Monday, May 31, 2010

the FAERIE post: reflections on my experiece with faerie fiction in YA

Never say never. Two summers ago I read two books back-to-back that were very similar to each other: Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr and Tithe by Holly Black. I haven't read any other faerie stories since; actually, after I finished Tithe, I vowed I would never, ever read about faeries again. I'm not much for histrionics, so I meat it...then.

It's my observation that YA books with "supernatural" characters: werewolves, vampires, faeries, etc., can easily fall into stereotypes. Now I have heard that the Twilight series' take on vampires is different from other authors out there, and one friend in particular is a fan of the Vampire Academy series because she says that the series has a much more creative take on vampires. I don't know - Twilight series is the only vampire series I've read (unless you count The Mortal Instruments, which I don't really) but when it comes to faeries, there doesn't seem to be a lot of variety. What Holly Black and Melissa Marr seemed to tell me through their stories is that
1) faeries are amoral
2) faeries are screwballs with not much of a conscience (which fits the "amoral" #1) and
3) they have a thing for a typical, modern, rather-ordinary human girl. Why?

The modern girl usually always turns out to be some kind of long-lost faerie relation, but that predictability is one that I don't mind so much. After all, fairy tales are pretty predictable, too, but the main thing I didn't like about those two books was how dark and edgy they were. It didn't work for me: instead of suspense, I felt like I reading a faerie-version of "The O.C." Melodrama to the extreme! And disgusting love interests, too. Actually now, I didn't really mind Roiben that much, but Marr...well, I've talked about her already. But what really bothered me the most was the thought that this is what faerie fiction is. Instead of tricksters and mischievous characters, we get practically-nihilistic characters that would give Nietzsche something to smile about. The reason I pick on faeries and not vampires or werewolves is not only because I've read more faerie work, but also because I write on faeries. I think the characterizations employed by Tolkien for his elves (elves and faeries being culturally synonymous) is much more practical.
Or take a page from Shakespeare - his fairies are lovable tricksters.

Anyway, curiosity has gotten the better of me, and I am rather looking forward to reading these two books:

I've heard that they're different from Black and Marr's works, but I don't know exactly. Are they different in tone/story, or are they like the others? I've also been told that The Iron King is similar (a bit) to Labyrinth, one of my absolute favorite films. That's a plus!

Faerie fiction is obviously very popular nowadays. Any suggestions of books/series other than these 4?

Reading Stats


Books Completed
The Shadow Hunt - Katherine Langrish
Perchance to Dream - Lisa Mantchev

Books Reviewed
The Shadow Hunt
Perchance to Dream
Wildwood Dancing

Notable Posts
Interview with author Katherine Langrish
How It All Ends

Currently Reading...

The Iron King - Julie Kagawa

Up Next...
The Spook's Nightmare - Joseph Delaney
The Golden Spiral - Lisa Mangum
The Iron Daughter - Julie Kagawa

And introducing my new affiliate....Christina T from Reading Extensively!

Christina's books read
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran
For Keeps by Natasha Friend
My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day
The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg
Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald

Her reviews
The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs
Sophomore Switch by Abby McDonald

Have a great reading week!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

IMM & The BOOKSHELF Post!


This week I got 2 books in the mail - not too shabby!

Between Two Kingdoms - Joe Boyd (thank you Christina @ Reading Extensively for this book!)
Perchance to Dream - Lisa Mantchev

And I did this awhile ago, but my roomies and I just moved into a new house, so I have a new room and new bookshelves!






:D

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Review - PERCHANCE TO DREAM

Perchance to Dream - Lisa Mantchev
Genre: YA Speculative Fiction/Fantasy
# of pages: 333 (hb)
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan
Recommended for: 13/14 up (perfect for 8th grade and beyond, not for content, but just reader maturity in general)

Quick Take: Perchance to Dream follows in the proud tradition of its predecessor, Eyes Like Stars, in bringing action, romance, humor, and everything in between! If you loved Eyes, my guess is that you will devour this next installment as well!

On the Plot: This story goes in a different direction from its predecessor: instead of the entire setting being within the Theatre, Bertie and Company take their show on the road; therefore there’s more action driving Perchance, and it gave me an exhilarated, adventuresome feeling as I was reading. Eyes, in my opinion, was more "clever" with its references to various plays and characters, whereas in Perchance, action propels the plot to a faster pace than in the first book, if that makes sense. Clever references of some of the Bard's more well-known play quotes were woven into the story, and Shakespearean fans will just be delighted - I sure was!

The romantic angle is more pronounced in Perchance, but it never took center stage, so if you're wary of love triangle stories (like me), you'll have no problem loving this installment. I have to say, though, that while I liked Nate and Ariel equally in Eyes, at the end of Perchance, I am now Team Ariel! I don’t fully trust him yet, and I’m sure there will be more revelations about him in Untitled Book Three (most of Perchance seemed to emphasize the search for Nate, and what he was going through), so I can’t wait to for more Ariel!

