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The Books of Beginning: The Fire Chronicle by John Stevens (2012)

Kate looked at Michael and their eyes met.
“Remember,” she said, “whatever happens, take care of Emma.”
“But-”
“Remember your promise.”
And then she and the creature both vanished (p 24).

In this sequel to The Emerald Atlas, Michael finds himself responsible for Emma and for finding the second book of beginning – the Fire Chronicle – when Kate uses the Atlas to deal with a Screecher and fails to return. Michael comes into his own and into adolescence as the power of Life itself is granted to him. Meanwhile, Kate lands in 1899 New York City days before the planned Separation – when those with magic will conceal themselves from nonmagic folk. There, she forges a bond between a group of orphans and the young man, Rafe, who protects them, forever changing future events.

Playing with time is always tricky but Stephens handles it deftly. While the characterization is wonderful – infused with veracuty and occassionally humor – some of the magic realities (as I call them) felt disjointed. The Dire Magnus’s dead but undead state for one. I don’t want to give too much away but there were some thin plot points. Regardless, I enjoyed the reading and look forward to the conclusion.

Netgalley ARC | 448 pages | Expected publication: October 9th 2012 | Knopf Books for Young Readers | ISBN 9780375868719 | Ages 10+

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The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann (2012)

Feathers fell from the sky.
Like black snow, they drifted onto an old city called Bath. They whirled down roofs, gathered in the corners of alleys, and turned everything dark and silent, like a winter’s day (Prologue).

In a world slightly distorted from our own - where magical creatures like faeries mesh in realistic and gritty fashion with our own world, similiar to Suzanne Clark’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (a novel I love love love) - a young changling, part human, part faerie, named Bartholomew is forced to hide his existance. Meanwhile, a bumbling, well-meaning member of Parliment, Mr. Jelliby, becomes unwittingly entangled in an investigation into the murder of nine changling children. When Bartholomew is tagged as number ten, he must take action to save himself and his changling sister.

With shades of Jonathan Stroud and Suzanne Clarke and a conclusion reminiscent of Pullman’s Golden Compass, Bachmann just succeeds in making this novel his own. The writing is fluid though the story alternates settings. I would have liked more attention spent on the relationship – both political and social – between the magical creatures and the humans. The atmosphere was well-developed with strong details so that I didn’t find myself skipping small chunks (as I sometimes do when the writing is poor). I was also surprised when it ended on a cliff-hanger, finding myself simultanously disappointed but also interested in the sequel (sequels?). There are characters I’m intrigued to learn more about (Mr. Lickerish) and others that skewed the rhythm (the faery woman living in a meadow in the middle of nowhere, supposedly Lickerish’s sister?).

Advance Reader Copy from BEA | Greenwillow Books | September 18, 2012

 

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Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi (2011)

Usagi is a normal 14-year-old girl, albeit a little scatter-brained but a fun-loving, video game junkie and all around great friend nonetheless. Until she meets Luna, a black cat with a band-aid on her head. When Usagi (aka Bunny) rescues Luna from some tormentors and removes the band-aid, Luna recognizes her as Sailor Moon, the guardian of the Moon sworn to protect the Moon Princess and help retrieve the Legendary Silver Crystal. Yes, Luna is a talking cat. Dark forces are gathering in Tokyo and Sailor Moon must find the Legendary Silver Crystal before the bad guys do. She has help in the form of Sailor Mercury, aka Amy, a brilliant student and water manipulator.

I adore Sailor Moon. From the moment I saw it on USA Network back in 1996, I was hooked on this strange cartoon. The more I watched (and then read), the more I loved it. It has a complex backstory, endearing characters that mature, and some great romance! I was thrilled to learn it would be retranslated and reprinted in the US of A. And with gorgeous covers! Now, can we please see a more faithful dub of the anime and all 300 episodes subtitled. Please? Anyone? I believe the license is up for grabs!

