Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Enchanted Ivy" by Sarah Beth Durst

Every college-bound high school student dreams of being accepted into their first-choice college. For Lily Carter, getting into her family's alma mater, Princeton University, is an easier process than she thought it would be. During her grandfather's reunion, she discovers that if she passes the secretive Legacy Test by finding the Ivy Key, she'll not only be enrolled in a secret society on campus, she'll also be guaranteed admission to Princeton. She'll still have to formally submit an application, but it will all be for show. What high school student wouldn't want that guarantee, especially when it's for a prestigious Ivy League school?

As luck would have it, Lily soon discovers that locating the Ivy Key opens the door to a world she would have never dreamed of. Sarah Beth Durst's attention to detail really comes alive as she paints a picture of the beautiful campus architecture in a way that makes readers feel like they're actually able to see Princeton in their mind. She pays particular attention to the gargoyles, which inspired her to write the novel in the first place. The gargoyles are the protectors of the university, hailing from a fantasy world with a different Princeton. There is a gateway between our world and theirs located on campus, and if Lily manages to find the Ivy Key, citizens of each area will be able to travel back and forth.

Aided by both a mysterious student with tiger-striped hair and the grandson of the secret society's leader, Lily finds herself trapped in a love triangle as she embarks on her quest. The novel's romantic tilt isn't as eloquent as the one she painted in last year's Ice (review here), nor does it have the same level of depth, but because of this, a younger audience can discover this book. It's interesting to see the way Durst portrays each love interest. You can tell whom you're supposed to root for as a reader because one of the suitors has more depth than the other, who pales in comparison due to lack of fleshing out, one of the book's weaker elements. Even so, the main love interest is extremely likable and full of interesting quirks.

Another perk when it comes to Enchanted Ivy is the way the chosen typography design gets you in the mood for a good fantasy. Debra Sfetsios-Conover set the book in Brioso Pro, which gives the letters an elegant shape, especially the "s," while still being easy on the eyes. I don't know the name for the font used for the novel/chapter titles, but it's *gorgeous.* It suits the book well. The shimmer sheen on the book jacket (something that can be seen easily by the photograph accompanying this entry) gives the novel a nice finish that makes it eye-catching on the shelf.

While Ice is still my favorite of Durst's four novels, Enchanted Ivy is a fine addition to add to the shelf. It's wish fulfillment at its finest, thrown in with a splash of fantasy, romance, and adventure. It's definitely a good book to curl up with on a rainy day!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Hunger" by Jackie Morse Kessler (YA Debut Author)

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? (from the book jacket)

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler has been on my radar ever since I saw the book's gorgeous, symbolic cover peering up at me from the Teen pre-order page. Once I clicked on the image and read the novel's stunning synopsis, I knew this book would be a Day One Buy. Fellow Bookworms, let me tell you: This book was worth the wait.

I love the way Kessler talks about tough issues facing teens such as self-abuse in both this novel and her upcoming sequel, Rage (coming April 18, 2011). In Hunger, the girl who takes up the mantle of Famine is anorexic, and the book focuses on her struggle with the disease. You really see inside Lisa's mind and understand her fears and fixation on staying thin. Kessler also gives Lisa a "Thin Voice," that voice in the back of your head that always tells your every fault. Rage will focus on the horseman War and deal with a girl who is a cutter. Portions of proceeds from both books go to organizations that focus on these disorders. Kessler manages to talk about these issues in a way that doesn't preach and will really appeal to readers. It's a book that could be picked up for fun or enjoyed in a classroom. I like the fact that there's a paranormal story running parallel to the issues of self-abuse, which will open the book to more readers than one solely focusing on the disorder would.

The paranormal aspect of the novel is just as strong. I loved the fact that Famine was secretly anorexic and struggled with food. What a brilliant move on Kessler's part! It gives Lisa more to balance and struggle with, and Famine is all about the balancing act (one reason the scales on the cover are so symbolic). I also loved the interaction with the horseman Death. What a cool character. He could have been all grim and creepy the way Death is normally portrayed, but instead, has a laid-back, rocker-vibe going for him. I always loved his appearance and wished he was in the book more. I'm excited to read his book when the time comes.

If you love paranormal books and want something that deals with tougher issues than the normal light read in the genre, Hunger is definitely worth putting on your radar. It's only 177 pages, so it's a fast read that you can fit in between the million titles still sitting on your to-be-read list.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"The Lost Hero" by Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan's son told him that The Lost Hero, the first in the author's new Heroes of Olympus series, was his best book yet, even better than break-out sensation Percy Jackson and the Olympians. He was absolutely right. In May, I said The Red Pyramid, the first in new Egyptian series The Kane Chronicles was Riordan's best book yet. I loved the way he had come into his own as an author with a distinguished voice all his own. Unlike with PJ, you weren't comparing things to other popular series such as Harry Potter. This was a Rick Riordan book. It was HIM. I'll say the same thing about The Lost Hero. Riordan has really become a talented storyteller.