On the characters: I said this in Eyes, so forgive me if I sound
redundant, but I really, really like Bertie! I just seem to identify with her, somehow, and so it was really nice to read about a character that I actually cared about! Sometimes, though, I wished she didn’t have to be quite so bossy, but she's someone I could relate to and she goes through a lot of the course of the story. I guess what I liked best about Bertie is her unwavering concentration: stuff gets thrown at her from all angles, and yet she never strays from her goal (in this case, to rescue Nate from the malicious Sea Goddess’ lair). Joining her on her journey are the hyper, food-frenzied Midsummer faeries! I love these little guys! Oh, and you too, Pease! These loveable sidekicks were hysterical and adorable from start-to-finish, and I just wish I had four little faerie pals, too!

As always, I remain a big, GUSHING fan of Mantchev’s clever, witty writing style. She has an amazing talent for taking Shakespearean quotes and scenarios and weaving them seamlessly into her narrative – I even underlined all the references I saw.
A very well done sequel! Can’t wait for Untitled Book Three!


Final Rating:

Friday, May 28, 2010

My interview with Katherine Langrish, PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Katherine Langrish, the highly talented author of the Troll Trilogy and her newest novel, The Shadow Hunt (releases 6/1 in the US; currently on sale in the UK as Dark Angels) was kind enough to stop by IIF and answer a few questions!

How would you describe SHADOW HUNT in 4 words?

Children’s Celtic-Medieval fantasy


How much research goes into your stories, and how do you conduct your research?

A lot! Months of research goes into each of my books. For me the world of the story is as important as the characters. I end up with huge files of notes, but I love doing it. ‘The Shadow Hunt’ is set specifically in the late 12th century, a few years after the Third Crusade. Not only the physical world – the clothes, the castles, the social system – but even the legends I use, such as the possibility of your dead relatives not being really dead but spirited away by the elves to some underground kingdom – were researched from accounts of the time, by writers such as Gerald of Wales (a Welsh-Norman cleric) and Walter Map (one of King Henry II’s courtiers). So all the things my characters believe in – including of course their medieval Catholic beliefs about God, the saints, and the arrangement of the universe – are correct for the period. I remember thinking, ‘Wow - the medieval model of the Universe (with the Earth in the centre, and the Sun and all the planets going around it set in perfect crystalline spheres) is so grand and beautiful! All right, so nowadays we know it’s not correct – but what a marvellous setting for a fantasy.’ The internet is an excellent resource so long as you are cautious about checking the sources. I also read almost nothing but medieval history and medieval literature during the two years I was writing this book, so I was submerged in the 12th century world. Plus I read up about wolves, about feral children, and about the medical conditions that might have led medieval people to suppose a child might be a changeling. Living in Britain, I’m lucky to be able to visit the places I was writing about. The dramatic hill country of the Welsh borders which is the setting for The Shadow Hunt is a few hours away from where I live. With my ever-patient husband, I clambered around old castles, met wolves in a wolf sanctuary, and squeezed down the dark, dripping and highly uncomfortable passages of an abandoned Roman copper mine… all for the good of the book.


What typically comes first for you – the character or the plot?

Characters come before plot. And even before characters, what come first are images – strong pictorial flashes of vision that set the ‘feeling’ for the book. In the case of The Shadow Hunt I began with a picture in my mind of enormous fiery angels walking through a cornfield and setting the corn alight. And another picture of a boy on a hill at night, watching a shower of shooting stars. Though neither image made it into the final book – at least, not unchanged – I began to get that shiver down the spine that tells you you’re on to something. Angels and cornfields suggested a medieval setting. The boy on the hill – who was he? Why was he there? Could he be a shepherd? Or was he running away from something? And gradually I began to explore the world I was visualising. Plot is important, of course. It goes without saying that something has to happen. But I need characters I really care about first.


For you, what is the most challenging part of the writing process?

You know, in the fairytales, when the princess has to climb the glass mountain? That’s the way it feels when I start writing a new book. There’s this ghostly, glassy, perfect pinnacle rising up and up ahead – and boy does it look hard and high to climb! Maybe one of the most difficult things is getting the beginning right. The first few pages of Chapter One of ‘The Shadow Hunt’ went through over thirty different versions before I was satisfied.


How would you finish this sentence: A successful author is someone who…

A successful author is someone whose books you want to re-read.


Any new projects you can share with us?

I’m about to begin taking the first few slippery steps up the glass mountain. My next book (or two: this may well spill over into a duet or a trilogy) will have a very different kind of setting: a cityscape a couple of hundred years into the future. I have some strong characters I’m getting to know, and there’ll be mythical and folklore references. I’m very, very excited about it.


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Yes – take the time to think. Thinking is just as much part of creating a novel as actually setting the words down. Don’t feel pressured to start too early, and don’t feel guilty if you’re not hammering out those two thousand words a day. (Me? I sometimes don’t write more than fifty. Or I end up with fewer words at the end of the day, because I’ve been cutting and unpicking.) Often, if you get stuck, it’s a sign that you’re veering off course with the book – maybe trying to force a character to do something they wouldn’t. Give yourself time out. Go off and do something different and let your subconscious mind come up with the answers.


What Young Adult novels would you recommend to readers?