Personal copy | Kodansha Comics | September 13, 2011 | Ages 9 + | 240 pages | ISBN 978-1935429746 | $10.99 |

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The Girl of Fire and Thornes by Rae Carson (9/20/2011)

My sister hates me. I’ve known it for years. Nurse Ximena says it’s because I was chosen by God for an act of Service and Juana-Alodia was not. God should have chosen her; she is athletic and sensible, elegant and strong. Better than two sons, Papa says. I study her as I chew my pastry, her shining black hair and chiseled cheeks, the arched eyebrows that frame confident eyes. I hate her right back (p 4).

Once every century, someone is chosen by God to perform an act of service. When Princess Elisa of Orovalle was an infant, God chose her, planting a gem in her naval.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she is to be married to the King Alejandro of Joya. The union will provide troops to Joya for their impending war against the Invierne and a safe place for the bearer of the Godstone. But then Elisa is kidnapped and brought to the front lines of a war that has, unknown to its king, already started. Elisa becomes a part of the resistant, all the while trying to understand a sacred text that portends the mission of God’s chosen.

There are many aspects of this book I enjoyed. Though it starts calmly enough, it isn’t long before the pace picks up and continues throughout. Poignant scenes gracefully provide breaks in the action. Elisa is a well-developed character, as are many secondary characters. Even those we see little of take shape nicely, like King Alejandro and Alodia.

Yet, for all that, I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested in this book as I did with others like it (namely, Graceling and Fire – books this one is oft compared to). It didn’t delve far enough into the political atmosphere. Though Elisa was a brilliant strategist, she’s not really playing the game like Gen (The Thief) or Raisa (Seven Realms), though I could certainly see this developing in the next two books.

Perhaps it is that I am an atheist and religious explorations like these hold little interest for me anymore. Fantasy based in religion allows for deus ex machina resolutions. Yes, Elisa developed into a strong young woman but her hasty, half-understood victory at the denouement came via the hand of God. Earlier, though Elisa prays fervently for the health of her friends, God does not answer. If anthing, this novel reinforced in me the belief that acting in the name of God is not right. Even Elisa’s prayer in the heat of battle felt wrong to me.

Dear God almighty, please deliver my enemies into my hands (p 413).

Instead of entreating God’s will be done, Elisa is asking for the power to deal with her enemies. The Invierne think they are fulfilling God’s will (and I would like to learn more about their motivations). Elisa thinks she is fulfilling God’s will. No one is saying, “God, do as you will and I will accept it.”

Well, these are minor, and perhaps personal, quibbles. This book has a lot of teen appeal. The writing is good (I think it could tighten its belt a bit) and I’m sure it will elicit many questions in the youth reading it; always a good thing. Head over to A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy for a great review of all I liked about the book. It’s a book that will stick with me and I look forward to the sequel.

Read Alikes:
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore
Mistwood by Leah Cypress
The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima
The Shamer’s Daughter by Lene Kaaberbol
Finnikin of the Rock by Lelinda Marchetta

Read other reviews:
A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy
The Allure of Books
Book Smugglers
Good Books and Good Wine
Melanie’s Musings
Miss Print

Advance Reader Copy | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers | September 20, 2011 | 432 pages | ISBN 978-0-06-202648-4 | $17.99

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A Seven Realms Novel: The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima (2011)

She’d never felt safer – she’d never felt more alive than when she lay dying in Han Alister’s arms (p152).

This is a review of an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, Hyperion, via NetGalley.

At the conclusion of The Exiled Queen, Raisa had escaped a kidnapping/forced marriage attempt by Micah Bayar while on route from the south to the Fells in the north. Han Alister and Amon were in pursuit. Raisa, the heir to the Gray Wolfe throne, had spent the last several months at school in the south. While there she and Han were once again thrown together and the two eventually began a romantic relationshp, albeit one based on lies.

In this next installment of The Seven Realms series, readers will follow Raisa on her perilous journey home to reclaim her title while wrestling power away from the Wizarding class, maintaining her independence from the Clan and proving to the common people of the Flatland that she is a monarch to be proud of.

