Friday Links: For The Children

I appreciate it when bloggers post links to articles and interesting finds on Friday because so many other bloggers just don't post on Fridays. I think I'm going to be following that format, such that when I do have links, I'll mention them on Fridays! Since this is an inaugural post for such a Friday, let's start it off small.

Many people I know who have read The Giving Tree tell me it is a hideous book. In this, a mom tries to convince her daughter of this fact with little success. This is great for the punchline at the end!

Want your child to read comics, but have no idea where to start? Put Down the Book has their girl review her favorites! I think my favorite part of it is the child's plaintive complaint, "Dad, this is like homework!"


A Quick Review: Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

Bones of FaerieFrom the author's website"The war between humanity and Faerie devastated both sides. Or so fifteen-year-old Liza has been told. Nothing has been seen or heard from Faerie since, and Liza's world bears the scars of its encounter with magic. Corn resists being harvested; dandelions have thorns. Trees move with sinister intention, and the town Liza calls home is surrounded by a forest that threatens to harm all those who wander into it. Still Liza feels safe. Her father is strong and has protected their town by laying down strict rules. Among them: Any trace of magic must be destroyed, no matter where it is found.

Then Liza's sister is born with faerie-pale hair, clear as glass, and Liza's father leaves the baby on a hillside to die. When her mother disappears into the forest and Liza herself discovers she has the faerie ability to see--into the past, into the future--she has no choice but to flee. Liza's quest will take her into Faerie and back again, and what she finds along the way may be the key to healing both worlds."

This super fast read was pretty middle of the road.  I liked aspects of it, such as the world building and the supporting characters to Liza, but I never found myself getting fully immersed in the story.  I think part of the problem is that you come into the story without getting any time to get to know the main character before grand sweeping changes come into her world, and it's not handled well.  I never felt I really knew Liza and that made for a disconnect with her quest to find her mother.  I certainly think that this book was adequately written, but it just was not for me.

Verdict:  4.  Didn't mind reading it, but I'll never pick it up again for fun.

Thoughts:  I actually liked the werewolf in this book.  That never happens since I generally hate any type of shape shifter in any book whatsoever.  Good on you, author.  That and the inclusion of the cat bumped the grade of the book up a notch!


Fallen by Lauren Kate

FallenFrom the author's website: "There’s something achingly familiar about Daniel Grigori.

Mysterious and aloof, he captures Luce Price’s attention from the moment she sees him on her first day at the Sword & Cross boarding school in sultry Savannah, Georgia. He’s the one bright spot in a place where cell phones are forbidden, the other students are all screw-ups, and security cameras watch every move.

Even though Daniel wants nothing to do with Luce–and goes out of his way to make that very clear–she can’t let it go. Drawn to him like a moth to a flame, she has to find out what Daniel is so desperate to keep secret . . . even if it kills her."

After reading a few fairly negative reviews of Fallen, including one from a blogger I trust,  I was remarkably hesitant to read this novel. I wavered back and forth, back and forth. Did I want to read a novel that was receiving good reviews from people who mostly loved fated love and Twilight? The answer was no for a long time, and then I spotted it in my library and I couldn't resist that cover. God must really love his angels because he makes sure their books look the prettiest, even if the angels are fallen!

I started the book the day I got it and finished it rather quickly, perhaps several hours later. And my immediate reaction was, "Well, besides Luce and Daniel being kind of boring, that wasn't so bad. I don't know why it got such bad reviews." Then, I took the time to think about it, and here's why I think it got bad reviews.

Let's face it, Luce and Daniel are boring and that makes their romance kind of boring too. Besides being good looking and mysterious, what does Daniel got going for him? He both growls and stares at Luce in meaningful ways. He is mean to her, but also sweet to her. He's basically Edward Cullen in angel form, and I didn't like Edward Cullen either. (To be fair to Edward, Daniel isn't half so interesting as he never, not once, plays vampiric baseball, which is my favorite WTF moment from the first Twilight novel.)