There are so many amazing books to choose from! But if I had to pick just two, Susan Price’s The Sterkarm Handshake and A Sterkarm Kiss are amazing YA novels. The premise is that a time-travel ‘Tube’ has been invented which takes researchers back into the wild Scottish borders of the 16th century – where the men and women of the Sterkarm clan take the oddly clothed, strange-spoken 21st century intruders to be elves from Elfland. The scientists, whose agenda is exploitative, make the serious misjudgement of assuming the rough, uneducated Sterkarms to be naïve and stupid. The Sterkarms, however, are nobody’s fools - and casual violence is their way of life…. Beautifully written, witty, thought provoking – these books let you see both the 16th and the 21st centuries from twin perspectives. Susan Price is a past winner of the Carnegie Medal; she won the Guardian award for the first book in this series, and is currently working on the third.


And I can't resist a travel question! Where are a few places in England that you would recommend to visitors - places that may not be as well known to travelers?

I come from the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England, and think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet – if you like moors, and hills, and old houses, try visiting the Dales around the old market town of Skipton. There’s a beautiful old castle, a Roman road leading over the moors, a bustling market, and the town is surrounded by wonderful places to walk.

Or you could visit Ludlow on the Welsh Marches, in Shropshire. It’s an utterly beautiful old town with lots of half-timbered Tudor houses; the castle is where Henry the Eighth’s older brother Prince Arthur lived with his wife Catherine of Aragon - before his early death at the age of fifteen. It’s also the place where John Milton’s magical play ‘Comus’ was first produced as a courtly masque. And it has some of the best restaurants in the country!



A huge thank-you to author Katherine Langrish for agreeing to do an interview with me. And now I'm very excited to announce a giveaway! The awesome folks at Harper Collins sent me an extra ARC of The Shadow Hunt, and I'll be giving it away to one lucky winner!

Entries will be simple this time: leave a comment with your email address, so I can contact you if you win. Note: if you commented on my review of Shadow Hunt, you get a bonus entry! However, you had to have commented BEFORE this post :) A winner will be announced on June 1, the day Shadow Hunt releases! Make sure to add this amazing book to your TBR! Click here for more info.

NOTE: If you live in the UK, this title is already available under the title DARK ANGELS :)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How it all ENDS

Authors have the opportunity to take us on breathtaking, extraordinary adventures: adventures to faraway and exotic lands, or perhaps adventures to a familiar location, like high school or the big city. When a single story is told over the course of a series, it can be especially hard to let the characters go, and we as readers come to seek not only closure, but the best possible ending to whatever dilemma the characters faced.
I personally seek out the "happily ever after" in stories and I dare to hope that it will be within reach for characters I have come to know and love. I look for a believable-but-creative solution to story conflicts, and I am particularly partial to battle scenes, the more epic the better!

So in yet another really random post, I want to take a look at my personal favorite (and least favorite) book/series finales.
Note: these categories, and my commentary, reflect my personal opinions. It is not my purpose to divulge information about the plot, and so hopefully there won't be any "spoiler" issues :)

Disappointing Endings

Sorry, Incarceron lovers, but this highly-anticipated sequel had a very funky, disjointed ending. Incarceron and Sapphique are both stories of epic proportions, and so the final resolution was a major letdown, in addition to being unrealistic for the problem at hand. The more screwed up and dysfunctional a society is, the greater the resolution has to be, and it seems as though Fisher cops for an easy fix ending. Also, characterization was never her strong suit, and so all throughout the book characters do things that are completely detached/unrealistic/emotionless.


I don't really remember much of the specifics to the book story (because I read it a long time ago and because I mostly think of the AWESOME musical version, which has an amazing ending) but it just seemed really 'bummer.' Wicked read like an Oz-retelling soap opera, and while I admit that I was way too young to read this when I did, the ending just made me depressed. I pronounce this book ending Depressing! But that's not so bad, because Wicked the Musical pretty much took the "bummer" out of the book and presented a much more uplifting ending. Yay, Broadway!

Maybe it's not fair of me to put this book on here, because truth be told, I hated everything about this book, and I am not exaggerating. The whole "conflict" in the first place was just unbelievable to me (we have to save everybody from the Winter Queen, because she's evil and wants to kill all the humans and the summer faeries!) The summer faeries and their king, Keenan (whose licentiousness would have the Earl of Wilmot blushing) induced no sympathy from me, and Wicked Lovely remains one of the few books where I actually rooted for the villain. Anyway, the "compromise" or whatever was just so stupid and "out there" that I just have to put it in the Disappointing Endings section. Now, WL is the first in a series, and the purpose of this list is really to asses the ending of a series, but there is absolutely no way I'd read any more of Marr's books. Just thinking about her books makes me want to sanitize my hands.

Wow I'm a roll, because I'm attacking two fan-favorite books with this list. Here's another "first book" that makes my Disappointing Endings section. Now I actually liked this book (for what it is) but the last 1/3 of this book went from Hush Hush to Rush Rush. The plot accelerated at a crazy-fast pace and the ending sequences just seemed sloppy. And the whole "I'm going to be your guardian angel, heeheehoohoo!" was a little on the stupid, sappy side. But I am eager to see what will happen next when Crescendo hits shelves.

