book review

Poison Study by Maria Snyder (Through the Shelf Thursday #14)

Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria Snyder
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

Poison Study (Study, #1)About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She’ll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace—and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia.

And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly’s Dust—and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison.

As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can’t control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren’t so clear…

Date I Finished Reading: November 2, 2013

My Rating: 3

My Review: (also on Goodreads and Amazon):

I read this book because the name kept coming up when I mentioned my YA novel, MAIDEN. There were a few recommendations because of the books world building.

Yelena is a strong character and has been through hell and back. Instead of facing her fatal sentence for murder, she is chosen as the new food taster for the Commander. As the story begins and takes us around the castle, we are introduced to the other characters that will be involved. I enjoyed Snyder’s simple, to-the-point introduction of the characters and they were intriguing. As can happen sometimes in fantasy, there can be an overabundance of characters, and that doesn’t happen here.

One of the other main characters in the book is Vilek, the chief of security who is in charge of just about everything in the castle, including Yelena. He is a wonderful character. He is strong, but has moments of emotion, we slowly learn that he cares for Yelena, but he plays his cards very close to his chest. The relationship between Vilek and Yelena ebb and flow through the story, leaving the reader to wonder a) if there are romantic sparks and b) if Vilek is really as trustworthy as he seems. Though one of my disagreements with the book is the way it is hinted that there might be a romantic relationship with Vilek and Yelena, one that mutually approved. Vilek, how I read him, is much older than Yelena and I don’t have the first clue how their would actually be mutually beneficial feelings in that department. It was just hard for me to picture.

The vast majority of the first 3/4’s of the book take place in the castle. While Snyder is very adept at world building, there wasn’t much of a world to be involved with…not stuck in the castle. As with my review for Bitterblue, I found having the story in the same location stifling and uninteresting. I wanted more of the world of Ixia. The story eventually get’s there, having Yelena travel on a caravan with the Commander to a neighboring land, but I have already felt constrained to the castle walls by this point.

Speaking of traveling to other lands, there is a magical aspect to the book that hints at powers that Yelena may have that she doesn’t know about. The characters with magical abilities do add to the story and help build for some interesting scenes, back story, and setting up for future books in the series.

I was pleased with the ending of the book (probably a little biased just because it wasn’t in the castle), but there was way too much emphasis on a random twist in the story involving the Commander and his [spoiler alert] sexual orientation. Honestly, it was odd, and seemed to be added just for shock value than anything to do with the story. That was disappointing.

At the end of the day, I do care about Yelena and want to see what happens to her (and I’m 50/50 as to whether I’ll read the 2nd book), but I just couldn’t get into it. The focus on food and culinary is an interesting plot point, but there was a little much focus on it for my opinion. I wanted to really, really like it, but it just didn’t resonate. Though I did end up finishing to see what happened.

Have you read ‘Poison Study’?  What did you think


Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (Through the Shelf Thursday #13)

Title: Ender’s Game
AuthorOrson Scott Card
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. 

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives. 

Date I Finished Reading: July 24, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

Everybody told me I needed to read this book. “One of the best books I’ve ever read”, “My all time favorite”, etc. etc.  I tried to read it about 3 years back, but couldn’t get into it.  But with the movie coming out I finally picked it up again.

The book is an interesting, fun read, and gave me lots to think about.  Under the layer of action that happens in the books Battle Room, and the trials and struggles of the main character Andrew ‘Ender’ Wiggin, Card is laying down little suggestions/questions about morality, society, and what is good and what is evil. I like a book to have at least some depth.

The character building in the book is done well for the three main characters (all siblings): Peter, Ender, and Valentine.  But other than that, most of the characters, in my opinion, are glossed over.  I would have liked a little more information or background on Col. Graff, Petra, and Mazer.  But all that being said, I was pleased to see that all of the characters played a role and helped establish the story.

The relationship between Ender and his younger sister Valentine and his older brother Peter help drive the heart and motivation of the story.  Ender absolutely loves his sister and absolutely hates his brother, and we as the readers do, too.  It brings a connection to Ender from the start.  Card does a nice job helping us understand everyone’s beliefs, struggles and ultimate goals.  I have read by others that Ender has a strong desire for violence and that turned them off in the book.  I personally did not get that from the story, and felt his motivations and decisions – which were very difficult sometimes – were explained and helped us get a full understanding of him.