The main villain of the novel is barely fleshed out, and the motivations behind the villainy are not explained in any meaningful way. They never explain why all these angels are hanging out at a reform school since they don't appear to expect the main character to show. Do angels just like hanging at reform schools?

The climax is rather a let down, and I think I'm growing to hate badly done love triangles. (Ask me how I feel about a good love triangle in which the guy I like wins or in which I like both guys and I'll give you a completely different answer.)

So, why the verdict of a four then, I'm sure you're asking. Because it has two redeeming characters who I very very quickly grew to love. Arianne and Penn. Those two characters are the reason I'll probably read Torment. (That, and the cover. Again, pretty.) Both of these friends of Luce made me interested in what was happening and what they were doing. The moment Arianne commanded Luce to chop her hair, I think I fell a bit in love with her. Why did Luce cut her hair? Because she was forced to, due to the 'incident'. Why did Arianne? Because she's got a will of iron and a strange impulsive nature! However, even better than Arianne, was poor poor Penn.

Penn deserved to be the real star of this show. She was odd, sneaky, an interesting friend, and not very impressed with the people at the school with her. Her back story gave her an interesting reason for being at the school, unlike ANY ONE else in the book. She stole every scene she was in with Luce.

In fact, trying to remember this book that I read over three weeks ago, the scenes I remember most clearly are those with Arianne, Penn, or Cam, and that's because they were the most interesting and most memorable scenes.

I am betting I'll read the second book in the series, but I'm hoping that Daniel and Luce get personality transplants between the books.

Verdict: 4.  Thinking about it and discounting Penn and Arianne, I wanted to punch every one of the characters.  Well, and besides Cam.  I'd totally make out with him before punching him.

Thoughts: No, seriously. Angel covers? The prettiest. I have read hideous reviews of Hush, Hush, but would I turn it down if I saw it at the library?  No. In fact, I want to buy these just to have them to be pretty on my bookshelf. I have the same problem with the Luxe series (especially Rumors) that is gorgeous, but rather boring.


Comfort Reads: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The book blog, Giraffe Days, had a wonderful entry about comfort reading. The blogger defines a comfort read as "...a book that, no matter your mood, you can snuggle down with. A book that you know, because you’ve read it before, has the power to absorb you, de-stress you, shine a little light on your soul for however long." I'm completely addicted to comfort reading. There are some books I reread annually, others I read whenever I'm slightly depressed, and still others I read when I've got nothing else that appeals to me. I was happy that Giraffe Days listed one of my own comfort reads in her top ten list of comfort reading, so I've decide to highlight it in my first Comfort Reads post. I'm not going to give a verdict on any of these books, but you can pretty much assume that the verdict is a ten, because, why else would I be reading these books at the drop of a hat?

The Blue Castle (Voyageur Classics)I'm sure the majority of people who place a L.M. Montgomery book on their comfort read list will have named Anne of Green Gables.   While I've got nothing against that book, and it might even find its own way into a Comfort Read post, I've got to say that given my druthers, I'd always choose The Blue Castle.  I vividly remember sitting down with this book with no expectations other than perhaps an orphan being involved with the story (that Montgomery does love her some parentless characters), and I remember getting sucked into the story swiftly.

This novel of the growth of Valancy Stirling is astounding.  When I started the novel, I felt so incredibly mired by the things that are holding Valancy back.  As she lists injustice after injustice, I wanted to scream at the world to just be fair to her.  Her family is hideous and mean and incredibly shallowly vicious and they keep Valancy down in a variety of large and small ways that add up to Valancy's complete misery.  Her life looks completely hopeless and she's living with her mother who is, perhaps, the worst person in her whole family.  Then, the turning point of the novel, a trip to the doctor where Valancy learns that she is dying and that she won't live out a year.