So-So Endings (the "meh, whatever!" reading experiences)

Okay, it's really easy to turn anything Twilight geared into a long, rambling post, so all I will say is that I concur with the vast amount of reviewers who were sorely underwhelmed by the battle-that-never-happened. Like I said, I love epic battle scenes and so I was kind of disappointed when the Volturi just sauntered off and left everybody sighing with relief. However, the love that began in Twilight was realized and fulfilled by the end of Breaking Dawn, and that counted a lot for me. I applaud Stephenie for having her characters get their happy ending. I found it rewarding and not in the least bit sappy that Edward and Bella ended up married and getting their HEA. I just would have liked a little more action.

This series (the Great Tree of Avalon) is one of my favorites, and it is highly recommended! The reason The Eternal Flame is in this category is because the series resolution was great, but too prematurely put to rest. As in, I turned the page, and there was nothing left to read. So while I liked the ending (there was a great battle scene, the evil forces were expelled, and a really interesting "twist" was put before the characters) it ended a little too abruptly. Ohh, if Barron had only written like two or three pages more!

City of Glass was a riveting, action-packed story (for the most part) but the ending was a little too easily accomplished. Cassandra Clare had some awesome fight scenes and pretty scary/gory imagery to keep readers on the edge of their seat. With all the tension and conflict in Glass, the ending seemed a little too picture-perfect. Like, in no time at all after this major battle, everyone's celebrating. I don't really know what to say, except that the ending almost seemed flippant in light of all the intensity that had previously taken place.

And now...the BEST ENDINGS EVER!
All of the books I've chosen to put on this list can be described in one general word: EPIC. They all have epic battle scenes, they all have one-on-one confrontations between good and evil, they all have successful love stories, and they all have fulfilled, happy endings. Not just the "and then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever!" endings, but truly beautiful, tear-jerker, genuinely-rewarding endings. All of these books made me cry, and all of these series are my absolute favorites. It's probably no surprise that Return of the King is on the list--Lord of the Rings is (in my opinion) the greatest, most epic fantasy series of all time, and Tolkien knew exactly how to end his incredible story. All his battle scenes were magnificently described, the final confrontation on Mount Doom with Frodo and Gollum, and the business with the elves---all hauntingly beautiful and satisfying. Tolkien is the master!

Special mention to Deathly Hallows for providing probably the greatest "recent" series ending.
I am very much a fan of Rowling's awesome Epilogue, and wished that every author provided closure of this kind. Not only do readers take a journey with Harry Potter, they watch him grow up and mature, and so it's so delightful for authors to give readers assurance that he's alright after all. Bravo!

And The High King is tied with Deathly Hallows for all-time favorite ending, just because of the lyrical, almost haunting final words that author Alexander gives to readers before they say goodbye to the characters. No, there's no epilogue, nor is there closure on a Harry Potter scale, but these words (in my opinion) have never been topped:
(Not a spoiler)
Yet long afterward, when all had passed away into distant memory, there were many who wondered whether...Taran...Eilonwy, and their companions had indeed walked the earth, or whether they had neen no more than dreams in a tale set down to beguile children. And, in time, only the bards knew the truth of it.

I don't know, but that just gives me the good shivers every time. So anyway, that's my list! What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What books would you put on your list of Favorite Endings?


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wanted: 2 affiliates!

I currently am affiliated with two absolute lovelies - Jami @ YA Addict and Aly @ Fantasy4Eva, and am looking for 2 more!

What being an affiliate would mean:
  • I will add your blog button and your blog list to my Affiliates sidebar
  • If I read/review a book you've reviewed, I will include a link to your review
  • When I run my weekly recap, I will include a recap of your week, too (books you've reviewed, notable posts, etc)
  • I will help promote any book-discussion posts or anything else you'd like me to help you promote
  • I will promote your contests/giveaways and interviews on my site
Prerequisites:
  • IIF is an MG/YA book review blog, and so I'm looking for other blogs that are primarily YA also
  • Please note that I do want you to do these things for my blog, also, just to keep things fair :)
  • I'll consider blogs of any size, but I do want to see that you make regular posts... if you drop off the radar I might have to remove you
If there's anything you'd like me to do that I haven't thought of, let me know!

So are you interested? Leave a comment!

Review - THE SHADOW HUNT

The Shadow Hunt - Katherine Langrish (Dark Angels in the UK)
Genre: MG/YA Historical Fantasy
- ARC
- On sale (US) 1 June 2010
From back cover:
Wolf is onthe run - from the oppressive monastery where he was raised and from the ghosts and demons that haunt the windswept moors of Devil's Edge. But he is not alone. Along the way he befriends a brave girl named Nest. Together they discover that a sinister enemy is looming much closer than they ever could have imagined. With lies masquerading as reality, will Wolf and Nest learn who they can trust...before it's too late?


A few months ago, I discovered the works of an author named Katherine Langrish (the Troll Trilogy, also highly recommended), and she has since become one of my absolute favorite authors. The Shadow Hunt was a gripping, powerful read from beginning to end, and I absolutely devoured it. From page 1, the story started strong and remained strong all throughout: there was seriously never a dull or confusing moment!

The fantasy premise was incredibly interesting: in this culture, many believed in the existence of elves, mysterious creatures caught somewhere between Heaven and Hell, who reside in an underground kingdom known as Elfland. Are elves good, or are they evil? And what happens to a human who strays into Elfland? These questions, among others, are faced by the two main characters, Wolf (a boy fleeing the dull, oppressive monastic life) and Nest, the daughter of a knight who dreams of doing something extraordinary in her life. The natural and the supernatural collide when Wolf discovers a strange little elf-girl, who may hold the key to the secrets of the supernatural world...

