Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Halo" by Alexandra Adornetto (US Debut Author)

In a teen market overcrowded with dark, brooding supernatural novels,
Halo stands out as something different. If the bright, liquid-gold light beckoning from the cover doesn't pull your eyes away from the black, angsty covers surrounding it, its premise will surely grab the attention of the reader looking for something "different." The novel initially caught my attention due to the fact that even though it was dealing with the supernatural theme of angels currently being made popular by smash hits such as Becca Fitzpatrick's Hush, Hush and Lauren Kate's Fallen (both of which have striking book jacket design that makes me envious every time), the angels in Halo are still messengers of God.

The book revolves around Bethany, a young angel visiting Earth for the first time, her brother Gabriel, an Arch Angel, and sister Ivy, a seraphim. The three messengers have descended in human form in order to combat the forces of evil infiltrating mankind. It takes a lot of time for them to adjust to life as "humans," especially Bethany, who is experiencing everything anew. She is more "human" than the other angels and is able to share their emotions, which leads her into trouble when she falls for a mortal boy at her new school.

Halo is full of rich, vibrant detail that paints an image in the reader's mind. It's easy to envision the kind of world the angels came from and to see our own society through their eyes. The way Bethany viewed Earth felt very natural, like something an angel would think. Alexandra Adornetto masterfully wove words together to create such a cohesive point of view that never felt forced the way some other novels do.

Readers looking for a romantic focus with a lighter form of the supernatural thrown into the mix will find themselves intrigued by the latest novel to enter the teen market. It's different from anything out there and might very well pave the way for other such stories. It's also nice to see books coming out this fall where it is the female main character who is a supernatural being and that the male she winds up falling for is mortal and not necessarily a brooding bad boy, first with Sophie Jordan's Firelight and now with Halo.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"The Hunger Games Trilogy" by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (Trilogy) is one of the most "unputdownable" books to enter the teen market in a long time. The cliffhangers at the end of each volume are so intense, you can't help but continue on. Knowing this in advance, I decided against reading the series last summer despite the fact that everyone was talking about it. I waited the extra year, and I'm glad I did--even a week was torture when it came to getting my grubby mitts on a copy of Mockingjay.

For the record, this isn't a series for everyone. You will be drained emotionally by its end. The Hunger Games is one of the grimmest dystopian worlds I've encountered in literature. A lot of characters die, and their deaths aren't pleasant. This series may not be for you. Then again, those who know me well would say it's not for me, either. I'm one of the most squeamish people you'll meet, and The Hunger Games more closesly resembles the movie Battle Royale than I thought it would when I started reading. I really enjoyed the series, though. There are scenes so poignant, they'll stick with me. Between this and Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, I've found that even squeamish ole me can still enjoy a disturbing book if it's thought-provoking and well-written.

Now that I've warned you about the contents, let's move on to the meat of this review. It's hard to go in-depth without giving a lot away, so I decided to focus on the trilogy as a whole instead of singling out Mockingjay and reviewing it on its own (though I do have a paragraph dedicated to it further down). A brief synopsis for the uninitiated:

The trilogy takes place in the future. The USA has been destroyed; in its place is Panem, which consists of thirteen districts and a Capitol city. Before the series begins, the districts revolt against the Capitol and are defeated; the thirteenth is completely obliterated. As retribution for their crimes, each district is now required to send a boy and girl, called tributes, to participate in the annual Hunger Games. The games are centered around survival; there can only be one winner (Luckily, most of the deaths occur off-page, so it makes it easier for the squeamish to read). The characters are very rich and detailed; some of their deaths hit incredibly hard and are forever memorable. In the second book, Catching Fire, there is a lot of unease in the districts, and a lot of anger when the year's Hunger Games take a twisted turn and past winners are forced to battle it out for survival. The final book, Mockingjay, consists of a full out rebellion; the districts are at war with the Capitol and it's do or die in a showdown so explosive, readers never see it coming.