One thing I love about Riordan is the way he uses mythology, a genre that's always been dear to my heart. One thing that made The Kane Chronicles so fantastic was the fact that I learned so much about Egyptian mythology. I already knew a lot of the Greek mythology emphasized in PJ and it wasn't as detailed. With The Lost Hero, even though Riordan is delving into Greek mythology once more, he's taking the time to focus on little-known details and facts. There's a lot more information on the Romans, for example, as well as little-known gods and goddesses such as Khione, the goddess of snow.

The new book feels very tight and detailed. By the time the five-book series reaches its conclusion, there will be an epic tale for readers to return to. I like the way Riordan made the decision to split the book into the viewpoints of three different demigods, much as he did with The Kane Chronicles. It really allowed you to get into the head of everyone on the quest, not just one of the heroes. You could see the way they each struggled to come to terms with their new powers and immortal parents in their own way. I anticipate that every book will be this way as we are introduced to each of the seven demigods revealed in the Great Prophecy. I also feel that there's a good chance the next book will feature characters we haven't met yet and that the heroes we've encountered in this volume either won't appear at all, or not until the finale. If this proves to be the case, it will further solidify Riordan's merit as an extremely talented writer; breaking your characters up between volumes writers can make the writing process harder, as seen by struggles that have delayed authors such as George R. R. Martin from releasing material more frequently.

As with his other books, Riordan creates a fast, nail-biting pace from the get-go in his new series and introduces new characters for his readers to fall in love with. There's Jason, whose name brings back memories of one of the greatest heroes of old, Piper, who takes everyone by surprise by having such powerful gifts, especially given her parentage, and finally Leo, a son of Hephaestus with a wicked cool toolbelt and a penchant for fire-breathing dragons. We're also given updates regarding the new of what has become of our favorite heroes and heroines from the first Camp Half-Blood series. The nice thing about The Lost Hero is that you don't have to read the PJ series in order to get into this one. The two series complement one another and work together, but for a first-time reader, things will still make sense.

The series is designed to keep readers on their toes. If you're astute and know your mythology, you'll probably realize who the main villain is early on. Given enough clues, you'll probably realize the truth about Jason as well. There's also a good chance that you may figure out the truth revealed in the final chapter (and the reason Riordan wouldn't reveal the name of the next book at the live simulcast launch party on Tuesday). At the same time, you may be blown away with each new discovery. I tend to be one of those readers who reads too many books for her own good and learned how to read with a critical eye, which makes fooling me harder than most. At the same time, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Some of my theories were very wrong and proven to be from almost the beginning, others developed as the novel progressed and I had an "Ah-ha!" moment, pleased with myself when my suspicions proved true. I was so involved in the novel and fate of all the characters. I wish I had the next book in my greedy little hands already. Scratch that. I wish I had the next two, if we don't get to see these characters again until book three.

If you liked Percy Jackson (or even disliked it due to its similarities to other novels, like some people I know) or enjoy mythology, this book is one of this fall's must-reads. My only hope for the rest of the series is that a closer eye is paid to the editing process. You could tell the book was rushed to press; I'm one of those annoying readers that can be pulled out of the moment when there's a word or comma where there shouldn't be (or something glaringly missing, too). These books are too good to let such neglect mar them and allow for criticism in the future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Release Round-Up

I've had this blog long enough that books I first reviewed in tradecloth are starting to come out in paperback. For people checking out my blog for the first time, here are some books you may have missed that are now out in paperback:


Ice by Sarah Beth Durst (A great rendering of the fairytale East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Durst has a new book out in tradecloth this week, Enchanted Ivy. Hoping to read soon!

Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier (also nice if you want a good Beauty and the Beast novel after either reading my review on the art book or watching the re-release of the movie on Blu-Ray!)


House Rules by Jodi Picoult (Autism, true crime, and all the court drama Picoult has become known for!)

(figured I might as well list it now so I don't need to do another round-up anytime soon!)

Hope you guys get a chance to check out these awesome books now that they're at a friendlier price point!

"Room" by Emma Donoghue

Room is one of the most thought-provoking, yet emotionally draining novels of the year. Emma Donoghue's tight control when it comes to rendering dialogue is vivid and precise, resulting in a gripping experience as we see the world through a five-year-old's point of view.

This novel will not be for everyone. It has disturbing themes that may creep some people out. The main characters are involved in a situation similar to what happened with Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was kidnapped and concealed for eighteen years before being discovered last summer. The subject matter is touchy and hard-hitting. Fans of authors such as Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain will find themselves in for another mind-blowing novel from a fresh new book the literary world can't stop talking about.