Even though the relationships had a solid foundation, I struggled with the ages of the characters.  When the book starts, and Ender is carted off to Battle School, he is 6 (or abouts).  It’s not that he’s 6 that was hard to swallow, it was the dialogue and the level of communication that was taking place between Ender and his military figures or Ender and his siblings.  Card certainly helps us to understand that Ender and his siblings are all gifted intellectuals and unique, but even still, as I read the first 1/3 of the book (when Ender is still young) in my mind I was envisioning a 12 or 13 year old conversing.  The author almost forces the reader to envision the characters at older ages than they really are.  Anyway, not to nit-pick, but it was hard to keep track of.

The idea of the Battle Room is intriguing and that that is where a good portion of the action takes place.  My only issue was that I had a hard time envisioning it.  I got the jist, but Card is very thorough with his battle sequence descriptions (to his credit) that it was hard sometime to get the full picture in my head, but I wanted to.  Regardless, the scenes in the Battle Room and other simulators that are brought up in the book help to build an understanding of who Ender really is and sets the stage for future reveals.

One of the things I give Card kudos for and loved about the book was the technology that was used, and the attention to detail.  Seeing as how the book was written in 1985, Card envisions things that have actually come to pass over time.  Very impressive!  I envisioned characters using iPads and surfing the Internet forums and posting to blogs or chat rooms…in a story written almost 30 years ago.

Probably my biggest beef with the story is the nudity. It is not detailed, it is not graphic, in fact there are no specifics mentioned other than to say that people are nude, but it just felt…inappropriate.  I understand that in a military setting, the privacy a person has is limited and people become comfortable with nudity, but I don’t need to read about 6, 8, 10, or 12 year old boy being nude around his comrades, running around the halls nude, or even wrestling in the shower nude. Some may disagree, but I didn’t think it had any necessary relevance to the actual story and was mentioned WAY too often.

Aside from some enhanced dialogue for youngsters and the obsession with naked cadets, the book was a good read.  I wanted to get back to it and see what was happening.  I related to the character and his desire for a simple life, yet shoved into one where he had to sacrifice.  The themes of seclusion and the depths to go for war were very intriguing and made me want to see what was actually going to happen.  The book has some great twists and turns (two in particular) that were very satisfying and that I did not see coming.

While it is not one of the best books I have ever read, it did manage to entertain and make me think.  I will also probably pick up the sequel just to see the direction the story goes (which is becoming less and less common in my reading).

Have you read ‘Ender’s Game’?  What did you think

Fire Country by David Estes (Through the Shelf Thursday #12)

Title: Fire Country (The Country Saga #1)
AuthorDavid Estes
Genre: YA Dystopian/Science Fiction
Description from Goodreads:

In a changed world where the sky bleeds red, winter is hotter than hell and full of sandstorms, and summer’s even hotter with raging fires that roam the desert-like country, the Heaters manage to survive, barely. 

Due to toxic air, life expectancies are so low the only way the tribe can survive is by forcing women to procreate when they turn sixteen and every three years thereafter. It is their duty as Bearers.

Fifteen-year-old Siena is a Youngling, soon to be a Bearer, when she starts hearing rumors of another tribe of all women, called the Wild Ones. They are known to kidnap Youngling girls before the Call, the ceremony in which Bearers are given a husband with whom to bear children with. 

As the desert sands run out on her life’s hourglass, Siena must uncover the truth about the Wild Ones while untangling the web of lies and deceit her father has masterfully spun.

Date I Finished Reading: July 10, 2013

My Rating: 4 of 5

My Review: (also on Goodreads, Amazon):

David Estes, if you are not aware of his work, is a VERY prolific writer.  For the past few years he has found the time to write full time and produce three different YA series…that’s write, not just three books, three trilogies (and a children’s series as well).  That’s A LOT of writing!

I have not read any of his first series, I read the first book – Moon Dwellers – and gave it three stars.  It was an interesting premise and I could relate to the characters, but I will admit I was not interested enough to finish the series (at least I wasn’t before).  When I heard about the newer series and the premise of the first book – Fire Country – I was intrigued enough to check it out.

