Saturday, May 28, 2011

Persy -- Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

Creel isn't the most fortunate of peasants. She lives with her aunt, and, in an effort to marry Creel off and get more money, her aunt sends her into a dragon cave and runs off to tell the local knight that a beautiful young maid has been captured by a dragon. Creel isn't especially beautiful, but her aunt has her hopes.

Since Creel doesn't want to be rescued by or marry the local knight, she reasons with the dragon and discovers that not all dragons have heaps of treasure after all. In face, most dragons don't like gold. Instead, they each have one thing they love. This particular dragon likes shoes. After a bit of bargaining, Creel manages to escape along with a new pair of shoes from the dragon's collection. They're like no slippers Creel has ever had before, but they're incredibly comfortable and fit her perfectly.

Instead of going back to her little village, Creel heads for the King's city in the hopes of becoming a professional embroiderer. But before she's even halfway there, she is set upon by a band of thieves! Not to worry, though, for a dragon named Shardas swoops out of the sky and carries her off to safety -- that or for his next meal.

Shardas collects glass windows, and Creel is immediately enchanted when she enters the dragon's lair. The two quickly become friends, and Creel stays with Shardas for several weeks while she expands her sewing examples. Neither friend wants to leave the other, but they know it's for the best.

But almost as soon as Creel sets foot in the King's city, she offends the foreign princess who has arrived to marry the prince. And when she finally escapes that ordeal and settles down in a sewing shop, she finds her troubles are not over. Not only is city life not all that she dreamed, but the snobby foreign princess is not gone forever. As Creel struggles to keep up her sewing, she uncovers a dangerous plot that not only puts herself at risk, but also her dragon friends!

This is a wonderful book. Creel is a great main character (and you know how rare those are), and the supporting characters really are just as great. Jessica Day George actually did an admirable job of steering away from some character clichés, though she knows which ones are classics for a reason. And then the plot was great as well! It goes from simply country girl trying to make her way in the city to a full-blown dragon war! *happy sigh* And it has a great ending as well. And you know how much I adore fabulous endings.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have a soft spot for both fairy tales and dragons, but even if you don't, I'm sure you'd like this book as well. I'd give it to fantasy loving tweens or teens, and fans of Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing With Dragons/Enchanted Forest Chronicles are also sure to love this series. There are two more books in the Dragon Slippers series, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear that I'm just itching to get my hands on. And if you still want more George or if you're a fan of fairy tale retellings, she's got an ongoing series Princesses Of The Midnight Ball which currently contains two books.

Looking at Dragon Slippers, you probably wouldn't expect much, but it's a great fantasy story about dragons and sewing that is a must-read.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Arty -- Dying To Meet You by Kate and Sarah Klise

Ignatius B. Grumply (or I.B. Grumply) is a famous children's author who hates children. Digest that.

Now. Grumply needs to finish his new book, one in a long series of ghost stories for kids. But he's not inspired. So he rents a house in Ghastly, Illinois to get away from his publisher and recharge his batteries, so to speak.

The house he gets? The charming one portrayed in the picture to the left. It's the home of the Hopes - Les and Diane Hope, to be exact, and their son, Seymour. The Hope parents are famous paranormal investigators and have left Seymor at their house alone.

For Grumply to take care of. Oh - and did I mention the ghost of the unpublished author still living in the house, who happens to be friends with Seymour?

What follows is what might be called a 'graphic epistolary novel,' and a delightful one it is, too. I mean, look at the cover - how can a book with that lovely cover ever be bad? (I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover... but still.) I just wish I could have found a bigger picture so you could really sink your visual teeth into it.

Enough about the cover. If you don't get out much, an epistolary novel is one that is told completely through letters and other sorts of communication (emails, instant messaging, business letters, etc.). A graphic novel is one with pictures. So we have a book about a grumpy old author, a lonely boy, and an unpublished ghost (Olive C. Spence), told through business communiqués, personal letters, and even ongoing conversations between Grumply and Olive on Grumply's word processor, all embellished with Seymour's pictures.

It's as adorable as it sounds. It's easily read - I finished it in about an hour - but it's not just another dumb kid's book. It's funny, it's clever (even if the premise isn't too original), and the interactions between Grumply, Olive, and Seymour are amazing - especially Olive and Grumply. I love bossy, take-charge ghosts, and Olive really gives it to old Grumply. I laughed out loud more than a few times.

Another highlight? The names. Every single name had a joke in it. I.B. Grumply. Olive C. Spence. Paige Turner (the publisher). M. Balm (a resident of Ghastly). Anita Sale (the real estate agent). It's hilarious! Maybe I was just in a good mood, but everything seemed so witty.