It is completely exhilarating and awesome to see how Valancy acts when she learns this news.  Rather than being shoved down any further, this last blow frees her!  The Valancy that is hinted at in the first few chapters blooms quickly and brilliantly into the Valancy that continues from there on in.  At first, it's the small things that thrill.  The quick little snaps she takes at her uncles, the refusal to her humor her mother, and the way she tries to do whatever she feels like doing.  However, as it goes on, you get to see Valancy live the life she's always dreamt about.  I think this is where the novel differentiates itself from so many romance novels I've read.  In those, you see the struggles of the heroine to get the man of her dreams and, perhaps, her own dreams lived out, but you never see the heroine live the dream.  Here, Valancy does.  She fulfills her dreams, gets her guy, and lives a wonderful life.

Reading about how Valancy lives this last year makes me want to sing.  When she talks of her cats and her snow shoeing and her jalopy riding ways, I almost regret that I wasn't young during the 1920s and living in Canada!  Barnay Snaith, the dream guy in question, is awesomely sweet and when he finally declares his love for her, as you know he will, it's heaven.

I save this book for when I feel put upon by relatives, or when I just need to be reminded that sometimes it's better to fight against bad news rather than letting life bring me down.  We make our own luck, as it were.


The Wicked Ways of a Duke by Laura Lee Guhrke

The Wicked Ways of a DukeFrom the author's website"Once upon a time, there was a seamstress named Prudence who lived in a lodging house, worked very hard, and dreamed of a better life. Then she inherited a fortune, met a handsome duke, and fell in love. Her life was wonderful, and it seemed as if she was destined to live happily ever after.

Then she found out money can’t buy happiness, handsome dukes can also be wicked, lying scoundrels, and a broken heart hurts like hell. Will Prudence ever find true love and happiness? Will the wicked duke mend his ways? Will she take him back or kick him to the curb?"

Before I come to any review, I have to say that this book title made me roll my eyes so hard that I saw the back of my skull.  Perhaps all that Ms. Guhrke requires, however, is that it is memorable.  The worst part was that the novel is so much better than the title implies.  The annoyance is similar to when I read a Harlequin romance titled something like "Marriage of Convenience to the Greek Billionaire" and that damnable novel is decent.  I like judging books by their titles/covers!

This novel of a seamstress become heiress and the money desperate duke that decides to woo her is set in late 1890s London.  It's different from the get-go with a heroine who works for a living in a realistic job and who thinks realistically about working and inheriting money.  I did find the reason for her inheritance fairly contrived, but I will tell you the truth -- I expect contrivance in my romance novels.  It's when I don't get it that I'm impressed, rather than upset when I do get it.  Prudence starts off strong in my regards, but quickly comes low.  She lets her overly-stupid relatives walk all over her and she does things which I found incredibly dumb.  She seems to care very little for the fortune she inherits even though she's seen what life is like without money.  She's not a TSTL (too stupid to live) heroine, but she's not overly intellectual.

The hero, a duke in need of a fortune, is a standard in fiction, but is especially well done in this novel.  Here is where I feel the novel excels.  Rhys knows what he needs to do, and he goes to do it.  He finds it convenient that Prudence is attractive to him from their first meeting, but he doesn't dwell on her when he thinks she cannot give him what he needs: either a quick lay, or a fortune.  He's self-serving, funny, smarmy, and pitiable.  I liked him more than I liked Prudence, and I more quickly bought into his storyline.

The Wicked Ways of a Duke moved very quickly, progressing from meeting to engagement by half-way through the book.  Since that occurred, it was easy to predict the novel's course, but it was still a compelling read.  I disliked Prudence's relatives as plot devices, especially considering that there was no need for them with regards to the romance, but what I mostly disliked about them is how her reaction to them changed my perception of Prudence.  Similarly, I felt like Prudence's friends were never properly dealt with, and I would not have minded more time with them because I think that would have improved my perception of Prudence.

Mostly this novel is worth a read, from my end, due to Rhys.  He's entertaining, and I feel like that is something I can scarcely say about a romance novel hero.

Verdict: 6. I'm glad I got this out from the library.

: I was shocked by the setting (really late Victorian England) and I half wondered throughout the book if society was as described by this novel. I know nearly nothing about late Victorian England, but I found the change from the Regency era or early Victorian era to be delightful. Not so great cover on the paperback version I was reading, by the way.