I am very, very glad I did.

As a writer I personally know that only one thing should happen the more you write – your writing will get better.  I submit as exhibit A, Fire Country.

I can’t even begin to imagine where David thought of the idea for this story, but it is wonderful…full of conflict, humor, spirit, and heart.  There are great characters that serve a purpose in the story, powerful and sometimes witty dialogue, and one of my favorite things about David’s writing, FANTASTIC world building!  He sets the story in a setting that we can visualize in our mind, including specific dialect, mannerisms  and customs.  I really felt like I was with the Heaters, little tugs around my feet, the Sun Goddess searin’ down on me.

Sie is a strong female character, trying to avoid her female responsibility that is forth-coming.  She wants to hold true to the laws and traditions of her people, the Heaters, but the hatred of her father and her inner instincts help lead her on a journey to discover truths about what is really happening and how it affects her.  The story has very good pacing (though seems rushed at the end) and takes time to build up our investment in what is going to happen.  Very easy to turn the pages!

My major problem with the book is also one of it’s strengths – so many different groups of people to keep track of.  Mr. Estes is teasing us for future things to come so he can’t give away everything about the different groups, but I felt toward the end of the book the story was rushing to get done.  A specific group is introduced towards the end, but we don’t learn as much about them as we could have to make us feel closer to the story.

There are also some instances of “isn’t that convenient”, specifically towards the end of the book, but nothing overly damning to the author.  In particular, I found the change in Sie’s father to be fairly forced and not necessarily believable, but it played well with the story so I was okay with it.

Strong characters, hints of romance, lots of action, and twists and turns that draw a nice conclusion while also setting up for the future books.  Four out of Five stars for making me care and keeping me engaged.  Great job Mr. Estes, keep ’em coming!

PS – Now I am in it for the long haul and HAVE to read the 2nd and 3rd book in the Dweller Series.  David wrote the trilogy Dweller Series, then the trilogy Country Series, then will have a seventh book (called the Earth Dwellers) that serves as a finale for both trilogies, bringing characters and worlds together.  Very, very intriguing and one heck of an accomplishment!

Son by Lois Lowry (Through the Shelf Thursday #10)

Title: Son (The Giver #4)
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didn’t exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been stolen from her body. Claire had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive?  She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. Now Claire will stop at nothing to find her child, even if it means making an unimaginable sacrifice. 

Son thrusts readers once again into the chilling world of the Newbery Medal winning book, The Giver, as well as Gathering Blue and Messengerwhere a new hero emerges. In this thrilling series finale, the startling and long-awaited conclusion to Lois Lowry’s epic tale culminates in a final clash between good and evil.

Date I Finished Reading: February, 2013

My Rating: 3 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

Lois Lowry changed how I appreciated books.

Whenever I read The Giver as a young man (I’m assuming I was in middle or early high school) it changed my life.  It is one of the three stories that truly stuck with me growing up (the other two being The Lottery and Of Mice and Men).

The setting was haunting and the characters were real, at least they were to me.  I understood what Jonas was going through and was immersed in his trial and wanted to see him overcome.

I wish I could say the same for Lowry’s fourth – and final – book in the Giver series, Son.  It was good and I am very glad I read it, but it left me wanting a different ending.  A very different ending.

The plot line is intriguing; being able to go back and learn about the girl – Claire – who had to give her babe Gabe up in the first book.  Seeing her point of view as the story unfolds.  I was pulled in right away and turning the pages.  I liked how Lowry developed Clair and her character.

I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book.  We know what Clair is after and there is a nice twist in the second act of the book that curtails that longing for a bit.  Lowry does a great job changing the pace and the scenery and helping Claire to grow.  She is in a new surrounding with new people…the exact opposite of the gated life she has known.  The story drags in places, but it can be overlooked because the characters are endearing and the focus never veers off Claire.

Then we get to the last act of the book and…the story jumps the shark (so to speak).  The whole point of the book is that Claire is trying to find her ‘son’.  Well, through a series of events, she finds him, but there is no interaction.  Lowry builds some plot points to try and keep Claire from her son, but they don’t work, at least not for this reader.  The supposed conflict to keep them apart is contrived and when Claire and her son finally do meet…nothing.  Lowry has dragged me through this emotional attachment for no payoff, yet the final scene she still expects me to care about the characters?  I don’t think so.  I was very, very disappointed.

