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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tamora Pierce Reading Challenge

Since I didn't grow up in the US (and Taiwanese libraries/book stores aren't exactly overflowing with English novels), I missed out on a lot of classic children literature. Tamora Pierce is a notable example, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've read only one Pierce novel -- Terrier (Beka Cooper, #1) -- for some random book report assignment back in 7th grade. This is where The Shady Glade's lovely reading challenge comes in:

I'm going to start out with the Page level, which involves reading only 1-4 books, and probably move up levels if I end up with enough interest and time. Time I doubt, since my TA position for a flute camp starts tomorrow, and I. Am. Sooo. Nervous. You have no idea... But that's besides the point. I am finally filling in the holes of my childhood. Yay.

Umm, I think excitement is hard to convey over the internet without resulting to ALL CAPS and gratuitous exclamation mark use.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

Published January 25th 2011 by Harlequin Teen
358 pages
Series: Iron Fey #3
Source: ARC via Flamingnet Teen Book Reviews

The past year has been beyond life-altering for Meghan Chase. Suddenly thrust into the world of Faerie and the rivalries between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, Meghan realizes her importance in this beautiful yet cruel world, a world that has silently existed alongside hers ever since she was born. To complicate matters further, the Seelie and Unseelie have become threatened by a new kind of Faerie—the Iron Fey, brought to life by the ever-increasing reliance humans have of technology. Meghan, with the aid of the Unseelie prince Ash and childhood friend, the Faerie Puck, has already defeated the first Iron King and successfully retrieved a stolen scepter in time to stop a Faerie war. Meghan thought she was never going back, especially since she and Ash had been banished from the Faerie world together—a punishment for their forbidden love. But the rise of a second Iron King changes all that, and Meghan finds herself once again in the complicated world of Faerie, on a quest to save the entire Faerie race.

This third installment of Julie Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series does not disappoint and continues the momentum of the two previous novels. There were barely any dull moments, and the trio is always on the move. I did find the apparent helplessness of Meghan a bit annoying at times—every time they meet an enemy, it was Ash and Puck protecting her while she screamed or fainted—but the girl did mature emotionally throughout the book. I adore the twist at the ending and applaud Meghan for her courage and sense of responsibility. This trilogy-turned-saga will end with The Iron Knight, told from Ash’s perspective. I simply cannot wait to get my hands on the next book and would recommend this series to fans of fantasy and faerie novels.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

Published August 10th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
277 pages
Source: Borrowed

There are stories that make you think afterwards. You sit there and just stare at the book (or in my case, the Kindle) in your hands. It is a profound feeling, this period of after-book contemplation. It does not strike me often, and I cherish it when it does.

I enjoyed the premise Elsewhere sets up, but thought the execution was lacking. The relationship between Liz and Owen was, to be blunt, almost tacky in my opinion. Most of the novel was dull for me. Yes yes, this happened, whoopee. I would then proceed to click on the next page button, feeling just a tiny bit annoyed at the lack of development.

But the ending. Oh the ending... I was expecting it. There wasn't some huge twist that left me speechless. But the way Gabrielle Zevin phrased it, the simple writing style and the descriptions of Liz and Owen—they were heartbreaking.

I was trying to decide between a 2-star rating for most of the book and a 4-star for the ending. However, most of the book is obviously, umm, the majority of the novel, so I have gone with 2 stars.

Rating: 2
oh so unremarkable

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Published November 2nd 2010 by Little, Brown Books
332 pages
Series: The Mockingbirds #1
Source: Borrowed

Everything, everything is blurry to Alex. The events of the night before has become nothing but a huge pounding headache and random flashes of disjointed memories. She remembers talking to Martin, then to Carter. Then there is Carter's room, and the entire scene blanks out...

As rumors of that night spreads thoughout the prestigious Themis Academy -- fueled and distorted by Carter himself -- Alex is determined to get her old life back as the quiet piano genius. She enlists the help of the Mockingbirds: a student-run organization that acts as the enforcer of unspoken rules in a school where the administrators turn a blind eye on student issues, afraid that publicity of the flaws in their system would damage the school's reputation. Remember, don't underestimate the Mockingbirds. They have their ways. So Carter dear, you'd better watch out.

Daisy Whitney's novel explores the consequences of date rape in a high school that appears pristine on the surface. I found the author's integration of concepts from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to be fresh, new, and incredibly sneaky. Almost all of the Mockingbird's procedures and symbols are analogous to various elements of TKAM, like Boo's gifts to the Finch children or details of Tom Robinson's court trial.

Onto the musical aspect: mentions of Beethoven and Lizst and the like. These presented another facet of the novel that seemed to be irrelevant, but ultimately was not. Even Beethoven's famous Ninth Symphony can be symbolic to a story like this.

There was one part that made me laugh hysterically for a while. Then again, it might have just been due to the fact that I was reading at a time that should be reserved for sleep... Alex and Martin, an apparently cute science nerd (where can I find one of these, huh?), were discussing their ideas for the spring project. This assignment is similar to a senior paper, although these two aren't seniors, and it's not a paper. Anyways, Martin decides to do his project on barn owls, and when asked why, he replies:
"I was driving this summer and I drove past this injured owl on the side of the road. I was about to call the Humane Society, but then he just died, so I took him home and I dissected him."
The Mockingbirds is a unique contemporary novel that turned out to be more than I expected. I did not realize there was going to be a sequel, which definitely piques my interest.

