss if I didn't point out that a large portion of the second book focuses on love issues; indeed, it is Jacinda's outward denial of her affections that seem to propel this book forward. Will or Cassian? A hunter or a draki? Does this sound a little Twilight again to you, as it did for me? Cassian represents a return to the life she's always liked, more or less. He's safe. He's reliable. He's a good person who seems to actually care about her for more reasons than her status as fire-breather. Will, on the other hand, represents a life of uncertainty. He also is a human and a hunter. But he's the one who "saved" Jacinda physically and emotionally in the first book.

I think I get the love dilemma warring inside of Jacinda. It's part of a much larger conflict, one where Jacinda is questioning everything she deemed important to her life. She goes back to having everything she wanted, only to find out that she no longer wants it. Besides the love triangle dilemma (which shouldn’t really be so much of a dilemma), she realizes that her many acts of rebellion have affected her image in the pride. She’s no longer quite the darling that she once was. I don’t think it would have been possible for Jacinda to have been more depressed than she was in the first book before she met Will, but in this book she’s definitely whinier. Things are not going the way she wants them to, but she still does not always put forth the effort needed on her part to bring about change.

Despite my understanding, I won't pretend that the love triangle is not frustrating to read. Jacinda really does have her mind made up, yet her insecurities cause her to make bad decisions and put both guys through loops and hurdles they do not deserve. Plus we're never given a definitive reason as to why either guy really likes Jacinda. I will admit that as the protagonist Jacinda became a little grating on my nerves for this book. I mean, there's this fantastic subplot involving Tamra. But whenever Jacinda does focus on Tamra, it seems to be as more of a secondary byproduct of the love triangle. 

This book was not flawless, but I think it is an improvement over the first and I look forward to reading Hidden later this year.
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June 2, 2012

Review: Firelight by Sophie Jordan

Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Published: 2010 by HarperTeen
Series: Firelight, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book

Safe. Safe. Safe.
That word comes up a lot with Mom. Safety. It’s everything. It’s led me to this. Leaving the pride, killing my draki, avoiding the boy who saved my life, the boy who awakened my draki in the midst of this scorched sea – the boy I want very much to know.
Can’t she understand? What good is safety if you're dead inside? 

Jacinda has been told she's special ever since she first manifested. She is a draki, a descendent of dragons that can shift between human and dragon-like forms. Not only that, but she transforms into a fire-breathing draki, the first one to appear in generations. Jacinda and her mother and twin sister Tamra live in the mountains with their draki pride, where Jacinda's not quite satisfied with her life. She bristles against the pride's restrictions that are supposed to keep everyone safe from humans and also against her impending marriage to Cassian, son of the current leader.

After nearly being killed by a group of draki hunters on one of her rebellious excursions away from her pride, Jacinda's life gets turned upside-down. Jacinda's mother tells her that they can no longer stay with the pride, so she and her mother and sister try to create a new home in a desert city, living among humans and pretending to be human. While her mother allowed her inner draki to die and Tamra's draki never manifested, Jacinda cannot adapt to the new world so easily. She knows her mother wants her inner draki to die, so that Jacinda can also become more or less fully human, but Jacinda is willing to go to great lengths to ensure that doesn't happen.

I did enjoy Jordan's focus on identity and self-worth. Jacinda definitely struggles with those issues throughout the novel. She is unhappy to be identified simply as the fire-breathing draki by her pride. Yet she does consider her draki to form an integral part of who she is. Allowing her draki to wither and die in the desert, as her mother did herself years ago, is not something Jacinda can imagine doing.

With that in mind, I had a really hard time digesting her mother's attempts to "protect" Jacinda. Through the course of the novel more information is revealed about the pride's plans for Jacinda and how it definitely does not have Jacinda's best interests at heart. But I honestly felt like the mother doesn't have Jacinda's best interests at heart either. The mother has her other daughter Tamra's best interests in mind, and her own, but definitely not Jacinda's. It was awful for me to read how nonchalantly the mother explains to Jacinda that everything would be better after Jacinda's draki dies. Even after Jacinda explains repeatedly how her draki is a part of her, that by her draki dying an essential part of herself would die as well. This is just awful parenting in my book. And it frustrated me to no end how Jacinda tries to justify her mother's decision and wants to give her sister and mother the chance to live a normal life. Apparently compromise just doesn't exist? This aspect of the novel was just all sorts of messed up for me.

Jacinda understands how bad it is for her to spend time with Will, the human boy with whom she forms a strange attachment. Yes for a protagonist who is self-aware in the face of raging hormones! She recognizes Will as her savior from a hunter attack and is interested in the fact that her inner draki stirs in his presence, which is fine. I get that. But her main reason for wanting to be near to him has to do with her own self-preservation. Somehow being near Will revives her inner draki. Jacinda spends so much of the book explaining how much her draki is a part of her, so I found myself understanding her desire to be around Will. Especially since her family is doing everything possible to get her draki to die. 

But Jordan ruins the relationship a little for me when Jacinda admits later that even if Will didn't help revive her draki, she'd still want to be around him. Never mind that his family still poses an enormous threat to her family and her pride. As I read the book, I actually found myself being strongly reminded of the first Twilight book. Maybe I am reading too much into this comparison, but I found the whole idea of the female protagonist who simply cannot help falling for a mysterious, handsome male who is extremely dangerous to her well-being just a little eye roll inducing.

I also don't think the hunters had as much of an impact on me as they should have. They're supposedly hell-bent on the destruction of the draki race. The novel sets up a really terrifying game of cat-and-mouse in the beginning scene between Jacinda and the hunters and then nothing really happens. Jacinda mentions a few times all the pain and death the hunters have inflicted upon the draki, but I want more. I still have no idea how the hunters know of the existence of the draki, or why they want to systematically destroy them all. (Yes, there is one scene that's a little disturbing. But it just wasn't enough for me to really understand the dynamics between the hunters and draki.)

Firelight had the potential to be something great. Right now the YA market is inundated with all sorts of paranormal beings, but dragons seem to be a sector that isn't explored quite as much – possibly because dragons are most decidedly not human. From the beginning, therefore, I loved what I heard about Firelight. Humanoid dragon descendents called draki living in our world but hidden from humans? Yes, please! Unfortunately, the story is rife with YA paranormal romance clich├ęs, which makes it difficult for me to really appreciate the story as an effort to create something new for the YA paranormal genre. 
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