Monday, March 28, 2011

Arty - Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison

I had no idea that Persy had also read this book until I looked up Mette Ivie Harrison on Amazon and saw, underneath it, The Princess And The Hound. Who knew? So you're getting another Harrison offering (with a much more satisfied reviewer than Hound got).

In return for some firewood for her mother, Mira is traded to Zerba the witch. There, she meets Zerba's other apprentice, a beautiful girl who immediately takes Mira as her sister. Mira would do anything for her new sister... and is turned into a magic mirror for her love. Then, one day, the sister vanishes. Mira waits on the wall as a hundred years pass.

Then Ivana stumbles into Mira's life. A poor peasant girl, Mira finds Ivana easy to use. They set off and meet a merchant and his daughter, who take them in. Then, as the back of the book says, they 'are on their way to find a new kind of magic.'

Mira, Mirror is a retelling of Snow White at its basic plot... but there's so much more to it than that! It goes behind the fairytale, beneath it, then above it and beyond it. (Tying in Beauty and the Beast themes does nothing to disappoint me, either.)

The nature of magic is one of the best points. In Mira's world, magic is largely taken from the fading life of the dying. It's not a cute, pretty sort of ability. It had me sick at a few points.

Then there's the total grayness of all the characters. None of them are either all good or all bad, not even Mira or her sister. Mira uses Ivana and Talia, the merchant's daughter, in order to get magic. Talia, while intelligent and strong, is also arrogant, loud, and bossy. Sweet, obsequious Ivana is not much for bravery or, sometimes, intelligence. Merchant Minitz, Talia's father, who, while awesome, can be stubborn and hard-headed.

But they're all so amazing.

This is, of course, at its core, a fairytale, so some of the twists can be a little random or far-fetched. And Harrison tends to wander with Mira's musings. But those are little things compared to the loveliness of this book.

Basically, everything about it makes me happy, in that tragic way that only good fairytales with great endings can give. I don't want to say too much about it - you really should not know anything about how Mira ends - but, trust me, this is not a book you want to miss.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Persy -- Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Welcome to the Southern town of Gatlin, and when we say Southern, we mean Southern. You don't say 'Civil War' down here, you say 'War Between The States'. Every year, you do participate in the Civil War Reenactment. You don't keep secrets in Gatlin.

The exception, of course, is Macon Ravenwood and "Amma". Macon Ravenwood is the town's Boo Radley, as they often call him. No one's ever seen him, he never comes out of his manor. Amma is Ethan Wate's housekeeper/almost-grandmother. Ethan Wate is a teenage boy. Lena Duchannes is Macon Ravenwood's niece who appears out of nowhere and does not fit in. At all. Plus, she's got more than a few secrets.

But here's the deal, Ethan's had dreams about Lena long before they've ever met. And the closer he gets to the mysterious girl, the more secrets Gatlin unveils. Ethan learns about Amma's past, he meets the infamous Macon Ravenwood, and he gets pulled into a mystery surrounding his and Lena's ancestors centuries ago. Ethan determinedly picks at all of Lena's layers until he finds out the truth, and then he has to keep digging to save her from her destiny.

This book surprised me, I'll just say that right now. I'm not sure what I was expecting when I opened it up, but I was thinking along the lines of a random supernatural character, some bad writing, and long speeches of heartfelt love. Forget that. This book is more of a cross between historical mystery and supernatural romance/mystery.

Plus, Macon Ravenwood is so freakin' awesome I thought I might die. But anyway.

I often got tired of Lena. She's an easily depressed and hopeless girl who can't seem to make up her mind about her other personality traits. But Ethan's not a bad guy, even though he makes a few stupid mistakes throughout the story.

And now for the plot itself. It was actually a pretty okay plot, but the ending seemed...convenient. Sort of like the authors wrote themselves into a corner, didn't want to make a decision, and so threw in a very lucky forecast. I'm hoping they'll actually make a resolution about the 'destiny' thing in the second book. And they also make a big deal out of how Ethan can always predict the murderer in movies and is great at solving puzzles, but he only really uses this skill once, when it seems like it would've sprung into gear many more times. Plus, why did no one ever just SMACK RIDLEY?


Anyway. Besides the ending and the no-smacking-of-Ridley, the only things that really bothered me was that some of the elements strongly reminded me of one of my friend's books and there was a character named Wesley Jefferson -- the name of my cousin. Luckily, they actually called him Link the whole time, so it wasn't too disconcerting after his initial introduction.

To conclude, Beautiful Creatures is a pretty fascinating mystery with one of the awesomest characters ever with only a few unfortunate plotholes and annoyances. It really is rather unique, and I'd reccommend it to teenage mystery-lovers who also have a thing for the supernatural. I get the feeling that Kami Garcia's and Margaret Stohl's writing will get better with time, so I'm really looking forward to the second book, Beautiful Darkness.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arty -- Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Julia is the unfortunate best friend of an Enthusiast. Ashleigh's crazes never last long, but while they do, Ashleigh has to pursue everything remotely related to the current one - and she drags Julie along with her.