Mockingjay has already received flack for not going in the direction fans anticipated. Most were caught up in a romantic triangle and hoped the final book would have a heavy emphasis on this theme with war as a backdrop and a happily-ever-after on the horizon. At the same time, Suzanne Collins has been setting up the revolution since Day One; the grim nature of the first two books should lead readers to believe that the finale will continue in a similar vein. Yes, people will die and it won't always be fair. That's life. I think the direction of Mockingjay was natural, especially in war-like situations. Characters will not be the same as they were earlier in life; war changes you. I would have been disappointed if Collins sidestepped harsh realities in order to soften the story. The tale she weaves is extreme, but it's also genuine. To me, by sticking to her guns and not copping out for something friendlier, she has created a memorable, haunting series that will stick with you long after you've finished reading it.

I'd also like to bring attention to the amazing book jacket art put together by designer Elizabeth B. Parisi and artist Tim O'Brien. At first glance, they don't mean much, but once you've read the serious, you notice just how ingenious they truly are. Before I read the series, I looked at the preview of the Mockingjay jacket and thought, "Wow, that's bright compared to the first two." Now I know better. Each book features a mockingjay, which is a hybrid mix of mockingbird and jabberjay (a Capitol creation used for spying on enemies during the first rebellion). The first book features the bird as the pin the main character, Katsa's, friend gives to her. The book is black and grim, giving it a desolate air. Every character in the Games feels hopeless, as though he/she won't survive. The second book's mockingbird is trapped inside a clock-like environment, which is the setting of the Hunger Games in this volume. The book is red for fire (both for its title, Catching Fire, and the literal associations with the element in the book), for anger (the fact that previous survivors of the Hunger Games must participate once more), and for bloodshed. Both books feature these circular objects that link to one another representing the way the districts and Capitol are linked. The final book features a mockingjay with its wings spread out. The linked circles are in broken pieces around it. The book is a vivid sky blue, the color of peace and hope. These covers have become favorites of mine; I adore the symbolism.

All in all, I'm personally glad I've read this series and wouldn't change a thing. I'm glad I didn't sidestep it due to its violent nature and extreme situations. This trilogy is one I'll read again to delve into the intricate layers I know Collins has laid out for us. Collins is a master at capturing a society at war and showing the horrors that come when a corrupt government is in control.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Firelight" by Sophie Jordan (Debut Author)

What would you do if the guy you fell in love with came from a family that wanted to kill you? Sophie Jordan’s Firelight explores this concept, bringing a new type of fantasy to the currently packed supernatural star-crossed romance tables. Instead of vampires or werewolves or fallen angels, we’re introduced to draki, a being descended from the dragons who is able to take on a human form and live among us undetected.

One of the best things about Firelight is the fact that it’s the female main character, Jacinda, who is the mythical being. Lately, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the supernatural being is male, while the female is mortal. In this case, however, even Will, the guy Jacinda falls in love with, is more than he appears. He comes from a family of hunters intent on killing the draki, though he has more of a conscious and hates what he is.

The star-crossed duo find themselves falling in love at first sight once Jacinda moves away from her brethren and enrolls at the local high school. At first, our heroine tries to stay away from Will, knowing who and what he is, but finds the task impossible, especially since being near him means remaining in tune with the draki within. One of the reasons she had to move away was because of an incident that happened that nearly exposed the pride. They have a terrible future in store for her, and to protect her, Jacinda’s mother moved everyone into the desert, hoping to kill the draki part of her daughter.

I don’t want to spoil much about the plot, but I will say that if you pick this up, expect to wait for a sequel. This book isn’t a stand-alone, and ends on a note that had me pulling at my hair. Firelight sucked me in right from the start. The imagery and detail is vivid, especially when Jacinda manifests from human to draki. It was also interesting to read about the plight of Jacinda’s twin sister, Tamra, who was never able to transform. In this new world of high school, it is she who is special and stands-out, not her sister, the last fire-breather in the pride.
If you’re sick of supernatural romances with the same over-used plot and cliché characters, Firelight is a refreshing change of pace. It’s still full of fantasy, but manages to add a new type of character to the mix. It’s a compelling read that will instantly have readers begging for more, and guaranteed to have knock-offs nipping at its heels if it takes off with readers looking for something a little bit different these days.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Heroes of the Valley" by Jonathan Stroud