Tidbit of random: I wish my school was cool enough to have the Mockingbirds' system.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta

Published March 8th 2011 by Candlewick Press
336 pages
Source: Review Copy via Flamingnet Teen Book Reviews

Two broken people, destroyed by circumstance and the irreversible passage of time.

There is Tom -- the uni drop-out who spends his time pining for the girl whose heart he broke so many winters ago. Drowning in regret, he finds solace in escape, just as his alcoholic father blots out the world when life becomes too much to handle. And then there is Tom’s Aunt Georgie, confused and yearning for understanding after that one little event that fractured her life, even though the one person who can mend her is the one who broke her in the first place.

This is the story of the rediscovery of hope, as bits and pieces of Tom and Georgie’s lives continue to chip off and crumble in front of their weary eyes. This is where the healing begins.

I would never have given this book a second glance if shown its American cover: A boy guitarist in a striped shirt? Come on… How much more unoriginal can you get? However, I’ve had the luck to read a few of the brilliant Melina Marchetta’s works before and have thoroughly enjoyed every single one. To say that I was excited to start The Piper’s Son would be the understatement of the century.

Who would have thought that Marchetta could take something that resembled a cheesy Asian drama in character and plot and portray it as something so raw and real? You have your heart-broken protagonist with the messed-up family and the unrequited love and an adult counterpart with a marriage ripped apart by an affair. As usual, angst is always present, snaking its way through the story and leaving slimy trails of betrayal in its wake. It takes talent to write cliché into something of beauty and sadness and growth and forgiveness. Even though this book is as far from the fantasy genre as you can get, The Piper’s Son was magical. Yes, realistic novels can be magical, too.

And despite the almost depressing feel of the synopsis, there is also an abundance of humor -- puns, sarcasm, and witty remarks about random things such as a certain grandfather’s bum in super short jogging shorts and the mortification that accompanies said shorts during morning jogs around the neighborhood.

A sort-of sequel of Saving Francesca but with a side character as the main one instead, The Piper’s Son is one of those rare books that deserves a re-read. Even the second time will be as engrossing as the first.

Rating: 5
incomprehensibly awesome

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

Published August 9th 2011 by Candlewick
352 pages
Source: ARC from Candlewick Press via NetGalley

It’s certainly been awhile since I’ve cried this hard over a book -- at two different spots, too. Ms. Sheehan, I demand my tears back immediately in an aesthetically pleasing and preferably crystalline container so my future children may have the option of putting it into a Pensieve and learning about all my failures and secret loves and whatnot.

Right, now that that’s over…

Readers looking for a genuine science fiction novel with a complete setup and intricate technologies will be sorely disappointed with A Long, Long Sleep. If I had to attach only one tag to this novel, it would just be romance. Not dystopian or adventure or self-discovery; just romance. This book was more of a 2-star if one only takes into account the characters and plotline. However, the slightly weird but still passable romance really tugged at my heartstrings and receives 5 stars from me. A 4-star rating was settled on because I tend to prioritize my emotions over logic (I am a teenager after all; blame the hormones). And I think the last time I cried for a book was during my third re-read of The Book Thief. It’s about time something else had the same effect.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Rose is an idiotic heroine, even she admits it. She acts idiotically. She thinks idiotically. She runs away from her problems idiotically. You get the drift. Weirdly, when Rose converses with Otto, a blue-skinned genetically-modified alien-human, she uses words that otherwise would not be part of the average idiotic teen’s vocabulary and sounds mildly intelligent, if not at least self-reflective and mature. In short, Rose sounds nothing like her usual self during these conversations, which bothered me to no end.

A Long, Long Sleep also explores parental abuse, something I found to be very surprising, given the sci-fi setup. You can’t help yourself from feeling growing sympathy for Rose, and I suppose that subtracts from her idiocy just a tiny bit. At least Rose is, for the most part, loyal to Xavier -- stupid Xavier. Now, Xavier isn’t necessarily a dull young man. I actually know nothing about Xavier’s intelligence since it was never mentioned. But Xavier, you stupid, stupid boy.

I will be looking out for Ms. Sheehan’s future books, as I’m willing to overlook some aspects of her novels just so I can enjoy other parts of it. Really, that’s just another way of conveying how much of a sap I truly am…

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Published August 2nd 2011 by Hyperion Books CH
288 pages
Source: ARC from Disney-Hyperion via NetGalley

We are introduced to the quaint town of Near and its inhabitants -- both human and witch -- through a graceful, lilting writing style accompanied by the soft blow of the Near moor wind through our hair (or if your hair quantity is similar to Voldemort’s: across your scalp). Life is the definition of stasis, for there are no strangers in the town of Near. But then Lexi glimpses a boy who blurs on the edges and fades like the wind, and the children of the town start disappearing out of their beds each night. Now, the hunt is on for the mysterious stranger, for the missing children, and for peace at last in the town of Near.

The Near Witch is a gorgeous novel with a slightly rustic feel that reminds me of the magic that is Hale’s Princess Academy. What a breath of fresh air, so completely different from the love + paranormal creature formula most authors are using these days. And really, why would someone pay to read a glamorized regurgitation of the same ol’ star-crossed love story?