As usual, Langrish's work is well-researched and historically insightful, in addition to being entertaining. Shadow Hunt is set in 12th century England and Wales, a time of knights, crusades, and castles, but also a time of religious anxiety and strict adherence to social customs, where death remained (for many) only a whisper away, and the lines between the real and the supernatural were not so easy to define. Langrish has a gift for truly making her story world come alive - which is even more amazing given that she writes historical fantasy, which requires equally strong blends of fantasy and history. The rich myths of English and Welsh folklore are beautifully woven into the novel, which makes Shadow Hunt an even more fulfilling read. The story provided an excellent cultural look into the world of the Middle Ages. Characters one would expect to see in a medieval story: the young girl dreading marriage, the zealous priest, the courtly knight, the cheeky jester - were not just stereotypes, but well-rounded, explored and real characters brought to life by a creative story and powerful writing.

And also, there was this eerie, almost foreboding emotion that I felt while I was reading that I haven't really experienced since reading Joseph Delaney's Wardstone series. It's not a scary book, per see, but it is chilling and kind of ominous at times, and I just loved that! The suspense, the "what is going to happen NEXT?!" all contributed to the fun reading experience.
Like I mentioned, Shadow Hunt is set along the border between Wales and England, and Langrish has an obvious knack for describing her scenes in rich, lush detail. I just love authors who take the extra time to really bring their scenes to life through detailed description. And I've been to Wales - it is without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever visited...just absolutely breathtaking! It was so great to be transported back to my favorite place on earth for a few days.
In short, Shadow Hunt is a captivating, exciting (and a little spooky) read that I would recommend to EVERYONE - all age levels! Well, 10 and up. I am 21 years old, and I devoured this book. Teens and grownups, you will too!

Final rating: 5/5.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blog CLEAN UP! I want to hear from YOU!


Okay everyone! IIF is now 5 months old and I think a clean-up is long overdue. Over these months I've participated in several memes and started 2 of my own:

Participated:
In My Mailbox
Teaser Tuesday
Friday Finds

My own:
Cover Wars
Where In Your World

Now I run Cover Wars every Wednesday but I only run WIYW occasionally. What do you think of the memes - should I get rid of them or keep them? I'm honestly wondering if I should just get rid of them...

On to the next topic: REVIEWS. Right now I'm averaging about 2 reviews a week, and here is where I need some feedback:
  • When you read a review, what do you look for and what do you expect to see?
  • Is there anything in particular that I should do differently?
And finally - ANYTHING ELSE. What would you like to see me do differently/what can I do to make this a more effective blog? Your thoughts, please!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Review - WILDWOOD DANCING

Wildwood Dancing - Juliet Marillier
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy (and nobody does it better than JM!)
# of pages: 400 (pb)
Publisher: Knopf, Random House
Recommended for: ALL AGES.
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It's an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle's hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he's there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena's sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom--an impossible union it's up to Jena to stop.
When Cezar's grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can't imagine--tests of trust, strength, and true love.

My Thoughts: Juliet Marillier has done it again! Over the Christmas break, I read her historical fantasy series The Bridei Chronicles and her historical novel Wolfskin (both of which are geared more toward adults) and was captivated by her writing style. Reading Wildwood brought back fond memories of her other stories, and I found delightful character and story similarities between this book and the others. Folks, I cannot gush enough about Marillier's obvious skills as a storyteller: her stories are always thoroughly researched, her characters are so exquisitely real (not real as in excessively flawed, but real as in someone you can care about and trust), and her fantasy elements are creative without being extreme.

Including elements from the fairytales of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "The Frog Prince," Marillier also gives readers a clear and descriptive look into historic, cultural Transylvania. It is so obvious that careful study and research went into the making of Wildwood, way more than a few mere "google searches," and for that Marillier deserves much recognition. Historical fantasy is not easy - it is a careful blend of two genres, really. It just felt nice to read a book with substance.

And now on to the characters. I've read Marillier's work before, and I kind of see a little pattern: her heroines are usually very practical, if just a wee bit on the self-sacrificing side. I loved Jena for many reasons, but chiefly because I felt like I could relate to her. She's not perfect, by any means, but she has heart, and she learns from her mistakes. So often it seems that there's this message in Young Adult fiction (as in culture) that says, "You can't make a mistake, there's no such thing as 'mistakes,' because everything is a learning process!" Well, if you don't realize you've made a mistake, how can you learn anything at all?! I'm getting off-topic, but hopefully you see the point I'm trying to make. Marillier's characters are incredibly substantial because, like us, they have the capacity to learn and grow. There's one character that I didn't really connect with, and that's Jena's older, do-anything-for-love sister, Tatiana. If you've read Wildwood, did you feel the same way? However, though I didn't understand Tatiana or her deep connection to her love interest, Sorrow (who may or may not be on of the nefarious Night People), I really liked how Marillier did justice to their story and their struggles - absolute, true love is not only possible, the story seems to say, but it's noble and wonderful. I liked that message, because it's true. Sometimes things happen and even though they seem to contradict reason, that doesn't always make them wrong. Jena, as the embodiment of reason, discovers this (among other things) throughout the course of the story. I also liked that when Jena makes a "stupid" mistake (after the climax of the book), she gets thoroughly chewed out by a powerful-but-lovable witch. Thank you, helpful adult characters! What a rare, lovely breed you are!