The moment I first laid eyes on Heroes of the Valley, I wanted to read it. The first thing I noticed was the big, splashy blurb from Rick Riordan on the cover. That, combined with the summary on the back, made me think I was in for Vikings and Norse Mythology...Percy Jackson Style. Next, I realized that the author was Jonathan Stroud author of The Bartimaeus Trilogy. I've heard nothing but good things about the trilogy and bought bargain-priced hardcovers around Christmas last year, but have never gotten around to reading them (though as of now, I've finished the first one and started the second). I was going to order a hard copy to match my other books by him, but changed my mind when I saw that there was an autographed plate inside. All of this, combined with the fact that all four copies were sold the day they came in (I should know; I shelved them myself) convinced me to buy this book and read it right away.

That being said, the book wasn't what I was expecting at all. I don't mean that in a bad way, either. I just had my own idea of what the book would be about. I actually like the fact that Stroud placed his characters in their own time period and not present-day better than my initial assumption. I love the fact that the beginning of each chapter starts with a tale about the hero Svein. This addition allowed the text to feel more like a traditional folktale from the days of old.

The novel takes place during the time of the Vikings (I kept envisioning the sets/costumes/hair styles from the movie How to Train Your Dragon when reading this novel). As the novel opens, we learn the tale about twelve brave men who heroically died fighting to save their homeland from the evil Trows. The men become heroes and their bodies are buried in the valley to keep the Trows away. The descendents of each hero come from twelve different houses. Our protagonist, Halli Sveinsson, is related to the mighty Svein himself. Halli is a mischievous boy and constantly in trouble for playing pranks on people. One day, he goes too far and sets off a chain of events that will cause him to set off on a journey to the other houses as the truth about everything he thought he knew completely turns inside out.

The book starts off slow, but maintains a lush form of storytelling that allows the reader to overlook this. Once it picked up, the book was hard to put down, especially once invested in Halli's plight. Even so, the final climax introduced a new plotline that seemed out of sync with the rest of the work and changed the entire tone of the novel. I never saw it coming and wish the climax had been handled differently. The novel ends on a note where it can stand alone but can also be revisited if Stroud chooses to do so in the future. If he does, it would be interesting to see him deal with the aftermath of the first novel's climax so that it doesn't seem so out there.

If I had to choose, I'd say that I like Stroud's Bartimaeus work better, but I've only read the first of the trilogy to date and can't speak for the remaining two novels. At the same time, it's not fair to compare the two because the tone of each novel is so vastly different. I do love the concepts introduced in Heroes of the Valley and admire the style that set's the novel's tone, but the climax and slow start prevented me from enjoying the novel as much as I originally thought I would.

My Apologies!

Hey everyone,

Sorry it's been so long since the last update. I really thought I'd put a few more books on here than I actually did. ^^;;

I don't really have any excuses for my absence. All I can say is that I haven't had the computer on much because it makes my room really hot, especially this summer (and with no AC). I also haven't been reading as much as usual due to some recent reflection. A friend had commented on her blog that she sometimes has trouble getting into her characters and her own writing after reading books or watching movies/TV shows with other people's characters. I've noticed that the less I read, the more I can work on my own stuff. My mind feels more alive than it has in a while.

Also, until the past couple of weeks, I didn't really read anything remarkable. Well, The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan, but I apparently forgot to review that one. And that was what? May, June? Everything else has been older backlog by various authors that have a thousand reviews or works I didn't have enough positive things to point out on here. Oh plus re-reading The 39 Clues for the book club I was in charge of at work this summer but I'll review that series in two weeks when the final book comes out.

Anyway, I'm going to be reading a bit more in the weeks to come as far as new stuff goes so I'm going to get this thing going again.

Sorry again! I hope you stick with me :)