Posts tagged ‘400-449 pages’

Iron Hearted Violet

Iron Hearted VioletTitle: Iron Hearted Violet
Author: Kelly Barnhill
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
ISBN: 9780316056731
Pages: 424 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2012.

Violet didn’t notice that there was something…odd about her reflection in the mirror. If she had been paying attention, she might have seen that her reflection did not–as reflections typically do–mirror her movements and vanish into the limit of the mirrored space.
No. Her reflection remained.
It remained.
And as Violet–the real Violet–reached the end of the hall, wiping her tears away as she did, the reflection in the mirror–the wrong Violet–spread its lips into a cruel yellow grin. (63

There are whispers in the castle. Whispers of a thirteenth Old God, when only twelve are taught and talked about. There are whispers of war between the neighboring kingdoms, but especially from the Mountain King of the North. There are whispers that real princesses are beautiful, just like in the stories. Everyone, including Princess Violet, knows that Violet, the only child of the King and Queen to survive childbirth, is not beautiful. And there are whispers of a dragon, the first one to be seen in a century. All these whispers culminate into a deafening roar of war as forces beyond Violet’s control begin to influence her, her family, her friends, and even the castle itself. Will the ancient entity locked away all those years ago finally break free?

The book starts off slowly, intentionally building suspense as readers are privy to events that Violet, her friend Demetrius, and the rest of the characters are not aware. Reader’s will have a much more complete picture before the characters piece it together. The other odd point is that the castle’s story-teller is telling the story, but we so rarely get input from him that it’s almost jarring when asides get thrown in at random moments to contribute even more foreshadowing. The foreshadowing we do receive from the story could not have been known by the story-teller. Does that make sense? It almost would have worked better without the story teller’s asides or input.

That small quibble aside, I liked that Violet was NOT a pretty princess. Readers get to see a princess, of all people, have insecurities about her looks, and the very obvious message that looks don’t matter gets nailed home at the end. Fans of the movie Brave might see similarities between Violet and Disney’s frizzy-haired princess. The dragon isn’t your stereotypical dragon, although there are so few books now showing fierce, fire-breathing dragons that I wonder how stereotypical that idea is anymore. The slow seep of evil that begins to permeate the story, setting, and characters was probably my favorite part, as characters in the story didn’t notice the changes and affects until it was “almost” too late. I’d recommend this for the patient reader who is willing to let the story develop and isn’t put off by the lack of whiz-bang battles.

The Raven Boys

Raven BoysTitle: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Will Patton
ISBN: 9780545465939
Pages: 409 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press (Scholastic Audiobooks), c2012.

He fell to his knees — a soundless gesture for a boy with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Blue saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of his shoulder.
“Neeve,” Blue said. “Neeve, he’s — dying.”
Neeve had come to stand just behind her. She replied, “Not yet.”
Gansey was nearly gone now, fading into the church, or the church fading into him.
Blue’s voice was breathier than she would have liked. “Why — why can I see him?” [...]
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love,” Neeve said, “or you killed him.” (15-16)

Blue Sargent has been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and therefore has sworn off men entirely. But when she sees a spirit in a graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, there’s only two reasons she would see him: either she’s his true love or she killed him. Neither bodes well for Blue, so when she runs into the boy, named Gansey, when he visits her psychic relatives, she’s curious about him. It turns out he and his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah have been searching for the hidden burial-place of an ancient king that will grant a wish to his discoverer. But little do they know that their group isn’t the only ones searching for the lost king, and their competition will stop at nothing to reach the tomb first.

Initial thoughts were that I didn’t enjoy this audiobook as much as I had hoped to. Loyal readers might remember that I was surprised by how much I found myself enjoying Shiver and raved about Scorpio Races. Looking back at my Waiting on Wednesday post when I had first heard The Raven Boys was being published, I expressed some confusion about the plot and characters. Unfortunately, my suspicions turned true, and I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this story. There were a lot of unexplained phenomenon that I’m assuming will be explained in the upcoming sequel, but I wish I we had been rewarded with some of those answers at the end of this book.

For people who like gothic mysteries, this might be a good book to try. There are lots of spooky descriptions, unexplained physic phenomenon, and brooding boys. The romance is a little gothic too, since I found myself comparing Adam to the guy from Corpse Bride, even though he and Blue are both very much alive. Blue starts off dating Adam, but is inexplicably “drawn” to Gansey, the leader of the pack of boys that also includes perpetually sullen Ronan and the perpetually silent Noah. I thought Adam was the most flushed out of all the boys, and we get a really good sense of his motivations and feelings, more so than anyone else. It’s got some mysticism too as Gansey’s obsession with finding lay lines and an ancient king who may (or may not) be buried nearby dominates his thoughts and actions.

