Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “YA fantasy”

Katie’s #CBR4 Review #35: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Title: Abandon
Author: Meg Cabot
Source: bought for book signing
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: In a lot of ways this is a fairly typical YA romance with a strong heroine, but it’s also well written, enjoyable, and made unique by its’ basis in mythology and the heroine’s unique voice.

Like Dead Beautiful, Meg Cabot’s Abandon trilogy is a re-telling of the Persephone myth, although in this case only the starting point of the story really comes from the myth. The Greek gods aren’t part of the story at all and while a lot of elements of the Greek underworld are used, even the basic explanation for the way the Underworld works is different. What is the same is that the lord of the underworld does fall in love with our heroine, Pierce. He does kidnap her, in a way, but in his defense she’s already dead in this version. She manages to escape and is resuscitated by her doctors; which of these events is the cause and which the effect is left for the reader to determine. Unfortunately for Pierce, escaping the underworld doesn’t resolve anything.  She now has trouble fitting back into her old life and still has to deal with the lord of the underworld appearing to “help” her, usually causing her some trouble himself as well.

Read more here…

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 27: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Amazon: “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.”

Okay, I just impatiently barreled through the whole Graceling trilogy (as it currently stands — is Cashore planning a fourth? Or is she creating some new adventure? All I know is I want in) and I wish there were more! To me, Kristin Cashore is a total badass. I can’t believe it took me 3 years to hear about this series (thanks again, CBR4!) In this trilogy, she’s created three female protagonists with complete personal agency. They are flawed, of course, as all human beings are, but they are also sympathetic and relatable. I’ve made this point in my reviews for Graceling and Fire, so I don’t need to belabor it again, but it seems to be such a wonderful thing that an author has made it a priority to explore so many different women and make them real people.

Anyway — about Bitterblue. This was a very different story, thematically, from the prior two novels in the series. Whereas its two predecessors had a lot of adventure and travel and a more epic scale, Bitterblue was more focused on the political machinations of one kingdom viewed from the microcosm of her base town, Bitterblue City. It’s a bit more of a mystery and detective story rather than action-adventure, as Bitterblue (the character) works to undo the layers of deception that keep her kingdom in a state of apathy. As with both Katsa of Graceling and Fire of Fire, much of Bitterblue’s motivation has to do with setting herself apart from, and making reparations for, her father/predecessors. She is determined to do right, even as in her immaturity and inexperience she is forced to rely on a network of staff that have been selected for her, rather than by her, with her trust. For some readers, the smaller scope of this novel may make it less *exciting*, but I found it to be a refreshing change of pace — Bitterblue is the first protagonist in the series that is not Graced or gifted with some kind of supernatural power. Though she does request the help and expertise of her Graced friends, her strength is in her natural intelligence, empathy, persistence, and leadership.
Overall, I couldn’t recommend this series more highly to anyone.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 26: Fire by Kristin Cashore

As in all of my recent reviews, and especially the ones that people have already reviewed a few times for Cannonball, I’m going to Amazon for the 10-second plot summary before I go on to talk about other themes:”It is not a peaceful time in the Dells. In King City, the young King Nash is clinging to the throne, while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. War is coming. And the mountains and forest are filled with spies and thieves. This is where Fire lives, a girl whose beauty is impossibly irresistible and who can control the minds of everyone around her. ”

I’ve seen Fire alternatively described as either a prequel or a “companion” to Graceling. Indeed, they are two separate stories in the same universe, but Fire does actually spoil Graceling a bit. Basically, reading Graceling first is recommended, not because either story is required for the other to make sense, but because a fairly pivotal reveal in Graceling is given away in the prologue of Fire with little fanfare. In any case, I surely enjoyed Cashore’s second foray into the fantasy universe she constructed for Graceling, and as with that novel, much of Fire‘s strength comes from its wonderful characters. I love that Cashore is seemingly relishing the opportunity to write as many different “strong women” as possible, while demonstrating that there isn’t some kind of mold that these women need to fit into in order to be considered “strong.” Within Fire alone, we meet Fire herself, Princess and Clara, members of Fire’s guard Musa and Mila, and more. All of these women are admirable, intelligent, capable human beings who are also obviously different, personality-wise, from one another.

