Convictions & Comforts · Uncategorized · Writing Snippets & Exercises

2010 in Books – Mega Post of Ultra Special Ply

Sorry about that. The title got a little excited!

For the year 2008 I made the resolution to read one new book a week. I met that goal. It was one of the only goals I did keep that year. For 2009 I didn’t make a reading goal, but I still read quite a bit just from getting in the habit of frequenting the library. Since accomplishing two more goals (going to Europe and getting a job) this year, I haven’t done quite as much reading. Still, there are plenty of wonderful finds I’d love to share with my fellow “worms.” These are not necessarily books that were released in 2010, but ones I read last year.

You’ll notice there’s a majority of fantasy/sci-fi and YA fiction. I’m not sure there are any here that don’t fall into one of those categories, actually. It’s hard to read really historical books when your mind just wants to collapse in on itself before bed.

Bit ‘o warning…. I think I’m a terrible synopsis writer. I really do. I only wrote them now because I figure it’s not nice to review something with little to no information on what the thing is about.

These are in no particular order.

Chalice
(Robin McKinley)

Synopsis

Marisol is a simple beekeeper-turned-Chalice charged with the weighty duty of keeping the Willowlands demense together by binding the Circle which will keep the people and lands in harmony. Her inexperience is put to the test when the presence of a new Master–one who’s very touch can sear human flesh to the bone–unsettles the people, and causes the powers that be to wonder if the Master is not the only person unequipped for his position.

Review–

For a patient reader who delights in the English language, this book is a gem in the rough. One must take the time to enjoy it though, and speed reading is not recommended. Chalice is dignified, romantic, emotional, and subtle; all virtues of a novel that are rarely harmonized so well together in modern literature. Chalice sweeps you through the story with such detail and careful development that a simple three-word phrase can come as quite a staggering revelation, and there were plenty of moments throughout the narrative which prompted little gasps and squeals from my lips. In my eagerness for more, the pages seemed to turn themselves, and yet I lingered in them as long as I could because I didn’t want such lovely feelings to dissipate.

The thing I’ve discovered about Robin McKinley is that she takes the time in her writing to let you build a relationship with the book. As you delve into the story, it’s not just the characters you’re learning, but the place and the culture and a million little details that cultivate an entire world. McKinley’s books are never just a couple hundred pages of entertainment, and Chalice is no exception. It’s an escape into another world entirely; a world of duty, dignity, and enchantments.

If my long-winded review didn’t make it clear, this is most decidedly a favorite. I got a little weepy when my copy arrive in the mail not too many months ago.

Other–

There is another (newer) cover for it, shown here.

I think it’s beautiful, but doesn’t quite capture the feel of the book like its original, more medieval (absolutely stunningly gorgeous) cover does. Knowing the book and the author as well as I do, I don’t think it does them justice–lovely as it is. I see the above cover and think, “This looks like a wonderful, intelligent novel! How deliciously medieval!” The one to the left makes me say, “Oh, how pretty! But it’s too youthful to be any more than a cheese-fest. There are probably love sick teens in it.” Judging books by their covers is inevitable. At some point the people who choose the covers have to be held accountable. ;)

 

-x-

 

Incarceron
(Catherine Fisher)

Snyopsis–

No one would deny that Incarceron is a prison. “Walls have ears. Doors have eyes. Trees have voices. Beasts tell lies.” The prison creates, it destroys, it mutates, it murders, and according to all memory, Finn has been trapped inside since birth; a victim of the prison that made him. He is desperate to escape, and convinced it is not his fate to die within.

Claudia is a prisoner of another kind entirely. A prisoner of the 17th century, living in an idyllic computerized world but made to keep strictly to “era.” A lifestyle meticulously enforced by her father, the Warden of Incarceron. When her marriage is arranged to an unhappy suitor, Claudia is prompted into action, determined to flee a purposeless life and find her only hope of escape.

Review–

I know I sort of already did this, but I feel that’s not in keeping with this post theme. Therefore, I reviewed it again.