Marillier spends so much time efficiently building and establishing her characters, she doesn't leave anybody out, even the villains. I really vacillated over Wildwood's "villain," Cezar. It's weird, because sometimes I actually found myself seeing things from his point of view. She's so good about creating well-rounded characters, that even the villain of her story had a touch of humanity. Nevertheless, there is a difference between a man being chivalric and gentlemanly (which I love!) and being downright chauvinistic (which more closely describes Cezar). And the special FROG of the story---I loved him! He was by far my favorite character. And that's also a great thing about Wildwood, too: I thought I had the "twist" all figured out - "everybody knows the story of the Frog Prince,' but I was so wrong! That twist caught me completely off-guard, and I loved it!

Final Rating: 5/5. If you read ANY of my reviews (and I'm glad everybody liked Eyes Like Stars - that's a good one, too!) PLEASE, PLEASE check out this book! You won't regret it.
:D

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Recap, IMM & Reading Itinerary!



Another successful reading week!

Books Read
Brightly Woven (Alexandra Bracken)
Wildwood Dancing (Juliet Marillier)

Books Reviewed

Eyes Like Stars (Lisa Mantchev)
Brightly Woven


Currently Reading
The Shadow Hunt (Katherine Langrish) - FOR REVIEW!

Arriving this Week
The Spook's Nightmare (Wardstone, #7)
Perchance to Dream (Theatre Iluminata, #2)

  • It's a RACE! I've always been curious who ships faster - Amazon or the Book Depository. This week I've got 2 books - 1 coming from Amazon and 1 coming from the Book Depository - both of which are scheduled to be released on the 25th. Who will be faster?!?
This is also a very EXCITING WEEK, because I received my first ARC! *Milestone for Imagination in Focus!*
There they are! Watch for a REVIEW, INTERVIEW with author KATHERINE LANGRISH, and a GIVEAWAY!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Recommendation list for DYSTOPIAN!

To start us off, here's a little cartoon my professor sent us! It's on my Dystopian WIP's storyboard, and so I wanted to share it with all of you! (Extra credit if you know the context of the cartoon!)


This post made possible in part by contributions from book bloggers like you!

My last Suggestion Box was for (YA) dystopian/post-apocalyptic literature, and you sure provided a lot of good recommendations!


Here's the list:
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (most popular answer!)
Declaration, Gemma Malley
Unwind, Neal Shusterman
The Uglies series, Scott Westerfeld
The Gone series, Michael Grant
The Maze Runner, James Dashner
The Chaos Walking trilogy, Patrick Ness
Life as We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer
The Forest of Hands and Teeth & The Dead Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
Birthmarked, Caragh O'Brien
Girl in the Arena, Lise Haines
Lockdown, Alexander Gordon Smith
The House of the Scorpion

and of course, our "classic" favorite - The Giver, Lois Lowry

Thanks to all the awesome contributors! Now...
  • Have you read any of these books? Any favorites that you see? Can you think of any books to add (that are YA/MG)?
  • Do you like dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction?
Ohhh ohh ohhhhhhhh! In other exciting news: MAZE RUNNER #3 now has a name! It's called The Death Cure! :D

Friday, May 21, 2010

Through a Lens III: Aly


This week I've got Aly from Fantasy4Eva stopping by for a few quick questions. So let's get this feature going!

Do you have character crushes?

Well I do have a few: Jace from the Mortal Instruments series, Alex from Perfect Chemistry, and Damon from the Vampire Diaries.

If you could be any book character, who would you be?
Hmm, well I would say Hermione from Harry Potter... didn't see that one coming, did you? She's kind, intelligent, and just an overall lovely girl.

Is there a book/series that everyone seems to have read but you?
Rules of Attraction! Why, everyone, must you read the one book that I am in love with?!

Which book[s] make you cry?
Lol, I don't like confessing such things, but for you I'll make an exception! P.S. I Love You was the first book that brought me to tears, after I read that I really got into my tearjerkers. The next book, I believe, was Thirteen Reasons Why. I don't think any other book has made me want to physically make a difference like this book did...

Which book[s] make you laugh?
You know, I don't think I can remember any books that have made me laugh...

Have you ever been unable to finish a book?
Yes a few times actually, but best if I keep my mouth shut. If anyone wants to know, just email me and I'll tell you.

What books did you like when you were a kid?
I don't recall books from being young, but I remember these, they were called Biff and Chip and I loved them.

When is your favorite time to read? Favorite place?
I love to read at night. I don't know why, maybe because everybody is asleep, meaning I can read in peace. I'll normally have some tea and cookies beside me at the ready. My favorite place has always been my room, my little sanctuary but to be honest I haven't really experimented with a lot of places either. I would love to read at a beach, just somewhere peaceful with a lovely view.

If you could hang out with any author for a day, who would it be?
It would have to be Cassandra Clare, simply because I shall always be a fan of hers for introducing Jace and Clary to me. So yes she would make the author who would make my day.