One of the best things about Room is the way Donoghue gets into the mind of her five-year-old protagonist, Jack. The readers see the world through his eyes. Jack grew up in a shed and never experienced the outside world. He only knows his mother and the man he calls "Old Nick" who creeps into their room at night. He watches TV and thinks that his room is the only reality in the world. Stores, schools, etc. are all fictional and made just for TV. While reading his voice takes a little getting used to, it's handled masterfully and done well. Take the book's opening, for example:
"Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. 'Was I minus numbers?'"
This is the type of wording that allows us to think, "Yeah, a five-year-old could actually think like that." I always hate when books and movies have the kids saying things so far beyond their years that it feels unbelievable. This felt very natural to me.

After the book explores the sliver of life available to Jack and his mother, it moves on to something more hopeful: Freedom. Our main characters are able to escape the man keeping them captive and re-enter the real world. Again, Donoghue took the time to think about how such people might react. After being by themselves for so long--and in Jack's case, his entire life--it's hard to be surrounded by so many people again. There are little things we take for granted every day. We don't need sunglasses and the highest SPF sunscreen to step outside for a couple of minutes. We know how to walk up and down steps. There are common sense things that we don't even think about. We just know. Jack's struggle to adapt to the world is the heart of Room.

If you want something that will make you sit and reflect once you're done, check out this amazing novel. The characters and scenarios will stick with you long after the last page is turned.

"Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast" by Charles Solomon

I've always been a Disney girl. Growing up, Belle was one of my favorite princesses. As a kid, I had a prop box full of things like a fake rose in a vase, my old Dorothy Halloween costume (it looked enough like Belle's blue dress to me), and a stuffed My Little Pony tied to a stick that I would pull out whenever I wanted to play. I had recorded Beauty and the Beast off the TV onto a cassette tape and written out every line of Belle's (and the prompt beforehand) with my pink, purple, and blue Lisa Frank pens (the third color for the song lyrics, the others for the aforementioned two line types). I recently found that notebook, too, and can't bring myself to throw it away! I would become Belle in my room back before I even knew what "acting" or "stage theatre" was. Belle had brown hair like me and read a lot the way I did and her name also started with a "B." I loved Belle. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

Today, I still hold a soft spot for the character; several figurines of her (and Ariel, my other favorite) adorn my dresser. The moment I laid eyes on Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast at my local B&N, I knew I had to have it. Its looks alone drew me over to it. The cover is purple--my favorite color--and has the scene of Belle and Beast dancing. The rose is etched in gold on the back cover. Not only that, the movie just re-released on Blu-Ray, meaning interest in the movie is once again at an all-time high. Disney knew I would want this gorgeous tome. The only drawback is the fact that the retail price is $40, which is pretty steep if a good sale isn't going on. The money is worth it, though, because every page is high-quality and the photographs are vivid and full.

This book is like looking into a little piece of history. If you like documentaries like A Pixar Story (on the Wall-E DVD and on TV sometimes) or Waking Sleeping Beauty (on DVD Nov. 30), you'll love this book. It's a written documentary. Every chapter uses a line from one of the song's many songs, which is genius in and of itself. The book begins by talking about the legend of Beauty and the Beast and quickly moves into preliminary work on how Disney began creating its own version. There are sketches of early versions that reveal a very different look at the world we've come to know and love. If these plans had gone ahead, the movie wouldn't be what it is today.

Looking at early artwork made me feel privileged. How often do we get to see everything a studio scraps before coming up with the final, polished version? I especially loved the close-up of what went into creating the beast. He was re-tooled so many times, and I never really thought about WHAT kind of creature he was before. Beast is a true hybrid; he borrows his body parts from so many different animals. (A preview of early Beast concepts and a look into character artist Glen Keane's thought-process is available in the Fall issue of Disney 23 magazine [the one with Tangled on the cover), which may still be at your local magazine stand.)

The book is also full of fun, little-known facts about our beloved movie. For example, if you didn't watch all of the bonuses that came with your Enchanted DVD, you may not know that the Disney Studios ran out of time and money when they were making Beauty and the Beast. Rather than turn in something bad or rushed that was obvious to the audience, they recycled artwork from earlier movies such as Sleeping Beauty and Bambi. The famous waltz scene at the end of both movies is an exact duplicate. The original cells from SB were copied and the images were adjusted to feature Belle and Beast (In fact, you can see a really good side-by-side comparison here). The deer at the beginning of the movie are from Bambi (as are the deer from The Fox and the Hound).

There is so much wonderful information in this art book. It's a true treasure for all Disney connoisseurs and a rare look at the inner workings that led to one of the all-time greatest animated movies ever made.