Sep 30, 2011
Series: Chronicles of Kendra Kandlestar, Book 3
Author: Lee Edward Födi
Publisher: Brown Books Publishing
Book Source: review copy from author
Kendra Kandlestar is twelve now, and her Uncle, the wizard Griffinskitch, has taken her as his apprentice. Kendra wants to master magic as quickly as possible, so she can find and rescue her missing brother. Her new wand is slow to obey her, however, and Kendra is tempted by another source of power - a shard from the cauldron that once belonged to the sorcerer Greeve.
Power is tempting for other Eens too. To secure their own position, the village council forbids animals - like Kendra's friends Ratchet the raccoon and Oki the mouse - to use magic, and takes Uncle Griffinskitch prisoner. Kendra, Oki, and the warrior grasshopper Jinx manage to escape, and begin the quest for Kendra's brother. But every unger, dwarf, and krake in the magical realms seems to be after the shard. And Kendra soon discovers that invoking power and controlling it are two very different things.
The first volume in this series reminded me a little of The Hobbit, and Shard from Greeve feels a bit like the Lord of the Rings - the shard itself gave me a "one ring" kind of vibe. That, however, is where the similarities ended. As always, Födi fills his world with unique and unusual creatures, brought to life through their dialects and the lively artwork that decorates almost every page. While the settings are fantastic, the problems and motivations of the characters will resonate with real-life kids. There's also plenty of humour to balance out the more serious aspects of the story.
Plot-wise, I felt that this installment was a little less focused than Box of Whispers or Door to Unger. I think it's partly because Kendra seemed to make less progress towards her overall goal - to discover what happened to her missing family - than she did in previous books. A number of threads are also left dangling at the end of the story. I almost got the impression that Shard from Greeve was intended as a transitional book, meant to lead into the second half of the series.
Books one and two can be read as stand-alones, but I believe book three will be most appealing to established fans of the series. As before, I recommend Kendra Kandlestar to fans of Angie Sage's Septimus Heap series.
For more information on Lee Födi, visit his website. You can also get a sneak peak at book four, Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah, at www.kendrakandlestar.com
Sep 23, 2011
Author: Karen Bass
Publisher: Coteau Books
Book Source: review copy from publisher
Sid's not exactly prom queen material. She loves woodshop, considers baggy jeans and band T-shirts the height of fashion, and would rather be friends with guys than waste time talking about girly stuff. In the eyes of her glamorous cousin Heather, Sid's the ultimate ugly duckling.
But Sid doesn't care, because she knows who she is - a drummer girl. Drummer girls, however, need bands, and there's only one at Sid's high school. It's composed of the most popular - and powerful - guys at school. When they tell Sid she'll have to change her image just to be considered, she knows what she has to do. But when she asks Heather to turn her from a duckling to a swan, Sid has no idea how enormous - and catastrophic - the consequences will be.
High school is a time for figuring out who you are, and how far you'll go to get the things you want. Drummer Girl encapsulates that struggle. As Sid grapples (in some cases literally) with the more serious outcomes of her makeover, she realizes just how much of herself she's compromised to meet someone else's ideal. She emerges from her journey scarred, but stronger.
Sid's choices put her in dangerous situations, and there are a few moments in the later part of the book that struck me as more about the problem than about Sid as an individual. However, Bass does a great job of constructing Sid's world, showing us her background, her life, and her complex relationships with other characters. Since I grew up in the time of After School Specials, I suspect my impression has more to do with personal bias than a flaw in the book itself.
One of the things I really liked about Drummer Girl is the parallel Bass sets up between Sid's approach to drumming and her emotional growth. I suspect there's additional symbolism built into the chapter titles, which are all drumming moves, but as a former flute player, I have no idea what it is. I'm sure that percussion-inclined teens will really enjoy this aspect of the story.
Drummer Girl is a good pick for those who liked Jill MacLean's Home Truths or Susan Juby's Getting the Girl. For more information on Karen Bass and her books, check out her website.
Sep 16, 2011
Series: Fire and Thorns, Book 1
Author: Rae Carson
Book Source: review copy from publisher
From the cover:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.
Elisa is the chosen one.
But she is also the younger of two princesses. The one who has never done anything remarkable, and can't see how she ever will.
Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king--a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs her to be the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.
And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies, seething with dark magic, are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior, and he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.
Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn't die young.
Most of the chosen do.
First, let's talk cover art. The one at the top of the post is the North American cover. It's pretty, but if I passed it on the shelf at a bookstore, nothing about it would really grab me. I might pick it up because it's clearly fantasy and I enjoy that, but this cover doesn't demand the attention the book deserves. In contrast, how much do I love the UK version? Well, I'll tell you: enough that when I buy my own copy of this book, I will probably order it from Britain, international shipping costs notwithstanding. It's gorgeous, right? Well, so is this book.