If you have read the other books in the Giver series, it’s worth the read, I promise.  But it will unfortunately (probably) not live up to your expectations.  And writing that makes me sad, but in the end I’m thankful for the journey.

Have you read ‘Son’?  What did you think?

Review of ‘Bitterblue’ by Kristin Cashore (Through the Shelf Thursday #9)

AuthorKristin Cashore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Date I Finished Reading: January 4, 2013

My Rating: 3.5 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

I really, really wanted to like this book, I truly did.  I LOVED Graceling.  It was the book that started my love affair with YA fiction not too long ago.  Then I read the sequel, Fire, and was not impressed.  But I loved the character Bitterblue enough in the first book, and respected Cashore’s writing, to at least finish the series.

In the last of the trilogy, we find Bitterblue, now on the cusp of womanhood, in full reign of her kingdom, but still trying to overcome the grasp that her father has held on the kingdom, and her, for so many years.  Is there conflict, yes.  Are there great characters, yes.  Do we feel for Bitterblue and her plight, yes.

But…(there’s always a but, huh)!

Cashore does a great job building up the past and how horrible King Leck was, but the conflict – now, in the present – never seems immediate enough.  I never felt like Bitterblue was in any real danger.  Because of this, I had to keep reminding myself that she was actually in her late teens, and not the same small child I had read about in the first book.  The conflict from her father in the past is strong enough to be real, but it just doesn’t work for me.  Cashore is never able to bring any real urgency.

Why?  One of the reasons is because the characters in the book (which are plenty) are stiffled inside the castle.  The majority of the book (the VAST majority of the book) takes place inside the castle.  There was a moment towards the beginning where Bitterblue wants to get out and explore the city, meeting new people, learning of secret plots, and it really helped the story move along.  The introduction of Saf as the love interest and mysterious rogue worked for me, but just when it was moving forward and I felt a little breathing room, everything moves right back into the castle.  So many characters crammed into the confines of the same space got crowded.  I think Cashore had a hard time as well trying to figure out what to do with them.  Saf, the one character I wanted to know more about, almost became a byword for the second half of the novel, with no real relationship built up between him and Bitterblue.  What gives!?!?

Maybe it was just too much.  The book did NOT need to be 500 pages long.  Cashore has a wonderful, witty dialogue with characters that came out in this book, that was enjoyable, but over time became unimportant because I lost track why I was reading.  At the end of the day it was a good book, worthy of the time.  I understand Bitterblue’s motives and what she is trying to accomplish.  There was resolution, I just don’t agree with the plot and storyline that Cashore chose to bring it about.

Have you read ‘Bitterblue’?  What did you think?

Review of ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand (Through the Shelf Thursday #8)

Title: Unbroken
Author: Laura Hillenbrand
Genre: History, Biography, World War II
Description from Goodreads:

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Date I Finished Reading: November 27, 2012

My Rating: 4 of 5

My Review: (also on Goodreads, Amazon):

I have been on a young adult kick lately, so this is the first adult book I have read in a while.  A friend of mine lent it to me and told me it was one of the best history books he had ever read; not just about World War 2, but in general.  The author, Laura Hillenbrand, is well known for her triumphant Seabiscuit (which I did not read, but loved the movie); so with all the buzz around the book and my friend’s recommendation I gave it a shot.

I’m so glad I did.  What an AMAZING story!  If the book wasn’t so well documented it would be hard to believe it was true.  We read the story of Louie Zamperini and how he goes from rough teenager, to Olympic runner, to World War II airman, to floating survivor, to tortured (physically) POW, to tortured (emotionally) war survivor, to a redeemed man who finds peace in his life.

Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up; and that’s where Hillenbrand’s success lies…she didn’t make it up. She spent almost a decade researching and meeting the people that affected Zamperini’s life: family, fly-mates, even the POW guards.  We become intimate with not only the main character, but those around him.  Her style of writing gives us depth, but personally it’s also one of the flaws of the book.  I want substance, I want to know about other people, but Hillenbrand seemed to go on tangents where one minute I was reading about Louie and the next minute I was reading about somebody completely different (and wondering why I wasn’t reading about Louie).  That is one reason I gave the book a 4 – it wasn’t because of the story, but more because I disagreed with the writing, or how it was put together.  I wanted the book to focus on Louie.  Bring in family and friends and enemies, I want to know about them, but keep the focus on Louie.

Another issue I had with the writing is there were times when Hillenbrand seemed to repeat herself.  I would spend a page reading about how a time in Louie’s life and how he felt and I would feel like I was right there, eating it all up.  Then she would share another tidbit, maybe a couple of paragraphs of side information, which was fine.  But then she would go back to talking about the same information as before, but do it in a way as if she had not been talking about it…like she was introducing it for the first time; with the same vigor and seriousness that she had the first time.  I felt like she was trying to draw me in…again.  And it wasn’t needed.  This happened multiple times.

So again, the story itself and all the characters involved gave me an insight to World War II and POW camps that I would have never imagined and made me want to turn the page to find out more.  My respect for those in uniform has grown exponentially.  The stats alone are enough to make anyone pause.  There is not a single doubt that the author did her homework, and the people come out in the story, but at times the writing made the story repetitive and maybe a little forced.   I’m not sure if the book knows what it wants to be.  While the book seems like it wants to be a biography, I can’t really say that it is…100%.  It’s like Hillenbrand wanted to fit as much information about aviation and POW camps from WW2 into one man’s story.

But, all that aside, a phenomenal story very much worth the read!

Have you read ‘Unbroken’?  What did you think?

Review of ‘Freakling’ by Lana Krumwiede (Through the Shelf Thursday #7)

UPDATE: I will be interviewing the author of Freakling, Lana Krumwiede, for my next ‘Tips on Writing Tuesday;, November 13th.  Stop back by to enter to win your own autographed copy!

Title: Freakling
Author: Lana Krumwiede
Genre: MG Sci-fi/Dystopian
Description from Goodreads:

In twelve-year-old Taemon’s city, everyone has a power called psi—the ability to move and manipulate objects with their minds. When Taemon loses his psi in a traumatic accident, he must hide his lack of power by any means possible. But a humiliating incident at a sports tournament exposes his disability, and Taemon is exiled to the powerless colony.

The “dud farm” is not what Taemon expected, though: people are kind and open, and they actually seem to enjoy using their hands to work and play and even comfort their children. Taemon adjusts to his new life quickly, making friends and finding unconditional acceptance.

But gradually he discovers that for all its openness, there are mysteries at the colony, too—dangerous secrets that would give unchecked power to psi wielders if discovered.

When Taemon unwittingly leaks one of these secrets, will he have the courage to repair the damage—even if it means returning to the city and facing the very people who exiled him?

Date I Finished Reading: October 30, 2012

My Rating: 4.5 of 5

My Review: (also on Goodreads):

The premise of Freakling is what drew me in.  Young boy, just starting his teenage years, lives in a city where everybody has the same power – that’s a pretty good twist.  The power to move things with your mind – psi – is also intriguing in how Krumwiede applies it to the book; not only does it serve as a useful tool for action, but it also has a more symbolic purpose as well.  Is it possible for somebody to “lose their identity” when everybody has the same identity (i.e. psi).  Very interesting premise.

Writing characters that use their minds to move things seems no easy task to me, but Krumwiede does a good job of making it visual.  She has built a very dystopic, interesting world full of people who have become self-gratifying and almost prideful in their power.  As soon as the story starts, their is tension, especially between Taemon and his older brother, Yens.  Yens is possibly the True Son, the one who has been prophesied about to help bring balance, and he is a die hard psi worshiper.  He has no use for Taemon and his weak ways.  As a MG novel, Krumwiede does a great job pulling the reader in and having them be able to relate to the characters.  As the book progresses, more characters are introduced: the town leader who wants control, the girl that is a friend but possibly something more, the best friend, the quirky neighbor who might not be what they seem.  All of these characters are served well in the book and are given a unique voice by the author.

I also love the names in the book.  They are very personal and help to bring you into the story.  For example, Taemon calls his parents “mam” and “da”; just that subtle use really helps with setting the stage and drawing you into the world.  There is something personal, deep about it.  Authentic.