It is worth noting that this is one of the few romance novels I've read recently where I like the hero more than the heroine.


A Quick Review: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

The Summer I Turned PrettyFrom the author's website: "Belly measures her life in summers.  Everything good, everything magical happens between the months of June and August.  Winters are simply a time to count the weeks until the next summer, a place away from the beach house, away from Susannah, and most importantly, away from Jeremiah and Conrad.  They are the boys that Belly has known since her very first summer--they have been her brother figures, her crushes, and everything in between.  But one summer, one terrible and wonderful summer, the more everything changes, the more it all ends up just the way it should have been all along."

I liked this book far more than I expected.  The main character is not exactly likable, but she's real, which makes a difference.  She doesn't make the good choices, and she doesn't see obvious connections, but that's life.  I felt most of the characters in the book were well-realized though the plot felt fairly thin.  To me, this was more of a character study than a novel with a plot.  Either way, it still read quickly.

Thoughts:  This woman knows the shore, and those who love it.  This story sometimes turns into a love letter to summering at the shore, and I'm okay with that.

Verdict:  6

Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund

Academy 7"With a past too terrible to speak of, and a bleak, lonely future ahead of her, Aerin Renning is shocked to find she has earned a place at the most exclusive school in the universe. Aerin excels at Academy 7 in all but debate, where Dane Madousin - son of one of the most powerful men in the Alliance - consistently outtalks her. Fortunately Aerin consistently outwits him at sparring. They are at the top of their class until Dane jeopardizes everything and Aerin is unintentionally dragged down with him. When the pair is given a joint punishment, an unexpected friendship - and romance - begins to form. But Dane and Aerin both harbor dangerous secrets, and the two are linked in ways neither of them could ever have imagined. . . ." 

I'm going to seem like such a jerk here, because I just mocked the use of private schools within young adult novels in my last review, but here I am about to say how much I enjoyed this novel about two teenagers in a private academy.

Interestingly, I came to this novel with no preconceived notions about how good it would be, nor what it would be about. I usually read so many reviews or hear so much about a novel prior to reading it, that I've already settled in my mind whether I'm going to like it or not and how it's going to play out. I'm usually wrong, but I still go into a novel having some information about it. With Academy 7, I literally saw the cover and copy and decided to give it a try.

To me, this book was the story of Aerin and Dane and their friendship. Yes, there are dark secrets that both are hiding, and there are hidden facts they've got to find, and challenges they must overcome, but the heart of the book and the part that made me enjoy it the most and rip through it like some sort of crazy person is the friendship. Aerin and Dane both start the book in (separate) space ships, which I'm sure you probably don't expect from the cover. However, within three chapters, they're in the same school and we quickly get to the meat of the story.

You quickly learn why both students are extraordinary and why they interest each other. This first third to half of the novel is beautiful. It's easy to see why they are interested in each other since I'm interested in both of them. It's fun to see them interact. It's great to see Aerin beat the pants off of Dane in combat. By the time the 'bigger' stuff in the story starts to happen, such as exploring the secrets both characters have, I was fully invested in them and wanted them to achieve their goals.

I'm definitely happy that my whims led me to read this book and I really hope that the author gets to write the sequel that she mentions on her site.  Dane and Aerin were two of my favorite young adult characters from this year.

Verdict: 8. It was fun in a pure mind candy type of way, but I enjoyed it and wanted more and looked for more immediately.

Was the publisher trying to hide the fact that this book is set in space and has science fiction overtones to it? The cover, which is gorgeous, certainly does not indicate that the book is going to have space travel nor planet alliances in it. The copy reads as slightly paranormalish to me, but that's because so many young adult novels nowadays are paranormalish. When I opened the first page and got space ship talk, I made a mental sound much like "bwah?" and checked the copy once again. I guess sci fi doesn't sell to teens.

Read an excerpt
from the author's site.