But in order to get to the romance (which is a predictable love triangle unlike what we find in Scorpio Races) we have to slog through the first third of the book, which is a slow recount of back story after back story, first with Blue, than with they boys, then finally Gansey’s quest. The action is almost nonexsistent until the final chapters, where it then becomes so rushed (maybe making up for lost time?) that you have difficulty following what’s happening. It’s not so much that there are unexplained coincidences, but things are so intertwined that it’s difficult to accept that these five teens would get along with each other so well in real life. It’s Gansey’s search that holds them all together, but no one appears as interested in it as he is until the very end. We see very little of anyone’s life separate from each other, which makes me wonder if that’s why I found it so difficult to relate with them. I spoke with another librarian who also really liked Scorpio Races but couldn’t get into The Raven Boys so if you fall in this category I would probably say skip the inevitable let down and go reread Scorpio Races for the umpteenth time.

Island of Silence

Island of SilenceTitle: Island of Silence
Series: The Unwanteds #2
Author: Lisa McMann
ISBN: 9781442407718
Pages: 406
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2012.

“The attack makes it all to clear: Quill is struggling mightily to accept us–more than anyone had imagined. As much as our friend, High Priest Haluki, is doing to make this transition possible, it is still incredibly hard to introduce new ideas into a society that has been so set in its ways for al these years. [...] Clearly, we didn’t expect this kind of violent, organized attack. Clearly, we should have.” (156)

The magical secret world of Artime, filled with Quill’s creative outcasts, has been exposed. Quill is reeling from the death of their leader Justine, and Quillians are fleeing the floundering city for what they see as a promising future in Artime. But the privileged Wanteds of Quill are still holding tightly to their old way of life, and will do anything to restore it. On opposite sides of the fight are twin brothers, with Aaron leading a group of rag-tag Wanteds against Alex’s friends in Artime. Alex wants nothing to do with the leadership position that Mr. Today is offering him, but that doesn’t stop his friends from noticing his absences and resenting his opportunity. When the battle finally happens, will his friends be there to support him in his moment of need?

This is a series where it is quite necessary to read them in order. I would also suggest waiting until the third one has been published before reading this one. The ending here is not a tied up in a bow kind of conclusion, and it leaves you with lots of questions. I thought the first book in the series was a nice, free-standing fantasy, but I was proven wrong yet again. Why do these fantasy series have to always have at least one sequel!? The first one I raved over and book talked till I was blue, but this one just didn’t have as much appeal for me.

That’s not to say that McMann didn’t do a good job, because she did. Aaron’s efforts to build an army are realistic, and eerily reminded me of a Hitler-esque character. He wins over his subjects with food and slowly manipulates their feelings of abandonment to feelings of retribution and indignation. He has a lot of luck when he finally initiates his plan, which I also feel is somewhat realistic since revolutions are led by people who are in the right place at the right time. I actually like Aaron’s parts slightly more than Alex’s. It felt like the writing was tighter, and we really dig into the psychology of winning over the people left in Quill. Plus the secrets and spies added intrigue, as your left guessing with Aaron’s point of view who is truly loyal to him.

Playing off those differences, I was also struck by how different the brothers’ actions and ambitions played out. Alex has absolutely no desire to take over for Mr. Today, which I thought was unique to the genre. We always hear about the reluctant hero, but they all typically step up to the plate, no matter how reluctantly, and do what needs to be done. Alex on the other hand shows his cluelessness, relying on others to help him make decisions and maintaining till the end that he has no idea what he’s doing and is not cut out for this job. There is no false bravado there, only scared struggles to be what people need him and expect him to be. And what they need him to be is a figurehead, although Artimeans know that if Mr. Today wanted him to be trained, there must be something special about him, even if they don’t know and Alex certainly doesn’t realize why he was chosen either.

The reason I didn’t LOVE this book as much as the other one is because it didn’t have the same (pardon the pun) magic of discovery. We spend most of the first book learning about Artime and seeing everything it had to offer. (J.K. Rowling did a very good job of introducing new magical things in each book, where we could go “OOOOOH!” and the shiny thing would distract us and pull us in a little more.) In this book, we kind of know how things work already, and very little new things are introduced, so our attention has to be held by the tension of the impending battle. The one very strange thing, the Island of Silence the book is named after, is nonexistent for the first two-thirds of the book, and then it is flung in like a “Hail Mary” football pass before the game ends. When we finally arrive at the battle scene, there’s very little description of it, which is a let down of sorts. We hear about the battle second-hand, since neither Aaron or Alex really see much of it themselves (due to various reasons which I won’t elaborate here).