As the story progresses and we follow Taemon at home, through school, and the conflict that ensues, the pacing is good and the conflict builds and doesn’t seem forced.  And the book is not just all action.  As with any good MG book, Krumwiede desires to get the reader to think.  I love the contrast between the so-called “easy” life of those who have psi, and the perceived “duds” in the non-psi colony.  Those with psi have been taught to believe they are better than the those without.  The thought being how can someone without psi have a happy, productive life with they actually have to “do” something.  Taemon, and reader, grow through the story to a better understanding of what is fundamentally important.

While I really liked the ending, and felt it held true to the story, I felt it was rushed and ended too fast (which might actually be a good thing, because I wanted it to keep going).  I wanted it to have a little more closure, a little more time to take a step back and digest everything that had just happened, instead of being more like a cliffhanger.  I don’t know if that’s what the author’s intents were, that’s just how it felt to me.  But otherwise, the ending was very satisfying and, honestly, I did not see it coming (which is always good):-)

A very strong, debut novel with an interesting premise and great world.  Even though the premise seems to trend more toward boy readers, I say the psi-centric premise and the relationships in the book make it a great read for boys and girls and will give them a lot to think about.

Have you read ‘Freakling’?  What did you think?

Review of ‘Graceling’ by Kristin Cashore (Through the Shelf Thursday #6)

Title: Graceling
AuthorKristin Cashore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even shedespises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po’s friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Date I Finished Reading: Sometime in early 2010

My Rating: 4.5 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

I started working on my YA novel (Maiden) in late 2008.  During all of 2009 I would go to the bookstore with my good wife on date night, strolling the aisles, looking at what was new in young-adult fiction.  I knew where my story was heading – strong female protagonist, set in another world with a medieval feel, fighting, castles and action.  Specifically, I knew that eye color was going to play a big part of the story line.

Everything in the bookstores back then was vampires, supernatural, dark…it was all the same.  Then I saw the cover for Graceling and instantly fell in love with it.  The first thought that ran through my mind, “That could be the cover to my book!”  I just HAD to read it.

I instantly fell in love with the world, the characters, and the story.  The idea that there are people that have a Graceling – an advanced skill or special ability – that were identifiable by eye color…very intriguing.

The action starts off early and the conflict is explained very well.  We know what Katsa can do, what she wants, what she doesn’t want, and inevitably, what she has to do.  The formation of the Council, to me, is a little forced, but necessary for the story moving forward.  Some of the travel scenes in the book, as they move from place to place, get weighed down and take too long.

Other than that, the story shines.  I feel like I understand Katsa and can relate to her.  Po is a fantastic character as a male hero/love interest and – I would wager – one of the best in recent YA literature.  Their relationship builds steadily and over time, it’s not forced, and the dialogue is wonderful.  One of Cashore’s gifts is that she is a wonderful writer and her personality comes out on the page.  She certainly has a unique voice!

There are many fight scenes throughout the book and Cashore handles them very well, not overly technical, helping them add to the story.  The side relationships and characters – which are few – are appropriate and add depth to the story without dragging it down.

The resolution to the book is also extremely satisfying.  We are not supposed to like Randa, her uncle King, and we don’t.  We certainly are not supposed to like the mysterious King Leck, and we don’t.  The way Katsa is allowed to overcome her own physical, emotional, and mental obstacles is real.

A great story with likable characters who overcome conflict to save the day – that’s exactly how a story is supposed to be.  But Cashore’s strong voice and ability to bring me into the story, that’s what makes this one extra special.

Have you read ‘Graceling’?  What did you think?

My Favorite ‘Harry Potter’ Book (Through the Shelf Thursday #5)

Maybe you’ve heard of a book series called Harry Potter!?

I jest, of course you have.

This week, as I have been finishing up the second revision to my next YA novel, I have felt even more respect than I did (which is a lot) for J. K. Rowling and the world she created in Harry Potter.  Trying to write a fantasy novel, set in another world, with parallel story lines is a beast…and I’m only planning a trilogy.