My special thanks to Ms. Schwab for giving our heroine Lexi a brain bigger and wiser than her heart (not that her heart is lacking any essential ingredients, mind you). Headstrong and willing to take the initiative, Lexi is the one moving the story forward instead of being dragged by it from behind. Our mystery boy, too, is more than just a pair of dark, pretty eyes; he is the tangled result of grief and regret and unchangeable history. What a helpless -- but hopeful -- pair they make.

The only thing keeping the novel from being a 5-star is the plot’s overall simplicity. Most will find that not to be problematic; I’m simply very picky about the books I shelve as incomprehensibly awesome. But hey, a 4.5 rating is as close to that as you can get.

Ms. Schwab has penned a shining gem of a debut, and I am waiting with bated breath for her next novel, The Archived.

Rating: 4.5
between delightfully scrumptious and incomprehensibly awesome

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Cellar by A.J. Whitten

Published May 2nd 2011 by Graphia
276 pages
Source: ARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley

The creepy-looking cover of this novel proudly boasts the words: Romeo and Juliet meet the living dead in The Cellar.

(The above was an exclamation of annoyance, not an attempt to copy the moans of the undead.)

I shall preface this review by saying that yes, I am a huge zombie fan. Zombies are quite possibly the most genius fantastical creatures ever thought up by the human imagination. And despite my grumbling, I really did enjoy Romeo and Juliet. With this uncanny combination of interests, The Cellar must surely be the perfect book for me, right?


Imagine this. You have a dash of zombies are friends with hyenas and a pinch of oh look the lovey-dovey teenagers are off being idiotic again. Stir in the characters’ basically nonexistent personalities, and you’ve got an awkward mix of brown goo that looks and smells suspiciously like a paper copy of Twilight in liquefied form.

Is the plot at least slightly interesting? Well...
First, Boy meets Girl. Both fall in love. But wait, Boy is dangerous, and everyone tells Girl to be careful. Hey, Girl doesn’t care, because love overcomes all obstacles. Yay. And then tons of people die.
Hopefully further elaboration is not needed.

Although The Cellar does not suit my tastes, YA PNR lovers will adore the abundance of true love floating around in this novel. Those particular scenes actually succeeded in making me snort out loud. Twice. I sounded like an irritated bull, and I think I felt rather like one, too.

Rating: 2
oh so unremarkable

Wherein a girl steps tentatively into the book blogging world

So far, my internet presence on book blogs has been similar to that of a ninja's: silent and invisible. But history is about to be altered. I've finally decided to stick my head out of my safe turtle shell and create a blog. Admittedly, I feel like I'm simply talking to thin air right now, but hopefully that will change with time and hard work. One day, I just might acquire an audience of more than one. Yes, that would be a happy day indeed.

Welcome to A Thousand Little Pages, written by a slightly spastic teenage girl and governed by her entire arsenal of opinions, rants, and hormones…

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Published February 26th 2003 by VIZ Media LLC
624 pages
Source: Borrowed

I think it's been about five minutes since I read the last word of Battle Royale. My heart is still pounding abnormally fast, and every few seconds, I have to take a break from typing to watch the French countryside rushing by outside the train window instead.* The view is strangely soothing, and I definitely need some calming right now.

So. Battle Royale. Was. Epic. Dare I say it? It was better than The Hunger Games, and The Hunger Games is one of my favorites. Both have similar settings: a dystopian government that forces children into an arena and makes them kill each other off one by one. But Battle Royale ended up as the more striking, more intense, of the two. The novel grabbed me, strapped me to a poodle, and threw me off a cliff. How does a poodle save a person from a fall off a cliff, you may ask. It doesn't. That's why I kind of feel like an insignificant smudge on the ground right now.

Unlike The Hunger Games, which focuses only on Katniss's narrative, Battle Royale jumps around from one student to another. I didn't find that disorienting or discontinuous. The skipping around reveiled quite a lot about each participant of the Program, as the government calls this bloodbath. Such intricate lines bind all the classmates together, and it's so saddening to watch it all fall apart. There are love interests and friendships and histories and their own survival to consider as the 15-year-olds wander around an island with machine guns, scared out of their wits. What a story Takami-san has dreamt up. What a story.

And the ending, too. Wow, if you thought The Hunger Games's ending was jarring, you will be totally unprepared for Battle Royale's. Takami-san wrote it with the flare of a pro, although I kind of want to punch him now...

The only thing I disliked were the gory scenes. Battle Royale was a lot more graphic than I'd imagined. So instead of puking up the contents of my stomach, I just skipped the paragraphs describing blood and bashed-in brains. The human imagination is always a lot more vivid than a movie scene. Normally, that's a good thing, but now, not so much.

I would say that I'm now a fangirl of Battle Royale, but given the book's subject matter, I don't think that'd be entirely appropriate. Apparently, Takami-san is writing (or has already written) a second novel. I must hunt it down.

*My first vacation in Europe!

Rating: 5
incomprehensibly awesome

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Published May 24th 2011 by Harlequin Teen
473 pages
Series: Steampunk Chronicles #1
Source: ARC from Harlequin via NetGalley

After reading a whole slew of horrible reviews of The Girl in the Steel Corset, I had mentally prepared myself for a train wreck. Well, I confess: the novel didn't turn out that badly for me. It wasn't exceptional, but it didn't enduce fits of hair-tearing frustration, mostly. Perhaps I've been desensitized by the unhealthy amount of mediocre YA I've been reading lately.