It will be interesting to see how the author pulls everything together. I honestly don’t know how many books are going to be in the series, but I’m hoping we get more answers in part three instead of a lot of unanswered questions. I think fans of the first one might be disappointed, but I’ll wait to pass judgement until the third book comes out. I might be waiting a while though, as I see two other books for 2013 (a new series and a contribution to the multi-author Infinity Ring series) on Goodreads, but not a third Unwanteds book listed yet.

The Scorpio Races

Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Steve West and Fiona Hardingham
ISBN: 9780545224901
Pages: 409 pages
Dics/CDs: 10 CDs, 12 hours 7 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Inc., c2011.

“It’s the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

When Sean Kendrick was ten, his father was killed by a cappal uisce during the annual Scorpio Races on the beach of their tiny island. Ever since, Sean has been taming the cappal uisce for the Malvern family, one of the biggest names in horse breeding. A quiet, brooding young man, Sean trusts his secrets to no one, not even the cappal uisce named Corr who has helped him win the Races several times and who Sean has set his heart on owning one day. Sean’s life is changed when he encounters Puck Connolly, an ambitious young girl who’s terrified of the cappal uisce after they killed both her parents and left her and her two brothers orphans. The only way to keep her older brother from abandoning their family for the mainland is to enter the race, but is she strong enough to overcome her fear?

The story is mainly told from Puck’s point of view, and Fiona Hardingham’s bubbly representation of Puck seems almost effortless. Puck does have her moments of depression, but she is usually able to lift herself out of those depths, if only for the sole reason that she doesn’t want her younger brother to see her so despondent. I think I would get along with her well. Sean, as I said in my summary, is the strong and silent type whose narration counter balances Puck’s effervescent personality. Steve West conveys his reserved nature very cleanly, and voices not just Sean but all the men with clarity and precision. He slips very neatly from Sean’s accent to the horse purchaser George Holly’s American one, with no hesitation or hiccups that I could hear.

This is somewhat different from Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver, which focused on the more well-known werewolf mythology. Here she’s in her own element, bringing to life the little known legend of the water horses, which she says in her author’s note are named various things depending on the country of origin. I’ve never heard of this myth, as I thought Kelpies were simply water horses as opposed to flesh-eating beasts, more “My Little Pony” meets “The Little Mermaid” than vampiric Black Beauty.

But Stiefvater brings more to the table than that just admittedly simplistic description. Through her writings, readers witness the majesty and fascination that Sean feels for these wild animals, as well as the revulsion that Puck feels for these killer beasts. In presenting both sides, readers can draw their own conclusions, and can debate what they would do and how they would feel if placed in the same situation.

The action and adventure sequences leave readers not only picturing the scene, but reeling from it as the horses strike and death courts the characters at every corner. Her writing is cinematic in nature, especially at the very end when you can visualize the panoramic views and the tight close-ups of faces, reactions, and feelings. Those feelings, and especially the relationship that develops between Puck and Sean, are natural and not rushed. They recognize that they are competitors, with each of them needing to beat the other one in order to win the prize money that they both so desperately need. They’re hesitant to act on what starts as admiration and quickly grows in each of them as something more, and their trepidation just adds to the climatic ending.

A Printz Award Honor 2012 for teen literature and Odyssey Honor Award 2012 for Best Audio Production, along with being named to countless Best Books of 2011 lists, this book is a must read for any fantasy fan, and a must listen for all audiobook listeners.

The Emerald Atlas

Title: The Emerald Atlas
Series: Books of Beginning (book 1)
Author: John Stephens
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780307879769
CDs/Discs: 10 discs, 11 hours 30 minutes
Pages: 432 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, Inc., Listening Library, c2011.