If you could adapt a book/series into a movie, it would be...
I was going to say City of Bones, but since that's already in the works, I would say Thirteen Reasons Why. I know there are a lot of books out there that talk about suicide, but not a lot of them have people like Clay and Hannah. I know that a movie is hardly ever better than a book, but through a movie such as Thirteen Reasons Why I believe it can make a difference for the better.

What is your favorite word?
Can I pick two?! Hahaha "dopey" and "bonzo"! I say these words when I'm normally in a happy or hyper mood, or sometimes in an affectionate way.

ONE WORD ANSWERS FOR
Bestsellers -
Awesome
Book Blog - Togetherness
Vampires - Smexy
Science fiction - Hmmm
Classics - Nope
Harry Potter - Dreams

If you could recommend one book to everyone, it would be...
I would recommend Frozen Fire by Tim Bowler. I don't think enough people are aware of it, it's magical, saddening and beautiful all wrapped up in one little box.


Thank you, Aly! I enjoyed having you :)

If you would like to be featured on Through a Lens, email me or leave your email address and I'll send you the questions!

Review - BRIGHTLY WOVEN

Brightly Woven - Alexandra Bracken
Genre: YA Fantasy
# of pages: 368 (hb)
Publisher: Egmont
Amelia's Age-Level Recommendation: targeted @ teenagers, but good for the 12+ group too
Brightly Woven @ Parental Book Reviews
My Thoughts
This review is going to be very atypical, mainly because of the weird combination of 1) not liking it, and 2) recommending it to others

Simply put, Brightly Woven was a disappointment. There's definitely a dichotomy between this book and my previous read, Eyes Like Stars, and so that probably has a lot to do with why I didn't like this book. For me at least, there is a middle ground between "good" and "bad" when it comes to taste, and while I didn't find this book bad, it wasn't good, either.

My reasons? the characters. North was fascinating, I will admit. He is hands down my favorite character in the book, and I loved his scenes. He was great. However, he wasn't believable in his role. A wizard who is completely direction impaired and who relies on the map-skills of a girl who's never left her own village? Yeah right. Sydelle - the story's feisty MC - rotated between being occasionally entertaining and heartfelt and being for the most part an annoying, whiny and incredibly stupid narrator. Now I'm not usually the "yeah, girls are macho, too!" type, but it's one thing to scream independence, and it's another to just be an idiot. She whines about North being unfair and not trusting her and so forth, yet when she goes off and tries to do something on her own, she shows serious lack of hindsight, judgment or rationality. That's "realistic" to a certain extent, but I deal with enough frustrating people in real life---I don't want to have to read about a stupid character, either. I know, I'm sounding harsh--I'm sorry! And another quick thing: North is all of 18 years old, and yet he says things like "when I was a boy" or "in my youth" or whatever and talks like he's so old. Yeah, you're a real full moon away from your AARP card, dude.
What I liked: I liked the gradual relationship development between Sydnelle and North. They had some very poignant, well-written scenes and I do credit Bracken for making Brightly Woven enjoyable (in parts).

With regards to the plot, I am seriously not sure what to think. Parts of it were exciting and parts of it dragged. Bracken's writing really aggravated me, and that's more the reason I didn't like this than anything else. Her writing just seemed off. If Brightly Woven was an amusement park ride, I'd say it would be a wooden roller coaster: it's fun and exciting at times, but the ride is very bumpy, rickety, and you wonder how in the world the coaster got a license to operate in the first place.
Her magic, too, is somewhat interesting, but severely underdeveloped. I think that BW could/should have been optioned as a series, because there is so much information that is touched on but never truly explained, I felt like I was wading through really shallow waters. Like "oohh, good idea, but not quite there yet."

To speak frankly, I was expecting way more. A college senior publishing a debut novel is pretty uncommon, and so I was expecting brilliancy on a Christopher Paolini level, and to be frank some more, I didn't get it. But it did have likable moments, and I have a sneaking suspicion that (thanks to the loads of other 4-and-5-star reviews out there) my review might just be the "odd one out." And so would I recommend it to others? Yeah, probably. There are no content restrictions or anything, I do need to salute Alexandra Bracken for presenting a clean read that could be read and enjoyed by multiple age levels (you might even find yourself thinking of a certain wizard named Howl---I sure did!).

Final Rating:This is a pretty good book - don't expect much out of it, like I did, and you'll probably enjoy it more, and don't put it at the tippy-top of your TBR list. Read Eyes Like Stars or something first!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Blogger Hop!


Time for another Book Blogger Hop!!!! Head on over to Crazy for Books to link up!!! If you're visiting Imagination in Focus, welcome! Thank you for stopping by, and feel free to check out my posts and reviews. Leave a link so I can check out your site, too!

On the equality or inequality of MG & YA Fiction

This is in response to a particular post that I read today...

The $1,000,000 question for the day is What is the difference between MG & YA literature?
This gets a little tricky, because when I took Literature for Children last year, my textbook said that "Middle Grade or Intermediate Fiction" was a branch of Young Adult fiction, which encompasses roughly the ages of 10-21. YA nowadays, I'd say, is more synonymous with "teen fiction" and when I say YA, that's what I mean. Those are the definitions that I was taught, and they're the ones I use, just for clarification's sake.