The characters here are pretty much your standard set of YA heroes, although Finley managed to annoy me quite a bit more than the average heroine. That girl, for the life of her, just doesn't seem to be able to make up her mind about anything. Oooh, Griffin is so handsome. But wait, Jack is hot, too. I'll just blame my attraction on the two warring parts of my personality! No. Just no. And guess what? In case one love triangle isn't enough, we've got two! Aren't you excited? Ugh, at least the two triangles don't overlap. Imagine what a mess that would make. A love hexagon?

The background of the novel comes across as completely random. There are beasties that have cool powers and are apparently harvested from the center of the earth and machines that do your chores or suddenly turn evil and just attack people. Add the Aether, a spiritual plane inhabited by the dead, to all that, and you've got an overload of fantastical elements that don't really coexist nicely with each other.

The Girl in the Steel Corset does not succeed in distinguishing itself from typical YA despite its steampunk flare and gorgeous cover. However, it is still a notch above a lot of YA out there simply because it presents the stereotype in a slightly altered package.

Rating: 2.5
between oh so unremarkable and fairly intriguing

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Published May 1st 2011 by Amulet Books
350 pages
Source: ARC from Abrams Books via NetGalley

An article recently came out in the Wall Street Journal that generated quite a buzz in the young adult book community. It basically slanders every YA novel out there that is “dark” by their standards and indirectly blames the books for familiarizing and possibly prompting trauma, violence, and profanity within the average teen. Shine received an honorary place in the article and was complained about quite a bit. So, dear Ms. Gurdon, author of said article, I am a teenager. I have read Shine, among tons of other “dark” novels. Do I now feel the inclination to begin stimulating the nearest meth business or sexually assaulting my classmates? No. No, I don’t. Not at all.

Since I’ve read Ms. Myracle’s Internet Girls series prior to Shine, I simply dismissed her as a frivolous author. Well, all my expectations disappeared down the drain as I read the first page, which featured a newspaper clipping detailing the attack of a gay teen in the tiny town of Black Creek. The novel goes on to describe the protagonist’s search for the truth about what really happened to the teen, an old childhood friend named Patrick.

Ms. Myracle’s writing created a sort of thick and somber atmosphere throughout the book, which was appropriate given the gravity of the topic. Her characters are easy to sympathize for, and the mystery involved was not overly obvious or completely impossible to solve. A multitude of touchy subjects were tackled and handled delicately. Overall, I enjoyed Shine a lot more than I’d originally thought I would.

Even with all the hate and despair in the story, I finished the novel with a feeling of hope. Yes, WSJ article, maybe it wasn’t a happily ever after, maybe the characters experienced things no one should go through. But there is hope and healing everywhere if you look hard enough.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Published April 26th 2011 by Balzer + Bray
323 pages
Series: Bumped #1
Source: ARC from HarperCollins via NetGalley

You know those books that aren’t written, structured, or characterized that well, but you still manage to like it despite all its flaws? Guilty pleasures, basically. Bumped was a guilty pleasure for me. While the background of the novel is certainly dissimilar to the ones in any other book I've ever read, it failed to woo me once I got past the novelty of the shiny new dystopian world. With our media’s shifting attitude from condemnation to almost glorification of teen pregnancy, the world setup does take a provocative and challenging stance on the matter. But, again, Ms. McCafferty didn’t make the most of it. There was so much potential, but the story didn’t leave me with a profound sense of anything, a feeling I expect to get from great dystopians, or any novel, really.

The characters, too, were kind of generic, although they managed to do a few things that I wasn’t expecting at all. It’s not that they were stereotypical, they just weren’t special. At least there was no love triangle, and none of them spent time blatantly lusting after each other, something that would be normal given the society they live in.

Now onto a little gripe about character names. Let’s take, for example, Johndoe the ultimate sperm bank. Every time Johndoe is mentioned I would involuntarily picture Bambi running through the woods with his rabbit friends or something. And as you might have guessed, I found it difficult to reconcile a bouncing doe with the sex god image Johndoe is supposed to have.

I am going to read the sequel, Thumped, simply because I adored Ms. McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series and, despite all my complaints, I liked Bumped. Yes, I am proud to say I did.

Rating: 3
fairly intriguing

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Published April 5th 2011 by Dutton Juvenile
264 pages
Series: If I Stay #2
Source: ARC from Penguin Young Readers Group via NetGalley

It’s possible that I harbor a sort of morbid curiosity toward angst of any kind, given the surprising amount of love I felt for this novel. Because I am not kidding when I say that the entire book is one humongous angst-fest. There’s Adam’s heartache and Mia’s barely hidden heartache and just pain and this awful sense of detachment from every other person around them.

And I loved every single page of it.

If Adam had been a stereotypical male from the YA genre, we would doubtlessly have been treated to paragraph upon paragraph of whining and pining after Mia. Oh, I miss the way her hair smells, the feel of her skin on mine, her beautiful lips like bright red cherries blah blah blah… But Adam is stronger and just plain better than that, even if he himself doesn’t think so. Yes, he wrote emo songs to vent his frustration at Mia’s departure. Yes, he was basically kind of catatonic for a year afterward. But he did something about his pain. He made it a sort of productive pain, if that makes any sense. Adam did not sit around and stare into space; he became a national rock sensation instead.