I also love that Cashore does not shy away from some “political” issues. She candidly discusses birth control and abortion (without using those words, but there are explicit descriptions of herbs that can do these things,) and sex is treated as — shockingly! — a pretty normal course of action for relationships. Amusingly, on Amazon, this is always brought up in reviews as a “parents beware!” kind of thing. I understand to an extent; if there are really younger kids reading this, it may be a bit inappropriate, but as a slightly older “young adult,” I can only think it is a good thing that there is good literature out there that is encouraging these kinds of discussions and not pretending that sex doesn’t exist.

I only have one complaint about this novel, and it does involve the SPOILER FOR GRACELING. Basically, I kind of thought that the whole subplot with Leck was kind of unnecessary. It may be that Cashore’s intent was to weave this character into Fire in order to make the Graceling connection more obvious, but all things considered, his involvement added up to very little that couldn’t have happened in the context of the war that was already going on. For me, this subplot broke up the pacing of the rest of the book and was an unnecessary distraction from the more compelling story in the main plot.

Overall, I obviously liked this (I definitely wrote enough about it.) I’m going to stop reviewing so that I can tear into the final book in the series!

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 25: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

From Amazon: “Graceling tells the story of the vulnerable yet strong Katsa, a smart, beautiful teenager who lives in a world where selected people are given a Grace, a special talent that can be anything from dancing to swimming. Katsa’s is killing. As the king’s niece, she is forced to use her extreme skills as his thug. Along the way, Katsa must learn to decipher the true nature of her Grace . . . and how to put it to good use. A thrilling, action-packed fantasy adventure (and steamy romance!) that will resonate deeply with adolescents trying to find their way in the world.”

Thank you Cannonballers for clue-ing me in to this one! I really enjoyed Graceling and now have Fire and Bitterblue on hold at the library so I can dive into more of Cashore’s world. I loved the alternative takes on love and marriage presented here, as well as the fabulously nuanced and normal (well, inasmuch as supernaturally gifted royalty can be “normal”) female protagonist. This is the the type of “strong female character” I really like; there is a lot of discussion around the net if taking a girl, and giving her all “traditionally masculine” qualities and taking away anything “traditionally feminine” really makes a “strong female character,” or just the same kind of masculine character we are always supposed to root for, but in a dress. (Sorry for all the scare quotes in that last sentence. Geez.) Anyway, Cashore doesn’t do that here. Katsa is a fighter, and fiercely independent, strong-willed, and certainly no delicate flower, but she also loves, has maternal and protective qualities, and has deep, powerful emotions that she doesn’t care to suppress. She’s well-rounded, a complete human. It’s awesome.

And, on top of all that, the story is well-paced, gripping, well-written, and satisfying. Everyone does seem to live happily ever after, but not in the saccharine, cliched way we’ve come to expect. When YA is done well, it is so, so good.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 08: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

I’m going to go light on plot overview because I want to talk more about the thematic aspects of this one. So here are some things that happen inThe Amber Spyglass, and not in any particular order:

Lyra and Will travel to the land of the dead, and they have to separate from their daemons to do so. The description of the emotional consequences of the separation is heart-wrenching.

Dr. Mary Malone, a scientist from Will’s world who studies Dust, travels to a world where she ends up living with creatures that I imagined to have elephant heads on gazelle bodies, except the legs were, as Pullman described, in a diamond conformation. Mary fashions the titular Spyglass in order to see Dust.

Mrs. Coulter is sneaky and underhanded, but in a somewhat redeeming way.

There are tiny people who work as spies for Lord Asriel, and there are all varieties of angels: some vengeful, some immature, some wise, some emotional wrecks.

Epic battles! Epic heartbreak! Death! Wisdom from Iorek Byrinson!

Okay. I’m getting a little jokey because I’m delirious and I don’t love writing reviews, but understand it’s not because I’m joking at expense of The Amber Spyglass. When my Golden Compass review was posted on Pajiba a few days ago, there was actually a bit of discussion and some mixed reviews around this book. Mainly, it seems like people don’t like Mary and her creatures or Pullman’s heavy-handed criticism of the Church, and they feel that Lyra’s ultimate purpose, for which the whole total of everyone and everything is at stake, is kind of weird and hokey. These are valid criticisms that understandably bother some people, but ultimately, I didn’t care. YES, he beat the shit out of that “The Church is evil and the Authority is kind of a dick” drum, and that’s probably easier to swallow if you don’t have religious inclinations, but my take was that the message, moreso than the players, is of import here. It could have been the Church, it could have been a government, or it could have been the Illuminati — the point was that blind faith is not a good thing, especially when the vaulted leaders simplify everything into ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