Brilliant sci-fi! The plot was complex, taking enough twist and turns to keep me interested, but it wasn’t crudely contrived or presented in a sudden rush at the end; a trick a lot of novels have a habit of pulling and leaving me flustered over. This one was quite refreshing. Well paced, hugely fascinating concept, and expertly delivered. This was the first of Catherine Fisher’s books I’ve read, but if her other works are anything like it, I’m sure to be impressed.

Thought-provoking and oft times frightening, Incarceron is a book I’d gladly recommend to anyone who enjoys a nail-biter. Not only that, but I have notebook pages littered with quotes from this fantastic book.

I await the sequel.

Other–

There’s going to be a movie. No, I’m not happy.

-x-

To Catch a Pirate
(Jade Parker)

Synopsis–

Set upon by pirates whilst aboard her father’s ship, Annalisa Townsend makes a life-changing exchange; one kiss for a pirate in order to keep her deceased mother’s necklace. The scoundrel, James Sterling, considers it a fair trade, and though he escapes from Annalisa’s clutches after that first encounter, she vows to hunt the rascal down and make him pay.

Obviously, she falls head over heels for him. I’d apologize for spoilers, but really… No one looking at that cover or summary would believe for a second that there wouldn’t be sparks. He’s a pirate. The girl in the cover art is wearing lip gloss. Need I say more?

Review–

I admit, I only read this book because the synopsis, heroine’s name, and place in the teen section promised to afford me many snicker-fests. I was not disappointed.

I’m still wondering–as I chuckle to myself–why Nathaniel kept Annalisa in charge of the ship for so long when she had no experience in… anything whatsoever that pertains to captaining a ship. But if a heroine is to be a heroine, I suppose something must happen in a novel to put her in the appropriate situation. (I use the term appropriate loosely.) There were a number of times Nathaniel had every right to question her “leadership” and throw her below with a stack of dishes to do. I sometimes wished he did; maybe the indignant response to his actions would have led Annalisa’s love compass to redirect it’s north to him. However, I’ve come to terms with the fact that no one writes a teen pirate novel in order to be logical, or to portray any sailors, lieutenants, or captains who are not pirates as dreamboats. (Pun. Har har.)

I have nothing to complain about regarding the giggle-inducing romance aspects; after all, that’s why I read it. The writing was done moderately well for one in its genre with nothing hugely descriptive, but I will repeat; teen pirate romance. It was everything I expected it to be, and perhaps even a little better than that.

It’s a very nice piece of fiction for a tea time read. Very easy to enjoy without requiring much brain matter.

-x-

Brightly Woven
(Alexandra Bracken)

Synopsis–

When rain finally comes to Sydelle’s drought-ravaged village, the man to be thanked is a mysterious wanderer called North. This rag-tag wizard is given his choice of any reward he so desires, and it just so happens that he desires to take Sydelle. The young woman puzzles him, as does her apparent gift for mending his magical cloaks, while she is irritated by his willful nature and strange ways. Together they embark on a journey of discovery in which much bantering, cloak mending, and magic occurs.

(I told you I was bad at summarizing.)

Review–

There is so much that could have made this book a flop, but it surpassed all expectations and turned out amazingly well! At the start, I was not thrilled with Sydelle’s character and only liked North for the potential to create some much-desired drama. But by the middle of the book, I felt that connection which is vitally important to me as a reader. The characters grew on me, just as they grew on each other, and in my personal experience it made the book that much more realistic. The development between our two main characters was excellently done. I found the romance bits very sweet.

There are a dozen little passages and happenings that led me to assume we were about to hit a rock slide of cliches, but it just kept on surprising me by its maturity and charm.

Perhaps the end was slightly rushed, but not horrendously so, and I could easily forgive it that small crime considering all the joy this book afforded me. I sincerely hope to read more of Alexandra Bracken in the future.