I confess, I had originally put off reading Where She Went because If I Stay wasn’t phenomenal for me. Perhaps I was put off by the feeling of stasis -- the total lack of overall change -- that pervades the first novel. Well, Where She Went manages to retain the emotional rollercoaster from If I Stay and adds a lot more movement and development to the characters since Mia is, you know, no longer in a coma.

Sigh... An author’s ability to turn something simple into something so engaging and extraordinary: this is why I read.

Rating: 4.5
between delightfully scrumptious and incomprehensibly awesome

Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep

Published July 26th 2011 by Kensington Publishing
350 pages
Series: Mythos Academy #1
Source: ARC via Flamingnet Teen Book Reviews

Gwen Frost is being forced to attend Mythos Academy, an elite school set apart to train kids who just so happen to be descendants of various mythical warriors. Of course, Gwen doesn’t believe in any of the supernatural skills her classmates supposedly possess. The only type of magic she actually accepts is her own and that of her own family. When the school’s most popular girl, the icy Valkyrie princess Jasmine, is murdered right in the library next to a stolen mythical artifact called the Bowl of Tears, Gwen is determined to get to the bottom of the entire situation. It’s never a good idea to poke your head into other people’s business, though. So the results? Who else is to blame but yourself?

Touch of Frost belongs to the new batch of paranormal stories that all seem exactly the same, only with different character names and fantastical elements. This novel’s back story is a mishmash of tons of various warriors -- from Norse gods to ninjas. While that is certainly a nice idea, it’s never really delved into. Except for a few key warrior gods, all the others felt extraneous and were barely mentioned at all.

The characters aren’t especially mind-blowing, either. You have the blonde mean girl clique, the quirky and unpopular heroine, and the hot bad boy who falls in love with the heroine anyways; just the same formula used over and over and over again. The character with an actual personality was Vic, the ancient magical sword, who has a grand total of about five lines in the entire novel. That is just sad. A sword beats out all those other full-fledged human characters? Sad, sad, sad.

Touch of Frost is quite a cliché, but lovers of stereotypical teen paranormal stories (I know there are a lot of you out there) will devour it with glee.

Rating: 2
oh so unremarkable

The Dark City by Catherine Fisher

Published May 17th 2011 by Dial
384 pages
Series: The Book of the Crow #1
Source: ARC via TeensReadToo

Relic Master Galen Harn and his apprentice Raffi know that all is not well the moment they set foot in the settlement that had boldly requested their help a few days before. Drawn by curiosity and the possibility of discovering a relic, the pair nevertheless decides to venture into the castle-like fortress that is the settlement’s stronghold and soon come to regret the decision. After an unpleasant meeting with the leader Alberic, Galen and Raffi are off once again -- this time in search of a thieving Sekoi that had ravaged the settlement and the Crow, who, if found, would prove to be very helpful to Galen indeed. Carys, an orphaned girl in search of her father, soon join the group on their journey to the dark city of Tasceron, where both the Sekoi and the Crow were rumored to be found. However, the Watch is always present at every turn; their deception knows no bounds.

Having read and tremendously enjoyed Ms. Fisher’s Incarceron duology, I was, to say the last, excited to get my hands on the Relic Master series. While Incarceron seems to be geared more toward young adults, The Dark City reads more like a middle grade novel to me, albeit an intense and still relatively interesting one.

The world-building present in The Dark City is subtle and yet comprehensive. The use of magic by Galen and Raffi, while not extensively clarified, was explained enough to be understandable and not overwhelming. The cast of characters were quite darling, also, with their own little quirks and secrets. Even though the plot tended to drag noticeably in the beginning and middle parts of the novel, I think the ending was a success overall.

Book one of the Relic Master series, The Dark City will appeal to middle grade fantasy lovers and readers who are willing to plunge into the fantastical world of the magic-wielding Order and the seemingly omniscient Watch.

Rating: 3
fairly intriguing

The Jewel and the Key by Louise Spiegler

Published July 11th 2011 by Clarion Books
272 pages
Source: ARC via Flamingnet Teen Book Reviews

It was definitely the mirror and the earthquake that started it all. One moment, Addie is strolling through the crumbling streets and frantic crowds of Seattle; and the next, she is amongst weirdly dressed people who apparently make a habit of injuring each other with bricks. It is in this parallel world that Addie meets Reg and discovers the Jewel, a professional theater and any budding actress’s dream. When she is offered a job as assistant director, Addie makes every effort to return to this old version of Seattle as frequently as possible. When events in each world seem to almost mirror each other, Addie realizes that there is a lot more at stake than her own desires.

I am often weary of time travel books, as it is very easy to butcher them. However, I enjoyed The Jewel and the Key immensely. The fact that I had never heard of the Industrial Workers of the World, an organization central to the novel’s plot, was very surprising considering the long hours I’ve spent in various high school U.S. history classes. The author’s incorporation of history and theatrical arts sets up a great background for the novel.