Maybe the business interactions aren't very businesslike - what do you want in a kid's book, the Wall Street Journal? Maybe the ending is a little too easy - it still makes you smile. Maybe it's not a perfect book - can you show me one? As far as I'm concerned, Dying To Meet You - the first book of the series 43 Old Cemetery Road - is a must-read.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls

If you're either odd or just very perceptive, you may have noticed a new tag/label popping up: awesomed. This is just a new little 'genre', so to speak, we've created to draw your attention to the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the books that just slap you in the face after you finish and shout, "You've just been AWESOMED!" We thought it'd be useful to make it as easy as possible for you to find those books with a simple click of the button. After all, it's our mission to bring to your attention the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the books that just slap you in the face after you finish and shout, "You've just been AWESOMED!"

In other news, the eleventh Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampires ( book, Dead Reckoning has finally been released! Yes, Charlaine Harris is still pouring out some good ole Sookie Stackhouse, and it's still good. Well, the tenth one was, anyway. I've decided to go back to the beginning and reread the entire series, partly because it's just so good and partly because things are getting complicated and I'd like to refresh my memory. So if you haven't started the series yet, it's certainly not too late. Jump right in and by the time you get to Dead Reckoning, maybe you'll be able to get a copy from the library really quick instead of having to wait.

The tenth volume in the Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine is also coming out this month. Claire is (presumably) still in Morganville and still hangin' with the vamps, and again, if you haven't read this series yet, you should start.

Some more new releases include books from Carrie Vaughn ("Kitty Norville"), Obert Skye ("Leven Thumps"), and one of my favorites, Garth Nix ("Old Kingdom" and "Keys To The Kingdom", which, curiosly, are completely separate series'...or are they?). Time to go hit the bookstore! Happy reading!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Persy -- The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Nick and Alan Ryves's life is one of constant motion. They never stay long in one place, have to always be ready to fight, and have to keep from getting into too much trouble just being them. Oh, and there's Olivia, their crazy mum. They have to look after her, too.

Many years ago, Olivia stole a powerful charm from one of the evil magicians (all magicians are evil, btw), Black Arthur. Ever since, Black Arthur (and just about every other magician) has been chasing them around the country, trying to get it back. And Olivia can't give it back, because it is now the only thing keeping her alive.

Nick wouldn't have a problem with his mum's death. Olivia can't stand the sight of Nick, and Nick can't stand the sight of her. But Alan cares about Olivia, so Nick won't let anything happen to their mum. Alan's the only person Nick cares about.

It's not a bad life. That is to say, they've gotten used to it. But everything goes topsy turvy when siblings Mae and Jamie Crawford come to them for help. A demon has been visiting Jamie, and he now has two demon marks on him, which means there's no hope. Nick tells them Jamie's death is now enevitable, and he's ready to move on. But Alan wants to help, and they end up getting into a whole mess of trouble.

From the very start I hated this book. It felt a bit too...written, if that makes any sense. None of the characters feel real, like someone you might meet on the street. They feel like characters. And then there's their characters. Let's start with Alan and Nick. Nick is always, always, always angry. He's the absolute extreme of teenage angry. Alan, on the other hand, is always, always, always nice and sympathetic and loves everybody. He's the absolute extreme of friendly love and happiness. Or something. Mae is just kind of there to have a girl character, and you can tell that Sarah Rees Brennan tried to make her interesting (pink hair, odd fashion sense, likes magic stuff), but it just didn't work. Mae is just there. Jamie is definitely my favorite character. He's kind of awkward and funny in a nerdy kind of way, and when he and Nick are stuck together things are always funny.

There were many, many times where I almost put down the book. I'd flip forward some, glimpse a mildly interesting paragraph, and then just keep reading in the hopes something got better. And then when I read the first half of the book in about an hour, I figured I might as well just finish it.

I've never been so irritated to find an author who writes well.

Turns out, there is an explanation for everything (well, mostly everything). There's a reason Nick is so, so, so angry all the freakin' time, anyway. Not much about Alan's lovey dovey-ness, but oh well.

I'm not going to tell you what the explanation is, because that would be ruining the most amazing plot twist ever. So, unfortunately, I'm going to have to recommend that you read this book, because it turns out Sarah Rees Brennan does kind of know what she's doing after all. Sigh.

The ending almost makes up for the rest of it, because it was a very good ending. And you know how I feel about endings: a good finale will make up for almost anything else you do. But I still can't quite like any of the characters, or even the world in general. But that one plot twist...*sigh*.

So this is obviously a very mixed review. Hated it almost the entire time I was reading it, but...GAAH. I hardly ever find a plot twist I don't see coming, so now that I've found one that actually makes perfect twist and took me completely by surprise, I can't help but respect and admire the book and writer who pulled it off. So venture into The Demon's Lexicon at your own risk.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Arty -- Just Ella by Margaret Petersen Haddix

Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. Right?

Well, Just Ella goes a little bit further and deeper. Sort of.