-x-

The Princess and the Hound
(Mette Ivie Harrison)

Synopsis–

Prince George has been raised as heir to a kingdom forbidding the possession of animal magic upon penalty of death. He has kept his dangerous secret from everyone around him for fear he will meet a similar end to his mother’s. Persuaded to betroth himself to a princess from another kingdom as a contract of peace, Prince George is both hopeful and hesitant to share his heart with the mysterious and exceedingly proud young woman. Once the secret surrounding her and the dog that never leaves her side begins to unravel, George discovers that their difficulties in learning to love each other may not be the only impediment to their union.

Review–

How fascinating does the book sound by that description? A prince with a dangerous secret, a princess with a proud and regal bearing, animal magic, mysterious deaths, an arranged marriage, and the most loyal dog known to woman! How could the story not be interesting?

By the lifeless way it was written; that’s how. It’s been quite a while since a book disappointed me so badly. This was almost the exact opposite of Brightly Woven in the department of expectations vs. reality. Here was an abundance of creative material to make use of, but the author did not impress me at all with the way the story was developed or the characters were described. There was no real attachment to them, no great feeling of understanding their personalities, motives, emotions, or decisions. They felt rather lifeless to me. George was a cardboard cutout. He never made me think either too good or too ill of him. My opinion on him, as well as the princess, could be summed up with this word: Huh.

This book’s subject matter and plot design had so much potential and I’m surprised at how badly it was delivered.

Other–

Regardless of how disappointing the inside of the book was, the cover art is fantastic. It was actually the first thing that drew me to it. I want her dress. Take or leave the dog… I want the dress.

This drab little tale also loosely inspired a one-shot of mine which is slowly turning into a 3-shot. Is there such a thing as a three part one-shot? Anyway, this was due in part to my frustration with George in being too nice and perfectly patient, and thereby, boring. I wanted more angst I suppose, but the kind that comes across as humorous. I would have loved it if something like this took place in the book…

In the midst of laughter, Torin couldn’t help stealing another glance at his bride. She was no longer scowling, but the prim smile just tickling the corners of her mouth had him seething. He wondered if a good hard smack would elicit a real response, but before the thought lingered too long and temptingly he pushed the image out of his mind.

I operate by a very simple rule: Write what you want to read. And now Torin’s exasperation echoes my own. “Why is she such a cold fish!? Smack her to see if she’s human!!”

 

-x-

Inkdeath
(Cornelia Funke)

Synopsis–

I have no real desire to summarize this book’s plot, as it’s the third in a trilogy of remarkable literature. I don’t want to spoil anything leading up to it, but anyone may know how much of an attachment I have towards the trilogy as a whole. From the movie’s advertisements you probably know already that in them figures a man who can read people and things out of books, as well as read others in. But don’t watch the movie. Read the books.

Review–

As a book lover and writer it felt from the start that these books were written for me. The journeying between the world of books and the outside world was one I can relate to very well.

You may have noticed by now that I usually review a book on two levels: how the writing style flows, and how emotionally involved the novel makes me. Inkheart was brilliant in both aspects and it began my attachment to the characters. Inkspell grew in intensity and urgency, but was not as memorable as either of the other two. Inkdeath was my favorite. It was spellbinding, gut wrenching, and terrifying in turns. The narrative made me cry as much as it made me laugh and vice-versa. The book world comes to life in such color and splendor and grit that the most worthy thing I can do is urge you to read the trilogy. So do it. Read them.

-x-

Vampire Darcy’s Desire
(Regina Jeffers)

Synopsis–

Is one really necessary? It’s (supposedly) Pride and Prejudice with a vampiric twist.

Review–

(For a better/shorter one than mine, or an extension of mine, read here.)

Regina Jeffers has a beautiful way with the English language. That’s the best that can be said for her as the rest of this novel was atrocious.

The concept had potential, I must admit. The way certain elements of the original blended in with the retelling of events were almost clever, but it was unfortunately ruined with the destruction of the character’s most intriguing aspects; their subtlety. I understand that a vampire novel should be dramatized to a point that goes beyond Jane Austen’s barely hinted romance scenes, but maybe that’s a good indication of why the two should not be mixed. Darcy and Elizabeth were engaging in physical contact far beyond proper for the time, (or any time) calling it a “flirtation” all the while. It was quite sickening.