So that got me thinking, “What do I like about the Harry Potter books?” and “Which one is my favorite and why?”  I’m sure you were also asking yourself, “I wonder which Harry Potter book is Chris’s favorite?”  Hence, this post:-)

Without question, my favorite book in the series is the third – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Why?  Plenty of reasons, but mainly two:

1) The character development. The building up of Sirius Black is alone worth the read, but then when you add in Lupin…wow! There are so many questions she builds throughout the book and, to me, she answers them wonderfully and at the same time staying true to the characters and the world she has built. To give Harry someone to have in that parental role was critical at this point in the story, and Sirius Black was perfect for it.

2) The foreshadowing. The first time I read it I had no idea Lupin is a…well, you know. The imagery she builds with the settings and scenes…amazing! Scabbers – WOW! Mooney, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs…didn’t have a clue, but what a treat it was to find out. As a writer, it is delightful to see someone spin magic like that.

As you are reading, it’s so simple, yet so well planned out and executed…all in favor to move the story forward. The author doesn’t use gimmicks or tricks just to be fancy or for a quick laugh.  I know she cares about these characters and she lets them to decide the pace and the outcome of the story. The characters are growing and learning and the conflict and the fight is real and we are watching it happen.  Most importantly… I care.


I loved it – there is nothing more to say (well, there is probably LOTS more I could say, but…):-)

What’s your favorite book in the Harry Potter series?

Review of ‘Warrior Heir’ by Cinda Williams Chima (Through the Shelf Thursday #4)

TitleThe Warrior Heir 
AuthorCinda Williams Chima
Genre: YA Fantasy
Description from Goodreads:

Before he knew about the Roses, 16-year-old Jack lived an unremarkable life in the small Ohio town of Trinity. Only the medicine he has to take daily and the thick scar above his heart set him apart from the other high schoolers. Then one day Jack skips his medicine. Suddenly, he is stronger, fiercer, and more confident than ever before. And it feels great – until he loses control of his own strength and nearly kills another player during soccer team tryouts.

Soon, Jack learns the startling truth about himself: he is Weirlind, part of an underground society of magical people who live among us. At their helm sits the feuding houses of the Red Rose and the White Rose, whose power is determined by playing The Game – a magical tournament in which each house sponsors a warrior to fight to the death. The winning house rules the Weir.

As if his bizarre heritage isn’t enough, Jack finds out that he’s not just another member of Weirlind – he’s one of the last of the warriors – at a time when both houses are scouting for a player.

Date I Finished Reading: July 17, 2012

My Rating: 3.5 of 5

My Review: (also on GoodreadsAmazon):

I wanted to LOVE this book so bad. The cover is awesome (and what originally drew me to it). The idea was intriguing.

Jack is a regular everyday teenager who just HAPPENS to have a lot of weird people that live on his street, including a caretaker named Nick Longbeard (really?) and Aunt Linda who pop in and out of his life. He also almost died when he was a baby and has a special medicine he has to take from this VERY unique Dr. from England who comes to check on him once a year, very herbal and granola like.

Jack is 17 and it’s the day of soccer tryouts and today of all days is the ONE day that Jack forgets to take his medicine….

Unfortunately, that’s mostly how the book starts and I had to roll my eyes already – a 17 year old who has never forgotten to take his medicine? Really?

Anyway. I don’t know. The writing was okay, but to me the biggest thing were the characters. I just didn’t really care about them. The author is trying to talk like a teenager and relate to teenagers…I just had a hard time buying. There were some interesting scenes and the story did progress, but there were a lot of plot holes and not a lot of development that pulled me in.

Also, the relationship between Jack and “the girl”; if that would have played out even semi-romantic or built better tension or made me want to root for them I would have enjoyed the book better. But nothing. A couple of pecks on the cheek, some hugs…it’s like there was no tension at all. With the story plot I guess I understand why she avoided it, but it could have been included so easily and made the story so much better (IMHO).

I did finish the book and the end did get a little more interesting. I promised myself about 75% of the way through that I was only going to give it 3 stars, but the last couple of chapters wrapped the book up better than I thought it would (except for the boy/girl plot) and set the stage up that I might actually want to read the second one, so I had to go with 3.5.

Not a horrible read and not a waste of time, but I didn’t consider it anything fresh or original.

Dear reader: What did you think of the book?