Julie tries not to complain. After all, if not for Ashleigh, where would she have learned candy-making? But now Ashleigh's craze is also Julie's - Jane Austen. After reading Pride and Prejudice at Julie's request, Ashleigh is determined to meet her Mr. Darcy. And she has a plan to do it - crash a 'ball' an all-boy prep school, of course.

While they're there, it's Julie who thinks she's found Mr. Darcy - handsome kendo expert Grandison Parr. There's just one problem: Ashleigh's fallen for Parr too. Forgot stealing Julie's favorite books - is her Enthusiast friend going to steal her guy too?

This is definitely chick lit. I had no illusions about that. But this is Jane Austen chick lit, so that makes it all a whole lot better.

For one thing, not every waking moment is panicking about Parr or any of the other guys. Julie is an intelligent, mature girl, and her decisions concerning Ashleigh's and Parr's 'romance' is really selfless. At first I was afraid it'd turn into a he-doesn't-like-me-so-I'll-be-miserable sort of situation, but it didn't. You could say Enthusiasm is more of a friendship story than a romance, with the way both Julie and Ashleigh gave up certain things to make the other happy.

I also really enjoyed the way Shulman didn't make Parr perfect. Not that he wasn't darn close, but he read like a real guy - kind of awkward at first, unsure of himself.

Enthusiasm wasn't perfect. Readers of Pride and Prejudice will recognize some definite characters and plot twists, but those parts just weren't executed as well as Shulman's original parts. It felt like she was trying too hard - the trip to New York (mirroring the trip Elizabeth Bennet took with her aunt and uncle) was practically tossed into the book for good measure; Chris, the Wickham figure, had very little real value to the plot; and Seth's position of Mr. Collins was more than a little awkward.

Enthusiasm had a great beginning, but towards the end, everything just fell apart. It felt much more like any other chick lit novel than a witty Jane Austenian take-off. I can understand how pulling off an ending like Jane Austen would be difficult, but it seems like Shulman barely even tried.

So if you're a fan of friendship/romance novels, Jane Austen, or if you just need a quick read for the beach, without thinking too hard, Enthusiasm is the perfect book for you.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Persy -- Generation Dead by Daniel Waters

For a while now, teenagers in America haven't been staying dead. Everywhere else in the world, no zombies have appeared, and not even America are there middle aged, juvenile, or senior citizens rising from the grave. And in Oakville, a surprisingly large number of "living impaired" have gathered.

Phoebe Kendall, though a goth, isn't a zombie. But her previous best friend, Colette, is. Also, Phoebe's getting more and more interested in Tommy, one of the quicker zombies who has high goals.

But though Phoebe and her two friends, Adam and Margi (both alive), are accepted into the undead circle and break down the walls of prejudice and fear, not everyone has. Tommy ambitiously tries out for the football team, where the coach and all his teammates (except Adam) try relentlessly to make him quit. More and more zombies are getting attacked and beaten just for existing. And by making friends with them, Phoebe has made herself a target.

Generation Dead, first in the series, is pretty darn amazing. Let's just put that right out there. It's realistic, gripping, intense, thought-provoking (you know how much I hate saying that). Though Phoebe's not the most amazing main character, she's certainly not the worst. Adam makes up for it, though, and while lots of the characters aren't strictly likeable, they're realistic and well rounded.

But what really makes this book a winner for me is the plot. It's not long before you're questioning everything the zombies say, shaking the book in an attempt to make Tommy talk, and practically tearing your eyes out wishing you could read faster. And the ending... I'm not giving a thing away, but let's just say I had to sit still for a while to absorb it. It took my breath away (heheh, like zombies? They don't breathe? Okay, anyway...). Not everyone can pull off that kind of 'explanation', but Daniel Waters did it admirably. I still can't wait to read the second book.

Even if you don't strictly like zombies, I'd reccommend this book. It's about zombies, but it's not about zombies, if you know what I mean. Five stars, Mr. Waters.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls

Urban Fantasy. The genre that is adored by some, and looked on with a bit of disdain by others (the more 'serious' bibliophiles). The style that delves into the dark shadows of the world, the world of vampires, werewolves, demons, and faeries... Or just creates situations where some stupid mortal falls for a supernatural creature.

Needless to say, there are many, many books in the urban fantasy genre. Most aren't all that great, some are okay, and a few are just amazing. Now, I admit to sometimes being a bit embarrassed to read an urban fantasy book, mostly just because of the stereotype. Even the name 'urban fantasy' doesn't sound very cool anymore because of its reputation. Maybe we should rename it. Not 'paranormal' or 'supernatural', because those are genres in themselves, and tend to imply more ghost/zombie kind of thing, while 'urban fantasy' is more focused on vampires/werewolves, etc. Though really, the terms are probably interchangeable.

But anyway, back to the point. The point is, there are good urban fantasy books that I'd reccommend to anyone, not just your local Twilighter. The following is a 'countdown' of sorts of thirteen urban fantasy (or urban fantasyish) novels that deserve more than a passing glance.

13. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

Yes, yes, anyone who knows me knows my opinion on Twilight. I'm a 'Twilight Hater', so to speak, but let's be honest. Twilight, as in the very first book, is actually pretty good. The Twilight saga however, is utter crap in my personal opinion. But the first book is definitely worth reading (though if Bella had just been vampified at the end, we wouldn't've had to mess with all the nonsense of the other three books, and it would've been a great stand-alone novel).

12. Blood And Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause.

This is an 'oldie', from 1997, and something of a classic to me. Vivian Gandillon is a teenage werewolf who falls for a human boy, at the same time trying to ignore the advances of the potential pack leader, Gabriel. It's really very good, and not just your every day urban fantasy inter-species romance. The movie was annoyingly different though.

11. Sucks To Be Me by Kimberly Pauley.

Mina Hamilton is the teenage daughter of two vampires, and they want her to become a vampire too. So while trying to get through normal highschool, she's also being forced to take vampire classes as well. This is a fun, more humorous look for the vampire scene, but at the same time serious and realistic.

10. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.

Let's make one thing clear: adult urban fantasy and teenage urban fantasy are two different things. But still, there's bad adult urban fantasy and good adult urban fantasy. This is good adult urban fantasy. Mercedes Thompson (Mercy) can turn into a coyote, and was raised by a pack of wolves. This looks like your average adult urban fantasy novel, but it was actually a surprisingly good book. There was a lot of plot and mystery, with various twists and turns. Don't judge books by their covers.

9. The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks.

These vampires are not romantic, sexy, or powerful. They're dead. Which means they're rather fragile, and not at all young and spritely. Nina Harrison, the youngest at fifteen, hates the support group they're all in, but when one of their members is killed by a silver bullet, Nina dives head on into the mystery. Catherine Jinks is awesome no matter what she does.

8. Devilish by Maureen Johnson.

I don't know if this is strictly urban fantasy, probably more supernatural/chick lit. That's the problem with Maureen Johnson, most of her books are probably chick lit, but they're so much more interesting! Jane goes to a prep school with her best friend Ally, who ends up selling her soul for popularity. Jane must save her friend from the demon while protecting her own soul. This is definitely one of my favorite books, whether it's actually urban fantasy or not.

7. Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Quincie's parents die, and so she takes over the restaurant, giving it a makeover to make it vampire themed. She hires a new chef, who 'masquerades' as a real vampire, but things start to get confusing. And don't forget Quincie's hybrid-werewolf boyfriend. This book never ceases to make me hungry, but is beautifully written nonetheless.

6. Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare.

As with Devilish, I'm not sure if this is really urban fantasy. I'm not sure why it doesn't feel like it though, because I'm not sure what else you'd call it. Clary gets pulled into the world of Shadowhunters and Underworlders (demons, vampires, werewolves) when she begins seeing things she shouldn't be able to see. This is one of my all time favorite series', so go read it.

5. Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent.

Bean sidhes. Or banshees, as we say. Either way, it's not something you read about very often. But Rachel Vincent has a great world of them, with a main character, Kaylee, who isn't an idiot and supporting characters who are also very cool. And what's really amazing is how both sequels I've read turned out to be pretty good as well.

4. Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde.

Yeah, yeah, you all know I'm a huge fan of Vivian Vande Velde. And her vampires are as awesome as her dragons, witches, and smart dogs. What's absolutely brilliant about this book is how the vampire is never really good. He's almost always the bad guy (until the very end, and even then, you aren't really totally sure). Also, it doesn't completely resolve itself at the end, which will leave almost any reader happy. Love this book. So much.

3. Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine.

This is another one of those vampires-are-actually-evil series'. Genius Claire Danvers moves to Morganville, Texas, to go to college. There, she ends up moving into a house with three other people, a goth, the rarely seen owner, and another dude. But the longer she stays in Morganville, the weirder things get, until the real situation is finally explained to her. Vampires rule Morganville.

2. Generation Dead by Daniel Waters.

This is yet another book I'm not sure you'd classify as urban fantasy, because it's all about zombies and doesn't have any werewolves or vampires at all. But this book is so good and close enough to the genre to end up #2 on this list. It's surprisingly touching and (if I dare say it), thought provoking. I have high hopes for the second book.

1. Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris.

This is something everyone should've heard of by now. Kind of like Twilight, but everyone knows this is awesome. Sookie Stackhouse is a psychic who lives in Louisiana, and being telepathic is no picnic. That is, until she meets Vampire Bill. Even at book #10, this series has great plot, great characters, and great Sookie. True, it gets a little complicated the more you read, but that's only because it's a very developed world. The TV show, True Blood is a pretty decent adaptation, but not neearly as good (plus it's also, like, rated X and the books aren't as bad).

And there it is. Granted, lots of these books I actually love equally, so giving them all numbers seems a bit unfair, but still, they're mostly ranged from least awesome to totally awesome. Maybe this will give you some hope for the urban fantasy novels, and keep you from entirely passing over this genre. Because let's be honest: there are gems in every genre.