It was also redundant. So many scenes felt like the same ones from the last chapter with slightly different wording. I wasn’t more than halfway through before I wanted it all to be over. I pitied myself, though it was my folly in starting the book that brought me so low.

I shouldn’t have expected any better from vampire lore commingling with such a gorgeous classic, but the author’s note was vastly misleading as she spoke so well regarding her intent to keep dignity in the story and characters. You have failed, Regina Jeffers. You have failed.

Other–

Also known as Darcy’s Hunger with this cover. Oddly enough, I like it better this way. Not that anything could change its uselessness, but at least I like the look and feel of it more.

-x-

The Time Traveler’s Wife
(Audrey Niffenegger)

Synopsis–

Henry can time travel. Clare waits for him. Their foibles of fighting time in order to stay with one another and make such a complicated relationship stand fast.

Review–

Slow beginning, but absolutely worth sticking it out to the end. The most complaints I’ve heard against this book is that it’s “boring” or “confusing,” but I protest. It’s the seemingly mundane and simple moments of day to day life that make up the beauty of this novel.

Clare painting, wondering, growing, Henry surviving, their house hunting, cooking, family dinners, attempts to reconnect with estranged relations–all these familiar things are made that much more complicated by Henry’s sporadic time traveling. Their struggles are realistic and compelling in that way.

That considered, I was not at all disappointed that there was no steady dialogue about the metaphysical questions relating to time travel. It was less about the scientific and philosophical than it was about the emotional. I was able to draw my own conclusions about the deeper questions while the narrative focused on the two characters and their impact on each other’s lives. And I liked it very much.

Other–

I would like to complain about the book cover. It’s creepy and makes me think of a pedophile. Which is very upsetting, because the book was not creepy like that at all. Any one of these images would have done better for a cover.

Not exactly this, but something very similar with a lot of warm colors, a book or two or three, and a coffee carafe would have picked up on some reoccurring themes in the novel. Without being creepy.

This particular image doesn’t have the “open glade” feel I was going for, but still…

I like the first image. It’s mysterious and glowy and yes, I think rather sweet. It could be cheesy… but I don’t feel that it is.

They at least look emotional here.

It’s not like seeing them together spoils anything for the book. The title includes wife. Not that the movie was really anything to write home about. I thought the actors were almost physically perfect for the roles they were cast in and I kept waiting for things to pick up while I watched, but it just didn’t give the emotional pricks like the book did.

-x-

Aurelia
(Anne Osterlund)

Synopsis–

Aurelia is a snarky princess who wants to be as free as a commoner and not marry the prince her father chose for her. On the night of her sister’s coming-out party, Aurelia is almost killed. (Not difficult to grasp why anyone would want to kill her.) The son of the king’s former spy, and Aurelia’s old friend, Robert, is sent to investigate the assassination plot and protect his princess. But interests conflict when their best chance of capturing the assassin means putting Aurelia’s life on the line, and Robert has to go and complicate everything with his feelings for her.

Review–

Cliche, they name is Aurelia. But such a title does not tarnish the pure enjoyment of reading this book. It’s true that phrases and words are repeated often throughout the narrative, the plot was largely predictable, and this novel won’t pave any roads towards the untried and original. However, the pretty cover and back page summary are not misleading on that score, so you get just what you expect, and for a teen princess romance novel it does the genre a fair amount of justice.

Aurelia was a snotty twit at times, but being that she is a crowned princess with a flouncy name and high romantic expectations, allowances must be made. Robert’s ability to put up with such a girl would be commendable if it wasn’t for the scenarios that remind me of Padme and Anakin. That’s not fair. Robert is far more… more than Anakin.

I would recommend this read for someone who has a few hours to spare on a book that requires not much concentration. In fact, I whipped it out and covered ten to twenty pages whenever my internet was down and web pages were taking too long to load.

Other–

Covers are my bane as well as my weakness. In this case, my weakness. I had to read it! The cover girl has pretty hair and a mask!! And her sleeve is pretty!

~B~

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