Also like every other YA story, there is lurrrve. What seems like a love triangle at first quickly becomes more of a line segment or a diatomic covalent molecule (if you are in a particularly chemistry-oriented mood like yours truly). The object of Addie’s affections is young Reg, a flamboyant actor with quite a dramatic personality. Their relationship was adorable, and the conclusion succeeded in stealing a few tears from me. I actually went back and reread the ending a few times after finishing the novel. I guess it can be described as bittersweet without going overboard with cheesiness. Mostly, it was just heartbreaking.

The Jewel and the Key is a quaint historical novel that packs quite a punch. It also contributed to my lack of sleep, as I couldn’t stop myself from reading late into the night instead of sleeping like the rest of the normal human beings in my time zone.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Jenna & Jonah's Fauxmance by Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin

Published February 1st 2011 by Walker Books
240 pages
Source: Review Copy via TeensReadToo

Charlie hates Fielding, and vice versa. What do you even expect? The two have been practically glued at the hip against their will for the last four years as promotion for their popular hit tween TV show Jenna & Jonah’s How to Be a Rock Star. It isn’t until the paparazzi pick up on a vicious rumor about the pair that they are forced to escape to an obscure beach house to ride out the publicity wave. Among the blessed quietness that accompanies obscurity, Charlie and Fielding proceed to discover something surprising: they really don’t know each other at all.

Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance is the type of novel that would correspond to some sort of crème-filled chocolate doughnut in the delightful world of food. It is definitely sweet, but eating too much of it will induce episodes of barfing. While I enjoy this type of bubbly and extremely non-surprising teeny bopper lit, they must be enjoyed in moderation. I mean, just look at the book’s cover. So very pink. Even the book jacket itself resembles some sort of doughnut.

The novel has its fair share of aww moments and some other facepalm ones. Unlike other bubbly novels, the two characters weren’t annoying most of the time, which made reading through this quite a breeze. Charlie and Fielding are quite dense about each other, though. And sometimes you just can’t help yourself from wanting to smack the two atop the head with something heavy, maybe an anvil of some sort.

Jenna & Jonah’s Fauxmance is a great pick for people who find delight in light, fluffy teen lit.

Rating: 3
fairly intriguing

Edda by Conor Kostick

Expected publication: August 4th 2011 by Viking Childrens Books
400 pages
Series: Epic #3
Source: ARC via VOYA

Penelope has known no world beside the video game universe Edda her entire life. Living as the only human avatar in a land of electronic beings, she bears the title Princess and scripts weapons into digital existence for Lord Scanthax as aid for his expanding empire. As a young girl, she was eager to please the cold Lord father figure. But as Penelope matures and discovers her lack of freedom and the reality behind her emaciated human body, fed through tubes and always plugged up to a game console to access Edda, she decides to exact revenge on the beings who have taken advantage of her trust and innocence. While Edda readies for battle for yet another conquest, another band of travels led by Cindella and Ghost from the universe Saga are gathering forces. Nothing is resolved until peace is achieved.

Edda was quite a unique book. I am not an avid gamer myself (aside from the odd Pokemon game here and there), but the novel still managed to capture my attention at the very beginning. Well, to tell you the truth, the interest began to wan as I continued through Edda, and by the end, I was glad to finally read the last word and close up the book.

The novel was definitely written quite well, something I hadn’t originally expected, given the subject and setting of Edda. However, even the hard-core fantasy fan in me had trouble getting into the storyline. The viewpoint jumps from Penelope’s struggles in Lord Santhax’s castle to Cindella and the others’ journey through the electronic realms. What bothered me to no end was the lack of tension, I suppose. Penelope spends the entire novel plotting, and Cindella spends the entire novel traveling and killing things that got in their way. The resolution was short and took up only about 30 pages out of the 440 page book.

Although the novel was not my cup of tea, Edda will appeal to fantasy and sci-fi fans alike, and of course, gamers will enjoy the references to gaming spread throughout.

Rating: 2
oh so unremarkable

Angel by James Patterson

Published February 14th 2011 by Little, Brown Books
291 pages
Series: Maximum Ride #7
Source: Review Copy via TeensReadToo

Fang has left, and Max, hurt and bewildered, has no idea how to function anymore. She knows that the world still needs saving -- that life is bigger than the two of them -- but it is one thing to say it and another to believe it. When the deserter, he-whose-name-must-never-be-mentioned, fires a call their way out of the blue, Max, Dylan, and the gang is dragged into yet another plot for world domination -- or in this case, mass destruction. The Doomsday Group has suddenly sprung up out of nowhere. With its hypnotic figurehead, the DG is gaining followers fast. After witnessing a group rally, the two groups led by Max and Fang journey to the DG’s headquarters in an attempt to crush the cult right at its roots. Never underestimate a group of crazed and fanatical humans, even if they aren’t genetically enhanced, even if they aren’t the future of mankind, as the DG have started to call Max and her little group. The future of mankind, huh? That is quite a title.

Followers of the Maximum Ride series have come a long way, from Max’s first discovery of her real identity to the various times her gang has successfully thwarted a crazed scientist or politician of some sort. Angel, this newest installment of the series, brings forth with it yet another villain to eradicate, which makes it feel as if the former books of the series don’t matter at all plot-wise. At least Max hasn't lost her sarcastic touch and gangstah attitude. The addition of Dylan, the new gorgeous bird-mutant guy, creates -- yes, you guessed it -- a love triangle. Really, Mr. Patterson, I expected more of you. Maximum Ride started out as a fresh new series and has now been reduced to just another teen paranormal novel -- in terms of characterization, at least.