Here is were I DISAGREE with the particular post:

1) the idea that MG-Intermediate is "kids fiction." I hate that phrase like I hate soy milk. To me (as someone who reads a bunch of "MG" targeted fiction and fully plans to teach middle school) that really incenses me. Okay, so it's perfectly fine for grownups (high school grads, as I call it---if you've graduated from high school, you're a "grown up" to me) to read YA (which usually refers to "teen fiction") but Middle Grade-Intermediate stuff is "kid" fiction. Really?! So to get this straight, if you write for middle grade, you're writing for kids. First of all, middle grade fiction is indicative of the middle grades: meaning 11-14. That's right - 14 year olds. That's not very "kiddie" to me. Most 8th graders complete their school year as 14-year-olds. Most.

The ages are closer than one might originally think. But to me, it's the audacity of the statement. I don't feel like I'm reading beneath my level when I read The Chronicles of Prydain or the Redwall books or Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or The Lost Years of Merlin/Great Tree of Avalon or The Wardstone Chronicles or Inkheart. I will admit to reading certain YA books and wanting to claw my eyes out. MG books seem to chronicle true rites of passage in a way that many "teen fiction" books do not.

Really, I guess I just want to defend MG-Intermediate fiction. If it's not okay to dismiss YA books because of their target audience, it shouldn't be okay to dismiss MG.

And that's my next point. 2) I do not work for publishers, but I do believe (and other authors have said this too...or at least, they've typed it on their blogs/sites) that the labels "MG" "YA" and so forth are really more for marketing purposes. Target audiences. That does not limit an audience in any way by their age. My mid-40s pastor is totally in love with the Harry Potter books. And he's not a "kid." And he wasn't a "kid" when they came out. My 70-something grandmother loves the Twilight series. My parents love Percy Jackson (I'm serious: at dinner one night, my dad looked at us all and said, "If I was a half-blood, who do you think my godly parent would be?" And an actual discussion ensued). I think it is little more than marketing. In fact, labels such as that remind me a lot of MPAA ratings - they have no basis whatsoever on the quality of the picture: there are really stupid and worthless G-rated movies and there are amazing R-rated movies. The label doesn't say anything about quality. Now I will admit that that's a bit of a stretch, and I don't want to go down the "content" road...

3) The idea (voiced in the post that I'm ranting about) that it's okay to have "morals" in that back of your head when you write "kid fiction" but not when you write for the glorified "young adults." I just want to sidebar and say: MG-aged audiences are just as much "kids" as teen are. Don't balk just yet - why shouldn't it be true? They're all under 18, so legally they're all minors. Yeah, teenagers have things going on that are different and unique to their present experiences, but let's not create a rift here. Middle Grade fiction - as kid fiction - is all butterflies and rainbows, with moral messages and everything, but YA fiction is where serious things occur. Teenagers - because they're TEENAGERS! - do not need moral messages. That's kid stuff for kids. Maybe I'm the only one, but that's a pretty fractured message: moral messages, values, and other "teachable moments" are the stuff of kids' fiction, because kids need that, but once you graduate from Middle Grade to Young Adult (which encompasses high school, and freshmen are all of 14 years old) you no longer need moral mesages, values, or teachable moments. Because you're a TEENAGER and you automatically know everything. And if for some weird reason you don't know everything - that's okay! You'll figure it out all on your own, because you're a TEENAGER.

What am I trying to say? I'm saying that upper-Middle Grade-Intermediate readers and Teen readers are probably less than a year's difference away. I don't think rifts need to be created. I don't think a stark contrast should be seen between Middle Grade-Intermediate fiction and YA-Teen fiction. And I think that both genres/subgenres (honestly still not sure which phrase to use) need respect. Don't dismiss YA literature as immature and childish, but certainly don't dismiss Middle Grade-Intermediate. Some of the greatest authors' works reside in that section of the bookstore, and they do not write kid stuff for kids. They write literature for young people, award-winning and multi-million dollar literature that is enjoyed by adolescents, teenagers, and adults alike. Don't limit their talent by assuming to dismiss their work as "for kids." And don't assume that teenagers aren't in need of guidance as well - both the teen characters and the teen readers.
For an author to make "moral messages, values, teachable moments, etc" purely the stuff of "kid fiction" is to miss the mark entirely and assume too much of teenagers/young adults. Everybody needs values, guidance and teachable moments, and books with messages are often the ones that stand out above the superficiality of the "just for entertainment" stories. I know which type I'd rather read, and I know which type I'd rather write. Bravo, Intermediate and Middle Grade Authors. May the Young Adult authors follow from your examples, and perhaps Young Adult literature will become less superfluous and more inspiring.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cover Wars [11]: Holly Black's TITHE


Okay, this Cover Wars is going to be a little different - I have lots of covers, but not really sure what country they go to! The only thing I can think of is that the majority of these are US prints, and there are just many editions of this book out there.

This is the cover I have:

This is the UK cover (according to Amazon UK):

I believe this is the original cover:

and here are some paperbacks:

#1: #2:

Personally, I like my copy best. Didn't like the book, though, but at least the cover is pretty to look at! Which do you prefer?
 
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