Han will come to learn the truth about Raisa and must decide what he wants. The clan would kill him if they suspected his feelings for her while the wizard elite would just as soon remove Raisa from the throne should she throw in with a street thug like Han.

Still the assasination attempts continue. It seems like it will take a miracle to see Raisa to Queenhood.

This novel has a bit of a middle child feel as things take a turn for the political. I kept thinking, “If Gen were here he’d have this whole mess of who is doing what sorted out in a jiffy.” Raisa, however, has few people she can trust and so must rely on her own wits. Han continues to use Crow as a means to an end even after Crow’s identitiy as a powerful wizard is revealed. But this relationship is only touched on. I am sure it will play a much larger role in future books.

Fans will not be disappointed, only eager for the story to continue. The Seven Realms is turning out to be a well-plotted, immense world. I’m eager for more but not anxious for an end.

The Gray Wolf Throne has received a starred review from Kirkus.

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The Exiled Queen: A Seven Realms Novel by Cinda Williams Chima (2010)

Ok, I’m really not going to summarize when “The Book Smugglers” have done an excellent job of it already.

Like Kristin Cashore, Jonathan Stroud and Cornelia Funke, Cinda builds complex worlds (loved her Warrior/Wizard/Dragon Heir series) with complex characters, some clearly good, some evil but many falling somewhere on a scale. I have grown to love many of them.

I’m eager to read more about the Seven Realms, as Chima is clearly setting the stage for a lot more complex action. Chima’s characters, like those in John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice,  are so well drawn I feel like they are friends. Like I have a vested interest in their relationships. I find myself frustrated, elated and scared right along with them.

Apparently, there will be four books in the Seven Realms series; the final two being The Sword of Hanalea (Sept.-Oct. 2011) and The Gray Wolf Throne (Fall 2012). I’m hoping I can get my hands on an ARC of book 3 as well.

I recommend this to those who enjoyed:

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Mistwood by Leah Cypess (2010)

She looked like a deer poised for flight, her slim body taut in an incongruous gown, her face sharp and still. Then she turned and was gone, and Rokan dropped back into his pillow, limp with relief. She was going to do it. She was going to watch over him. Best of all, his biggest worry had just ceased to exist. She didn’t remember what happened last time, the real reason she had fled to her woods (p 61).

Isabel is the Shifter, a thing of fog and mist living in her wood. She can shift into a cat, a wolf, an eagle or turn her skin to stone. But when the King calls on her, she must answer. She is bound to protect the throne, an impulse she cannot ignore.

So, when Rokan approaches her, she could evade him but doesn’t. He ties a bracelet around her wrist to bind her and ensure her aid, for her last assignment did not end well.

Mistwood is full of political intrigue, conniving characters and usurpers. Isabel, with little memory of her life outside the woods, recalls information intermittently as needed. But will it be soon enough? Who is trying to kill Prince Rokan and why? More importantly for Isabel, why can she not shift within the castle walls? What happened to her ten years ago that she retreated to her woods wounded and crying?

This is a good read that will keep you on the edge of your seat and awake well past your bedtime. The action begins immediately and the reader is putting the pieces together with Isabel.

The book’s flaw is that it is so focused on the unraveling mysteries, that it fails in two other important areas.

First, it fails to adequately develop the romance between Isabel and Rokan. I applaud subtlety but this was practically muted and I didn’t quite feel Isabel’s decision at the end was justified, especially considering the second failure.

Cypess does not expound upon the larger political scene. There are vague hints about what is happening outside the King’s castle but not enough to fairly say one man would rule better than the other. We have only Rokan’s opinion that Kaer (the rightful King) would have failed the kingdom.

So, in terms of quality, I would rank it below books like Graceling or Fire by Kristin Cashore but above books like Gone by Michael Grant or Need by Carrie Jones.

Cypess is a first-time author so a William C. Morris Debut Author nod may be in her future.