“The car shot across the square, barreling past a midnight crowd emerging from a church. He had driven into the old part of the city, and the car was bumping along cobblestone streets. In the backseat, the children slept on. One of the figures launched itself off the side of a brownstone, landing atop the car with a shuddering crash. A moment later, a pale hand punched down through the roof and began peeling away the metal shell. A second attacker seized the back of the car and dug its heels into the street, tearing grooves through the century-old stones.
‘A little further,’ the man murmured, ‘just a little further.’
They entered a park, white with snow and utterly empty, the car skating across the frozen ground. Just ahead, he could see the dark swath of the river. And then everything seemed to happen at once: the old man gunned the engine, the last figure attached itself to the door, the roof was ripped open so the night air poured in; perhaps the only thing that didn’t change was the children, who slept through it all, oblivious. Then the car flew off a small rise and was launched out over the river. (5)

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been on their own for the last ten years, migrating from orphanage to orphanage after their parents disappeared. The three siblings maintain the belief that one day they all will be reunited into one family. But when they stumble across a book at their newest “home” that transports them back in time, they realize that their parents might have had a reason for leaving them behind. When they encounter dwarves, magic, and an evil countess, they must rely on each other more than ever for strength and support as they work to recover the book and find their way home.

LOVED this book! Every review I’ve read is comparing it to Harry Potter meets Narnia, and I can see the resemblance. But this book is all its own, and is certain to find a fan base. The dialogue is realistic, and Jim Dale is at his expected best (although now that I’ve listened to two or three of his audiobooks, I’m recognizing voices he’s used for other characters). The snappy dialogue probably comes from his experience as a writer for Gilmore Girls (which I loved when it was on and still catch reruns). A little warning for younger readers, the dwarf king drops a “Bloody Hell” quite frequently when he makes his appearance, but it fits with his character, which Dale reads in a sort of Irish/Scottish brogue (I don’t know the difference, sorry!). Emma and Michael quarrel amongst themselves in typical sibling fashion, with Emma thinking Michael’s obsession with dwarves is “stupid” and Michael defending himself. But they are refreshingly loyal to each other, with the sisters standing up for Michael when he gets picked on by the other residents of the orphanages. Their inquisitive nature shows, especially when readers witness first hand their meeting with a prospective placement. And the bad guys, are BAD, and I could imagine younger kids having nightmares if they saw them in the movies. I on the other hand, loved the descriptions!

The one quibble that some people seem to have is that this book is obviously meant for older elementary and middle school students due to the confusing and convoluted concept of time travel. The three siblings alter time, and by the end of the book you’re left wondering what sort of circuitous time warp/loop the participants are stuck in. However, I thought Stephens did a serviceable job at not only explaining what happened but also making the two timelines converge in a relatively seemless manner… or as close to seemless as you can get when you’re talking about rewriting close to 20 years of history. There are a few bumps in the road, but if you’re willing to accept that this is what happens and not question too deeply the how, then you’re blithely appeased by the sugary sweet happy ending, just like I was. Another thing that might offend younger minds is the violence that the children in the story witness, but you should probably expect that in 400+ page fantasy books by now.

The first in a trilogy, I’ll be looking forward to the other two to see just how the story develops. This review is posted in honor of Charlotte’s Library’s Timeslip Tuesday, which is when she makes an effort to review a book having to do with time travel or timeslips. You can check out more about the author and the book by visiting the website.

I Am Number Four

Title: I Am Number Four
Series: Book one of the Lorien Legacies
Author: Pittacus Lore
ISBN: 9780061969553
Pages: 440 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 3, 2010

In the beginning we were a group of nine.
Three are gone, dead.
There are six of us left.
They are hunting us, and they won’t stop until they’ve killed us all.
I am Number Four.
I know that I am next. (9)

John one of nine Loriens that traveled to Earth with their caregivers, and after a scar on his right ankle appears, he knows that he is next on the list to be hunted down and killed by the same enemies that attacked their home world almost ten years ago. A charm on each of the nine guarantees that as long as they stay apart, they can only be killed in numerical order. John and his caretaker Henri try to hide in a small town in Ohio, waiting for John’s abilities to develop that will help keep him safe. Finally making friends — and a possible girlfriend — John isn’t looking forward to their next move. He doesn’t want to leave behind the people he’s begun to care about. But every day they are getting closer, and John might not be able to keep his secret, or himself, safe for much longer.

I had heard some horrible reviews of both the movie and the book, so I was a little hesitant to pick this one up. Other reviewers had talked about it being an unedited piece. And yes, there is one glaring typo on page 5, where “a soft wind bxlew” instead of blew. And something that is supposed to be invisible is suddenly visible with no explanation later in the book. But overall, I didn’t find that many typos that interfered with my reading pleasure.