This is a remarkable piece of historical fantasy, and a truly impressive debut novel. The world Carson creates has a sense of depth and tradition - it gives the impression that this is a real place, and that centuries have passed before the current story begins. I have a feeling that if you asked Carson, she'd be able to tell you about every significant event in these countries' histories, and how they've conspired to place the heroine, Elisa, in the predicament she's in.
This same level of thought and detail shines through in the characters. The supporting cast is full of vivid and unique individuals, each with different priorities and agendas. Elisa outshines them all. Her transformation from a self-pitying, helpless child to a fierce, independent, genuine heroine is beautiful to watch. In few novels are plot and character so artfully intertwined.
My only hesitation with this book relates to body image. At the outset, Elisa is fat. She's overlooked and undervalued and she comforts herself with food. By the end of the story, she's strong and fit. This is totally understandable, due to the part where she's forced to walk for weeks on short rations. What worried me a little is that the way Elisa is perceived by others (and perceives herself) changes dramatically as she physically changes. Granted, this reflects a painful and unvarnished reality, but something about it sits uncomfortably with me.
That one quibble aside, I loved this book and was very distressed when I realized I'd have to wait A WHOLE YEAR for the sequel. It's an excellent choice for teens who enjoyed the wonderful Wildwood Dancing. Also an excellent choice for adults who like Jacqueline Carey. But don't give Carey's Kushiel series to your teenager. Seriously. She's brilliant, but NOT approved for young readers.
For more info on Rae Carson and her books, visit her website.
Sep 9, 2011
Author: John Connolly
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Book Source: personal collection
Samuel's the kind of kid that makes grown-ups nervous - the kind that asks philosophical questions during Show-and-Tell (how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, anyway?) and goes Trick-or-Treating three days early (to show initiative). But then the neighbours (with the help of a few misguided physicists) accidentally open a portal to hell, through which all manner of nasty creatures begin to pour. And when demons start running wild, Samuel's exactly the kind of kid humanity needs on its side.
This book is a riot, and not just the dark-minions-unleashed-on-the-world kind. The forces of evil have never been so funny, and it's exactly the kind of dry, unexpected, tongue-in-cheek humour I most enjoy. There's also a fun blend of magic and science, complete with hysterically explanatory footnotes. Samuel and his trusty dog Boswell are courageous and creative heroes, although the not-so-evil demon Nurd may actually steal the show.
Highly recommended to fans of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series, Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus books, and Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.
Sep 2, 2011
Series: Witchlanders Book 1
Author: Lena Coakley
Publisher: Athenium (S&S)
Book Source: review copy from publisher
From the cover:
High in their mountain covens, red witches pray to the Goddess, protecting the Witchlands by throwing the bones and foretelling the future.
It’s all a fake.
At least, that’s what Ryder thinks. He doubts the witches really deserve their tithes—one quarter of all the crops his village can produce. And even if they can predict the future, what danger is there to foretell, now that his people’s old enemy, the Baen, has been defeated?
But when a terrifying new magic threatens both his village and the coven, Ryder must confront the beautiful and silent witch who holds all the secrets. Everything he’s ever believed about witches, the Baen, magic and about himself will change, when he discovers that the prophecies he’s always scorned—
Are about him.
When you read as much fantasy (and YA) as I do, you start to develop certain expectations. The genre has traditions, after all, and most books nod to more than one. Witchlanders doesn't. It defied my expectations at every turn. Which was a little unsettling, to be honest, but also rather spectacular.
For example. I'm not sure who the girl is on the otherwise stunning cover, but the book's protagonist is a guy. Two guys, in fact - the Witchlander Ryder and the Baen Falpian - which I wouldn't have guessed from the jacket copy. More significantly, Coakley's created a richly detailed fantasy world like nothing I've ever read before. And there wasn't any romance. I'm so used to YA having a romantic component that I spent a large part of the book wondering when sparks were going to fly between Ryder and Falpian. I recognize this tells you more about me than the book, but it's unusual enough to be noteworthy.
There's a great supporting cast of characters here, too. Ryder's sister Skyla is a nonsense-free, take-no-prisoners kind of girl who's not afraid to stand up for herself and what she believes in. Ryder's mother is so fascinating, I wished she had a bigger role to play, and the dog Bo is pure awesome. My only real complaint was that the book reads like a prologue for the rest the series, but that's my issue more than a flaw in the story itself. Definitely looking forward to the next one!
Recommended to fans of Graceling, Hilari Bell's The Goblin Wood, or anything by Tamora Pierce. For more info on Lena Coakley and her books, check out her website.