As for Mary, it’s definitely true that she didn’t need to be there. But that world she was inhabiting sounded so lovely and pastoral that I didn’t mind taking a break every few chapters to check in with her there. I liked the idea that some worlds simply didn’t evolve human beings, because think about it — if Pullman posits that there are worlds upon worlds interlacing with each other, why would all of them have humanoid life? It may seem ridiculous to invent new creatures just for a subplot, but I think it made the whole idea of multiple worlds more interesting.

The fate of Lyra and Will I am reluctant to discuss too much because it could get spoilery. I will say that in my case, the emotional impact of their destiny did really affect me. The impact the two of them were meant to have on Everything did seem a little overwrought, but it didn’t really lessen my connection to them when they had their epiphany.

SO. In conclusion.The Amber Spyglass is a bit more jarring in pacing than the prior two novels. There are more quick cuts between different scenes, and even more characters to keep track of. My eventual impression was that each of these stories did, in the end, enhance the overall experience and make the climax more satisfying (see what I did there?) And yes, there is some heartstring-pulling, so if you’re into that kind of thing you’ll almost certainly be impacted. I finished this about a week ago, and I have to say that I’m still thinking about it daily, processing everything that happened and nursing my residual heartache. I’m kind of a softie, maybe, and I will own up to placing more value on the story than on technicalities.

All of this together means I get to add another book to the ‘Favorites’ list!

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 07: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The Subtle KnifeAs the cover says, The Subtle Knife is the sequel to The Golden Compass, and the second book of the complete His Dark Materials trilogy. It is possible that there may be implied SPOILERS for The Golden Compass in this review. Any spoilers are unintended, but I am discussing a sequel. This book introduces us to Will Parry, who is from a different world than we were introduced to in TGC. We are meant to gather that Will’s world is our world; it lacks obvious supernatural phenomena, and the people in it do not have external daemons like the people from the world in TGC do.

After being harassed by two men who want to uncover information about his missing father, Will accidentally kills one of them when they come to his house to search for documents that may reveal his father’s last known whereabouts. In order to escape the law, Will stumbles upon a window to another world: the world of Cittàgazze. While there, he meets Lyra — who we met in The Golden Compass and who found herself in Cittàgazze at the conclusion of TGC — and the two find themselves allied by benefiting from each others’ knowledge. While in Cittàgazze, Will becomes involved in a struggle that results in his becoming the new bearer of the Subtle Knife. He learns that the knife has the power to cut through worlds, which explains the window between his world and Cittàgazze. Following Will’s possession of the knife, Lyra joins him in order to try to find his father, as she was instructed by her alethiometer (truth-telling device) that this is her most important task.

As in TGC, here are several other side-plots that are important (and intriguing), but for the sake of brevity, I’m not discussing them here. The side plots do eventually serve to assist the purpose of the children, so as long as you care about what the kids are doing, you’ll understand the necessity of what the other characters are doing and you’ll enjoy reading about them doing it.

The Subtle Knife is a bit underwhelming compared to The Golden Compass (and the final book, The Amber Spyglass, which I’ll review in a bit), but that’s kind of like saying that 12-year aged cheddar is underwhelming compared to 20-year aged cheddar. It’s still an excellent book that builds solidly upon the first, with necessary exposition to move the plot forward, and another compelling character in Will. It’s got a cliffhanger that pretty much guarantees you pick up the next book, but the ending does make TSK difficult to justify as a standalone. And maybe TSK standing alone was never Pullman’s intention, but it’s safe to say that no one picks up this book without the intention of reading the other two. In any case, though it’s not as epic as the other two books in the trilogy, it certainly holds its own. It energizes the reader to complete the series, rather than dissolving interest or forcing obligation.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #6: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

I understand that young adult books and even kid books don’t have to be happy, but this young adult fantasy novel has too heaping a helping of the real world in it. Hazel is 11, and has grown up reading about Narnia, superheroes, knights and dragons, and making up her own stories with her best friend Jack. When Jack experiences a complete personality transplant before disappearing into the snowy woods, Hazel knows something out of the ordinary has happened to him, and it’s up to her to save him.