While the plot of this book grabbed the reader’s attention, there was not much depth. Even so, I could not resist reading the novel in one sitting so I suppose I shouldn’t be complaining. I did feel like Mr. Patterson was making too much of an effort to sound like a teen girl, though. Yes, Max is fifteen, but like, teen girls don’t like, OMG, add in a “like” every few letters when they like, talk, you know? I was fifteen just four months ago. Trust me; I know what I’m talking about.

Despite all that, Maximum Ride is addictive and a very fun read. I know it seems as if I butchered every aspect of Angel, but still, I will not hesitate to obtain a copy of the next book in the series when it becomes published. We have a weird relationship, Max and I.

Rating: 3
fairly intriguing

Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Published February 1st 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
320 pages
Source: Review Copy via TeensReadToo

Orphaned at a young age, Grace and Lily Parkes barely scrape by living off of the revenue from their watercress-selling operation. When Grace -- barely sixteen herself -- gives birth to a stillborn baby boy, she embarks on a train ride that causes her to crash head-on into two individuals who ultimately come to define the sisters’ messy future. And what a messy future it is, for the entirety of legal London is abuzz over Grace and Lily, two oblivious heiresses to a huge fortune left by their deceased father. A desperate race for the money ensues as the affluent families in London begin to plot for ways to take advantage of the Parkes sisters, and the trusting girls step right into these well-woven traps. Eventually, a boy will rescue one girl, and she will stop at nothing until her sister is by her side once again.

Fallen Grace is one of those novels you chew through slowly because of its meticulously and beautifully described setting. Ms. Hooper delivers a stunning portrayal of 17th century England, complete with opulent characters and an abundance of child beggars; even the King and Queen make a random appearance. However, the plot turned out to be rather slow in the beginning. I kept waiting for the pacing to pick up: it never did. The entire book felt like an easy rambling walk -- unhurried and enjoyable, until you get bored and decide to run like a maniac and feel the wind in your hair instead.

A nicely written novel nevertheless, Fallen Grace will appeal to avid readers of historical fiction.

Rating: 3.5
between fairly intriguing and delightfully scrumptious

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Published January 1st 2006 by Greenwillow Books
280 pages
Series: The Queen's Thief
Source: Borrowed

The Thief started out as nothing special. The plot seemed mediocre, and I had trouble creating a mental image of Gen -- the main character, narrator, and thief -- in my head. But after the first few chapters, I found myself suddenly very engrossed in the novel and couldn't for the life of me put the book down to eat, sleep, or perform any of life's necessary functions...

Oh, Ms. Turner, what a tangled web you weave. The Thief had the type of ending I love best. It was unexpected, tied up everything nicely, and made the reader want the next book in the series without being frustratingly cliffhanger-ish. Now I shall try to restrain myself and go to sleep instead of starting the next book in the Attolia series.

Rating: 4.5
between delightfully scrumptious and incomprehensibly awesome

A Time of Miracles by Anne-Laure Bondoux

Published November 9th 2010 by Delacorte Books
224 pages
Source: Review Copy via TeensReadToo

Koumail knows exactly who he is: Blaise Fortune, undisputable and abandoned-through-a-train-accident French boy. Even as the seven-year-old flees the collapsing Soviet Union with Gloria, his beloved mother figure, Koumail knows that there will always be a safe haven for the faux mother-son duo in France. It turns out to be a journey fraught with hard work and starvation, doubt and heartbreak. Through it all, Koumail merely has to recite one sentence -- just one -- to make sure he still has the strength to continue. My name is Blaise Fortune and I am a citizen of the French Republic. It’s the pure and simple truth. Or is it?

Wow, A Time of Miracles is a little 200+ page novel that packs quite a punch. Translated from French, this story is told as an extended flashback laced with intricate details and told in flowing prose. Originally, the synopsis failed to impress me, and I started this book with a feeling of dread, often reminding myself of the fact that I could simply write a scathing review to vent my feelings afterward. Well, I apologize profusely to this book. To put it simply: I was blown away. This is just a simple story of a boy and a woman, escaping oppression and searching for freedom. And yet, it was also emotional and gripping all at once. Ms. Bondoux definitely succeeded in drawing out the reader’s sympathy for the two characters.

And Koumail, oh Koumail -- funny, sweet, and fiercely protective of Gloria. It isn’t possible for someone to not like this little boy. He entertains with his antics, his blind faith, and the three true loves he meets on their short journey. Even while Koumail’s begging in front of a random restaurant in the icy coldness, he’s still alight with hope.

A Time of Miracles is a surprisingly moving historical novel. It is one of those books you close with a quiet sigh.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Published June 7th 2011 by Margaret K. McElderry
459 pages
Series: Dustlands #1
Source: eARC via Simon & Schuster Galley Grab

Nothing but a ginormous orange sandstorm signals the approaching danger that fateful day Saba’s darling twin brother Lugh gets kidnapped from Silverlake and taken away bound up in rope. Desperate and broken-hearted, Saba -- with the unwelcomed and unshakable presence of her little sister Emmi -- sets out to bring Lugh back. When the two girls are temporarily detained in Hopetown, Saba learns of the Sun King and the reason for Lugh’s capture and allies herself with the warrior Free Hawks and the ever infuriating cage-fighter Jack. Renewed with hope and greater numbers, the group starts out on a trek through the land. Their one goal: Lugh’s freedom, and possibly liberation for all.