Evernight by Claudia Gray

Evernight (Evernight, Book 1)From the author's website"When the story begins in Evernight, Bianca has just left the small town where she's spent her whole life. She's a new student at Evernight Academy, a creepily Gothic boarding school where her classmates are somehow too perfect: smart, sleek and almost predatory. Bianca knows she doesn't fit in.

Then she meets Lucas, another loner, who seems fiercely determined not to be the "Evernight type." There's a connection between Bianca and Lucas that can't be denied. She would risk anything to be with him—but dark secrets are fated to tear them apart... and to make Bianca question everything she's ever believed to be true."

Spoilers ahead. Be warned.

Another day, another book about supernaturals at a private high school academy. I'm a horrible bitch for writing that line, but I kind of feel it is true. It's a shame, because I bet when the author wrote the book, the theme wasn't so prevalent, and now when she's publishing it, it's just out there. You can't avoid vampires in high school, if you wanted to! And, unfortunately, it's not the best high school vampire book out there. Neither is Twilight.

The problems with the book starts from the very beginning. The author tiptoes around the fact that the main character is at a school full of vampires. It's hinted, but mostly not. You're reading a story of a girl who doesn't fit in at her school. Only, you know the title, I know the title, and we both know that somehow vampires are involved due to that title. Unfortunately, then you have to ask why Bianca and Lucas are so cavalier about the oddness of the student body, which leads to obvious answers. When vampires are finally introduced to the book, it is as if there is a great reveal. Only, the author's writing is not enough to allow us to forget that we are reading a vampire story. Perhaps the premise behind the book would have been more successful if the cover and summary did not scream vampire. I know that the author cannot alter a publisher's plans, so I have no idea if she knew this would happen. The follow up book, Stargazer, uses a title with more leeway in it, and I think that this would have been more fitting for the first book.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the most interesting characters are those shunted to the side of the story. Who are Patrice and Balthazar? What is Bianca's parents' story? Why are vampires going to school with humans, their edible despised classmates? Why does Bianca always shot gun react to things when she is so shy and quiet?

I found Bianca's character inconsistent, Lucas dull, and the story overwhelmed by the stupidity of the a romance between the two. In the background lurks a story I'd like to know, but I'm not sure I'll be bothered to read the sequels.

Verdict: 3. Not a horribly written book, but not great either and with lots of inconsistent plotting.

Thoughts: I was so excited to read this due to the Book Smuggler's review. I feel almost horrible that I didn't agree with them.

Also, if, God forbid, I'm ever turned into a vampire, or become some kind of vampire hunter, I plan on not screwing or falling in love with a member of the opposing team. It simply seems unwise. Buffy has taught me a lesson.


Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling From the author's website"Graceling, my debut novel, is the story of Katsa, who has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who's expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms."

This is a hard review for me to write. Instinctively, I loved this book, but after I spent several days thinking about it occasionally, I was able to see that it had many flaws that ruined its perfection for me. And this book did come so close to perfection for me. This is, in fact, a good example of how I can be 'intense' in my love for something. Because it is so good, I pull it apart more than I would a mediocre book.

A Graceling is a human with a special skill or 'grace' that is superhuman. In the world that author builds, Gracelings are feared and respected servants to those in power, and world changing humans in their own rights. I felt that beyond the concept of gracelings, the world building in this book was rather poor. The author has little skill with naming people or places, and does not manage to convey how far each country is from those around it, nor does she explain how Gracelings are kept in check by those they serve. However, I barely noticed this on my first read through due to the author's skillful writing, her deft characterizations, and the strength of the initial graceling concept, which is almost like taking the idea of a superhero and inserting it into a fantasy world.

Katsa, the main character of the book, is very skillfully written. I often dislike the saintly characters that some fantasy heroines can be, and Katsa is not that. She is a confused girl, often sure of her own stupidity or ugliness. She has realistic fears, and realistic confidence in herself. It is a shame that such a well-written character has to deal with Po. Po is, unfortunately, more of a Mary Sue. He's good, thoughtful, loving, accepting, and he believes in the greater good. His grace is amazing and it can defy the ultimate evil. He loves Katsa through and through and only forgives her when she hits him! The only conflict on his part comes much later in the story and felt tacked on. I didn't notice this weakness of character on Po's part until after much thought about the book, which says something of the story.