Reading the blurb on the book jacket, this all sounds delightful, and right up my alley. A little girl who doesn’t fit in and survives on books and imagination and her best friend – that sounds just like me at 11! That could be cool! I was not expecting the gut punch this book delivers. Hazel’s dad left. Jack’s mom is “sick with sadness.” School is pain. Other kids are pain. A phone call from her father adds a little more pain. Jack is the bright spot in her life, and losing him tears a hole in her world. The writing is incredibly powerful, and I felt everything Hazel felt, from the scorn of the kids in her class to the snow soaking through her sneakers as she wishes she’d remembered to wear boots.

Hazel is fighting a losing battle against change. She doesn’t understand why her mother suddenly wants her to play with other little girls, and advises her to let Jack play with other boys. No one else understands her, and she doesn’t fit anywhere else. She needs Jack, and Jack needs her, and Hazel is baffled that the world doesn’t see the simplicity and the absolute necessity of their friendship. He’s the only one who sees the world the way she does, and she will fight snow queens and wolves and anything else an enchanted forest can throw at her to save him.

I loved the writing, and might check out more of Anne Ursu if she promises not to be sad. I loved passages like this:
“The truth of things was always much more mundane than what she could imagine, and she did not understand why people always wanted to replace the marvelous things in her head with this miserable heap of you’re-a-fifth-grader-now facts.” I wanted to be Hazel’s friend. And the nods to classic childhood books and stories are great little in-jokes. It makes me feel shallow to say, but I guess I’m the type that does want a happy story with a happy ending. Growing up sucks, and fiction is supposed to save you from that! But this is a good story, beautifully told…I’m just a whiner.

Samantha’s #CBR4 Review #2: Wildwood, by Colin Meloy

If you are familiar with the band The Decemberists, you are probably aware that they are a folk-tinged indie band, known for detailed story-telling, lyrics that you might need to look up in a dictionary, and themes that are sometimes creepy, macabre, and well, down-right effed up. Now, armed with that knowledge, if I told you that lead singer (and chief songwriter) Colin Meloy had written a YA fantasy novel, you would doubtless come up with some reasonable assumptions; namely that this book would probably be some combination of creepy, macabre, or screwed up, with lots of big words. It turns out, however, that those reasonable assumptions would actually be fairly wrong. I know, right? Go figure.

Prue McKeel is just your average Portland pre-teen: she rides a bike a lot, frequents coffee shops, does yoga, and looks after her baby brother, Mac. Her life ceases to be normal when, during an outing in the park, Mac is abducted by a murder of crows. Yes, the birds. They scoop him and fly away with him, disappearing into the “Impassible Wilderness,” which, as far as anyone in Portland knows, is exactly what it sounds like. When Prue and her classmate Curtis venture into the Wilderness in search of Mac, however, what they find is a another world, one peopled with talking animals, Bandit Kings, and a whole lot of political intrigue. Naturally, our heroes get wrapped up in the goings-on in Wildwood (which is what the residents call it) and find that there is not only more to the Impassible Wilderness than they thought, but that there is also more to them, as well.

This is your standard “normal kid ends up in fantasy-land” kind of book. It has only a few brief instances of anything creepy or macabre, and the vocabulary was, to my way of thinking, nothing terribly strenuous, even for the target audience. The story is pretty slow to get started (Meloy likes to use a lot of words, even if they’re not big, fancy ones) but about halfway through it definitely picks up. The characters are pretty usual; Prue’s plucky and determined, Curtis is the type that stumbles into being a hero, and the various individuals they meet in Wildwood fall along a typical spectrum.  There’s not a great deal of character development, but apparently this is the first in a trilogy (of course; aren’t they all?) so there will be time for that later, perhaps.  I think what I appreciated most about Wildwood, actually, is that it sets up its world very well. It’s a story unto itself, and the story resolves at the end, but there are plenty of unanswered questions and potential for later material. I sort of feel as though you can tell this is a first novel in that it’s a bit clumsy at times, but it certainly has promise. If nothing else, I’m interested to see if Meloy puts enough songs (there are one or two in Wildwood) into the subsequent books to get a full album out of them. Ultimately, I’m as yet undecided on whether or not I will pick up the next book, mainly just because I don’t like committing to series, but I think Meloy has promise.  If he can improve upon his story and his characters, and maybe use a few less words, he might be on to something.

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