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would. John is a likeable character who is struggling with the constant moving because he sees what he’s missing. He wants a normal life, instead of moving from small town to small town, loosing track of how many small towns he’s passed through in an effort to stay unnoticed. I liked the romance that blossomed between him and Sarah, their real estate agent’s daughter who happens to be in some of his classes. I liked Sam, another classmate who is obsessed with aliens and conspiracy theories for his own reasons.

I was reading along fine and was engrossed in the book until the battle scenes, which, to be honest, is when I started losing interest. Maybe I was just too tired at that point, since I’d been reading for a couple of hours. More than likely though, it was the numerous improbable saves that occur, where John is ALMOST killed, and then not, and the he’s almost killed again, but someone or something comes to his rescue at the last second every single time. Once or twice, maybe, but I think he was saved from death four or five times. I honestly lost track. I don’t feel bad revealing that he’s not killed, since there’s a sequel coming out on August 23, 2011 titled The Power of Six that according to different website stars Number Seven, but something does happen during the fight at the end of I Am Number Four that might affect readers.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and while I’m shocked that the movie rights were picked up for the book before it was even published (according to Wikipedia, the rights were purchased in June 2009), I don’t doubt that there was interest in the story as it was being written. It’s an interesting story, even if the aliens with special abilities hidden among us plot has been done before. While I might pass on the movie, I might pick up the next book after the die-hard fans get their chance at the library’s copies.

Leviathan

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
ISBN: 9781416971733
Pages: 440 pages
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse (imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), c2009.

Alex was still waving when the first broadside erupted, bright flashes rippling along the dreadnought’s flank, puffs of cannon smoke swelling into a hazy veil around her. The sound followed moments later — a rolling thunder that broke into sharp, tearing bursts from every direction. The treetops churned around them, concussions shaking the Stormwalker and throwing clouds of leaves into the sky.
Then Volger was dragging him back down into the cabin the engines roaring back to life.
“Load the cannon!” Master Klopp cried to the men below.
Alex found himself deposited into the commander’s chair as the machine began to move. He struggled with the seat as the machine began to move. He struggled with the seat straps, but a terrible thought took hold of his mind, freezing his fingers.
If they’re trying to kill me. . . it’s all true.
Count Volger crouched beside him, yelling over the rumble of engines and gunfire. “Take heart at this impoliteness, Alex. It proves that you are still a threat to the throne.” (47-49)

Aleksandar Ferdinand, called Alek by his tutors and family, is the son of the archduke of Austria-Hungary but due to his mother’s common blood is not allowed to inherit the throne. So he’s not prepared to run for his life when his parents are both poisoned. After fighting mechanical machines as World War I begins to erupt around him, Alek and his protectors think they’ve reached safety. But when a whale airship employed by the British crash lands nearby, Alek feels duty-bound to help the helpless. It’s there he meets Deryn Sharp, a recruit to the Royal Navy who has disguised herself as a boy in order to fulfill a dream of flying. Between the two of them, they might be able to keep each other alive, but will they also be able to ensure that a doctor and her mysterious precious cargo make it to the destination unscathed?

Before commenting on the story , I have to comment on the illustrations by Mr. Keith Thompson. They bring this whole world to life. It’s so important to be able to visualize these fantastical creations, and Thompson contributes beautiful interpretations. You have to wonder how much guidance and description he was given by Westerfeld outside of the story’s text. I’m unsure if he also did the map on the end pages of the book, but that is also a work of art which simplifies and clarifies the alliances, although I think the colors could have been a little more distinguished from one another.

Westerfeld writes an action packed adventure with lots of fights and shoot outs that will keep you interested. But it’s far from a hold-them-up, fast-fingered shoot-out. The science behind the Darwinist technology is given just enough background to make it easy to suspend your “real-world” beliefs. There’s political intrigue as well, as Alek and company try to figure out what to do and who to trust. It’s impressive the forethought that went into the plan to get Alek out alive if something bad were to happen (which it does), and it’s unfortunate how badly the well-thought-out plans go awry. Westerfeld is smart in starting both Alek’s and Deryn’s stories before the action starts, so readers experience the confusion along with the characters. For steampunk fans, it’s a great addition and to inexperienced readers it’s a first-class introduction to this ever-expanding genre. For people intrigued by the history behind the story, Westerfeld separates the fact from the fiction in an afterword. And is that just a hint of romance that I see? I guess we’ll have to find out in the sequel. The ending is ripe for the sequel, titled Behemoth, which has already been released.

Just recently, this book was reviewed on YALSA’s newest blog, The Hub. If you haven’t taken a look yet, you might just want to add it to your blog roll.

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