There are a number of themes that run through this book, including Katsa's genuine dislike of marriage and motherhood (inspired by a society in which men are the kings of the castle literally and figuratively), her rejection of evil authority, the inability to fight against those who are harming that which we love, and her discovery and need to fix the fact that other girls and women are unable to cope with life as she can due to their lack of her 'grace'. And these themes worked for me, so much so that I was literally offended by reviews I saw on Amazon that warned parents that this book advocates against marriage and parenthood. This book does not advocate against marriage. It advocates against a society where women are powerless in marriage. These are greatly different arguments to make. Katsa's disdain of marriage and motherhood do not come without cost to her, and are well realized. When her lover asks about marriage and promises her every freedom within that marriage, she quickly points out that she would always know that she had been given that freedom. It's a beautiful scene due to the fact that she loves the person who has proposed, but cannot give in.

Unfortunately, for all that this theme exists, Po is the catalyst to most of Katsa's actions. Why does Katsa do what she does? Because of Po. He asks her the right questions or springs to mind at all the right times so that Katsa can do good. At one critical scene, Katsa knows that to save the world, she must leave Po, and she literally cannot do it until he forces her to. And once she does, she is always reminding herself that she left him and now she cannot fail him. This seems to weaken the themes I felt the author was trying to promote.

Ultimately, however, I still loved this book. It's an excellent young adult fantasy, and an outstanding debut. Katsa stands head and shoulders above most heroines, and, in the end, she makes a choice I respect. I can't wait to read more books by this author.

Verdict: 8. I added it to my "for keeps" wishlist right after reading the library book I got.

Thoughts: Seriously, the country and character names... they lack a certain something. Po? Bitterblue? West? East?


What You Need To Know About Me

I love books. I've always loved books, and I will always love books. My family and friends recount stories of me reading while I ate dinner or lunch at the table with them, reading as I walked back and forth from the bus stop, reading while I sat in front of the television or computer, and so forth. Many of my memories of growing up include books. I can vividly recall the sensation of being hot and sticky from humid August weather, sitting in front of the fan (which I would turn to face me in defiance of my mom's blow-hot-air-out-of-the-house rule), and reading Sweet Valley High books. I remember snuffling tears into my sleeve at grade school while I read the end of Charlotte's Web. I remember packing six books on a seven day vacation, and reading four more besides. Books are a way of life for me, and I want to share my opinions of them with the world.

Now, saying that, I'm also a judgmental grump. I love a good many books, but I also hate a good many books as well. I don't always (read: rarely) agree with popular opinion, but that shouldn't matter. I will write horribly harsh words about books or shows I adore because I'm all about tough love. I swing wildly from intense praise to jeering rants in moments. I read fantasy, sci-fi, romance, young adult, mystery, and everything between those. I hate being snubbed because people think my reading taste is pedestrian or low-brow. I read romance novels, and the embarrassing kind at that. I'm a recovering fan fiction addict. My favorite book is either Pride and Prejudice or The Westing Game or The Hero And The Crown. My favorite author is Robin McKinley. She should be more famous than she is.

I hate Twilight (or at least the two books I've read of it), I love Harry Potter, and I've never read Da Vinci Code. I do watch television, but I've spent years regretting the end of Veronica Mars and nothing besides a V. Mars movie will ever make it better. I love science fiction and fantasy and superhero movies. I'm a shipper, a romance lover, and a first kiss junkie, but I hate bad romances mixed in with my media. I will often complain to my husband that "the romance was so stupid and obviously added on for what Hollywood believes women want" after we see a movie. Don't include a romance in your work if you can't write a compelling romance.

I want to tell you about the books I like, the books I hate, the books I didn't finish, and the books that I will reread every year from now on. I hope you enjoy my reviews. Don't take them too seriously. I just write them because I love books.