It opens after Prince Charming has asked Ella to marry him, and, of course, after she's accepted. She now lives at his palace, waiting for the wedding to take place. But all is not happily ever after. The men are vapid and shallow, and the women try to teach Ella to be a 'proper lady' with endless embroidery lessons and much fainting. No, this is not what Ella expected - especially when she starts to fall out of love with Prince Charming... and into love with her tutor, Jed.

Ella's starting to find out that happily ever after doesn't always come that easily.

I love most of Haddix's other works (Double Identity is my favorite), so I'm convinced that she was just having a bad day when she decided to write Just Ella. The whole thing reads like a bad satire on traditional fairytales. The utter depravity of everyone who doesn't happen to agree with what Ella believes is ridiculous - especially considering that only one person really agrees with her.

The behavior of Ella's attendants is even more laughable. True, women are more 'delicate' in fairytales than most modern authors like. But Haddix blows those tendencies entirely out of proportion. If she's trying to make a feminist point, it's not a very well-supported one.

Then we have Prince Charming and Jed, the two 'love' interests. Prince Charming, on the one hand, is base, selfish, and weak. Jed, on the other hand, is thoughtful, funny, and a total wimp (that last one's my addition to what Haddix tries to get across). How Ella could ever choose Charming in the first place is beyond me; why she'd settle with Jed is just about as far away. Neither are round or interesting; they're just there.

Speaking of just there, that's pretty much the story. Looking back, I'm not even sure there was a real story, in the strictest sense of the word. Ella doesn't like castle. Ella hates Prince Charming and loves Jed. Ella gets in trouble for trying to get out of marriage. Ella is in jail. Ella gets out of jail. And on and on it goes. Ella just... drifts. It's not that she doesn't have a purpose. It's that the purpose is so in your face and bland that you really can't care.

Basically? This is a book to stay away from. I can't recommend it to anyone, unless you're in a mood to laugh at something. Sorry, Ms. Haddix - stick to original stories, please.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Persy -- I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

There's been a lot going around about I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (you have to say the whole thing 'cause it rhymes), mostly because of the movie recently coming out. I honestly had never heard of it before seeing ads for the movie, but I make it a point to read all books before seeing their corresponding film.

Way back in the day, 'bout fifteen years ago, the planet Lorien was attacked, and destroyed. Fortunately, a few of them escaped to Earth. Nine children total, each with one Cepan/guardian. But the Mogadorians, the race that destroyed Lorien, found out about the escape attempt, and have been hunting the nine ever since. One, Two, and Three have all fallen, and now it's Four's turn.

Four is a teenage boy who's had many, many different names. When he moves to Paradies, Ohio, he takes the name of John Smith (reeeeal inconspicuous). John knows he's next, but luckily, he's developing his legacies/powers. Unfortunately, they aren't very predictable and they take a lot of time and work to hone. Also unfortunately, John and his Cepan, Henri, don't have a lot of time. The Mogadorians are after them.

It may not sound very complicated, but it actually is. I was surprised and pleased to find that Lore really worked on the details to make everything work, and he took the time to explain things without it all getting too tedious. The Loric race(s) are mostly developed, and Lore provides good background on the way they used to live back when they had a planet.

Now for the plot. It's a straightforward thing (teenage boy runs from aliens), so not many people would have a ton of trouble executing it. Lore certainly didn't. He made the characters likeable, and while they didn't have extraordinary depth, they weren't just flat either. Sarah, John's human girlfriend, isn't infuriatingly annoying like most love interests, and John's best friend is pretty awesome (most of the time). One bad thing about the characters is that almost as soon as you start reading, you can tell who's going to die. I picked out all the "dying" characters and all the "surviving" characters, and - bingo! - I was right.

Here's what I liked most about I Am Number Four: It wasn't about John and Sarah. It was about John being a Lorien and trying to survive on Earth, dodging Mogadorians and the chance human who happened to get suspicious. And here's what I hated most about I Am Number Four: The ending climax. Every chapted near the end ended with John about to die, and he was always preparing himself, thinking "Well, this is the end, we had a good run", and every time it works out fine. It isn't even suspenseful, because you can tell he's not actually going to die. It was getting very old be the end, and everyone knows that if you have a good finish, it practically makes up for any other mistakes you made. And if you have a bad finish...well.

And then there's one more thing that taints the memory of I Am Number Four. The movie. Now, I haven't seen it yet, so I could be totally wrong, but I have seen the trailer. It looks like the movie is moer about John's and Sarah's romance than the aliens. Talk about a letdown. I'm still going to see it - eventually -, but I have very low expectations at the moment.

In conclusion, I Am Number Four is a surprisingly good science fiction novel, with more details than you might expect (plus more magicky science), and the bonus of it not being about a forbidden romance. It's definitely worth a read, even though it might not end up being your favorite book.