Holy crap in a cup (Young, 379). This novel was an exciting ride reminiscent of other great high fantasy novels; well, only without all the fantastical elements. The action picks up right from the start, and the story doesn’t slacken in intensity until the very last page. Great side characters and creatures like the hellwurm -- which totally reminded me of those sandworms in Frank Herbert’s Dune series -- combined to become a great backdrop for the adventure and the two main characters Saba and Jack.

These two had their fair share of aww moments. Saba is head-strong but obviously has a soft side for the guy. And Jack, cocky and teasing, contains just the right amount of magic to balance out Saba’s stubbornness. The chemistry between the pair is a cool blend of fake contempt, attraction, jealousy, and mutual affection. Saba, mostly in denial about her feelings toward Jack, is facepalm-inducing at times. But overall, they are one well-matched and well-paired couple.

Blood Red Road is a great dystopian debut. Don’t be discouraged by the slightly mediocre cover; an epic tale awaits you within its pages.

Rating: 4
delightfully scrumptious

Angel Burn by L.A. Weatherly

Published May 24th 2011 by Candlewick Press
449 pages
Series: Angel Trilogy #1
Source: ARC from Candlewick Press via NetGalley

Willow has always been psychic. Simply grasping someone’s hand will give her access to a person’s possible futures, which Willow views as branchings off a tree. When her classmate Beth unexpectedly asks for a reading, Willow is plunged into a world of deadly, human-consuming angels and slowly begins to understand the intricacies of cattle farming -- or human aura trafficking, whichever term you prefer. As the angels become aware of Willow’s existence and decide that they want her dead, Willow is whisked off on a daring escape plan with angel assassin Alex, and the two set off on a road-trip to save themselves and perhaps the entirety of humankind. It turns out to be a trip filled with deception and gun chases and auto theft; after all, these aren’t peaceful little fluffy-winged angels we’re talking about here.

Angel Burn contains a set of very untraditional angels and two extremely cute main characters -- and here, I seriously stress the word cute. The evil angels’ background acted as a great hook, and the author knows exactly how to create enough suspense to prevent the reader from putting down the book. The alternating perspectives are slightly disjointed at times, but overall it succeeded in portraying the feelings of various characters. Willow is the only one honored with first person, and in my humble I’m-not-an-editor-but-it’s-ok opinion, the author would have been better off simply keeping her in third person like the rest of the characters.

Kudos to Miss Weatherly for giving Alex and Willow time to get to know each other before proceeding to the lovey-dovey stage. However, once they got to that stage, the cheesiness began to overwhelm. Now, I am generally a proud enjoyer of cheesy romance novels; still, there were some scenes that morphed my aww, they’re so adorable into an ugh, guys, please stop before I start puking rainbows.

All in all, this novel was a surprisingly great read. I am looking forward to the sequel, Angel Fire.

Rating: 3.5
between fairly intriguing and delightfully scrumptious

The Hunt of the Unicorn by C.C. Humphreys

Published March 8th 2011 by Knopf Books
341 pages
Source: Review Copy via Flamingnet Teen Book Reviews

Elayne has lost all hope for her father’s recovery as he battles leukemia, and it is with a feeling of defeat that Elayne sits down with him one night and cracks open the old volume entitled The Maid and the Unicorn. Elayne reads of the story of the magical weaver Francois Robochon, his daughter and her namesake Alice-Elayne, and the escape from Goloth, Land of the Fabulous Beast on the back of a unicorn. Even as Elayne scoffs at the fantastical story, her father insists on its authenticity and presents a supposed unicorn horn passed down from Elayne’s ancestor to her as a gift. It isn’t until Elayne comes face to face with tapestries depicting the great unicorn and woven with the initials AE that she finally realizes the truth, although the realization does come just a bit too late. Plunging head-first into the Land of the Fabulous Beast, Elayne seeks to discover a cure for her father and possibly save Goloth from its tyrannical ruler, the descendant of the weaver Robochon’s murderer, King-Elect Leo.

The Hunt of the Unicorn turned out to be a lot more than I’d originally expected. The beginning was a bit heavy on the info-dumping, but the authors chose a more creative method. We read about the entire history and back-story as Elayne herself reads from The Maid and the Unicorn, and her commentaries certainly added to the story.

It took me 80 pages to get into the story, and the rest of the book flew by as a result. We are introduced to fascinating Moonspill, handsome Leo, joking Marc, sweetmeat-addicted Amaryllis, and other charming or back-stabbing characters as the story progresses. My favorite being the two-headed amphisbaena snake, who, upon meeting Elayne, proceeds to exchange their knowledge of the language of the beasts with her for her knowledge of modern English. It is quite entertaining to hear the snake, especially the Baena half, speak in a mix of Olde English and “teenspeak.”

The Hunt of the Unicorn is a great addition to the plethora of unicorn books out there. It stands out among the rest, too.

Rating: 3
fairly intriguing
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