Mar 30, 2012

Review: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Book cover for A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
Title: A Conspiracy of Kings [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Megan Whalen Turner [Website]
Standing: Book four in The Queen’s Thief series.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: March 23rd, 2010 by Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover; 336 pages
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Spoilers!: This review contains some unavoidable spoilers for the first three books in the series (clicky for my reviews), The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia, so go read those first!

We do what we must, but we are not defined by our circumstances.
Sophos, last seen by us (and by Eddis and Eugenides) at the close of The Thief, has gone off the map.  Rumored to be dead in the midst of his country’s civil war, Sophos has managed to survive under the radar long enough to come into his inheritance, the throne of Sounis.  With his country torn by rebellion and facing overzealous influence from both the Continent and Medes, Sophos must find a way to secure his position and his kingdom.  Sophos seeks solace and friendship with another young ruler, The King of Attolia.

If Gen is the mysterious rogue we give our hearts to, Sophos is the brother we hold most dear.  He’s less temperamental, less schooled in concealing his emotions,  and far less sure of himself.  Where Eugenides has hidden himself through deception, it has been hard to see him change throughout the series.  Sure, he grew into a man, developed some most inconvenient emotions for the Queen of Attolia, and changed his rank (and two countries) immensely, but Gen remains, more-or-less, the same inkpot throwing, trouble brewing, fierce friend he always was.  Sophos, on the other hand, matures in many more ways.  Not only has he grown up a fair amount since the journey to find Hamiathes’s Gift, he must find it within himself to become both man and king in A Conspiracy of Kings without losing sight of who he is as a person.

Personally, I loved this book, which is the first in the series that doesn’t focus on Eugenides.  Yes, The King of Attolia was told largely from the perspective of Costis, but it was still about the King of Attolia.  A Conspiracy of Kings, on the other hand, stars Sophos, and gives us an opportunity to better know Eddis, see more of the kindness in Attolia, while of course incorporating Eugenides (and the gods) into the mix.  It goes without saying that I love Eugenides, and his relationship with both queens, but there is something more accessible about Sophos, who is not at all times working some deception.  Also, I’ll admit it, I love Eddis so much, I was very happy to have more of her.  Attolia is beautiful and strong, and completely right for Gen, but Eddis is my favorite of the two queens, and I was absolutely toothy with grins at her presence in this book.

In each of these books there has been a moment for me.  An exact moment I can pinpoint in which I fell head over heels for the book in my hands.  This is stunning for me, as that’s not how it usually happens.  Usually I’m a ‘let’s get to know each other over the course of the story and I will slowly fall for you’ kind of girl.  But with The Queen’s Thief series, it’s been ‘I like you so much, you could be my best friend’, and then something clicks into place, and I know it’s not friendship, it’s love.  This was most stark for me when reading The Thief, but after that, A Conspiracy of Kings follows close behind.  I can tell you the exact paragraph, the exact sentence, where I knew this was more than a ‘good’ book.  I don’t want to say less it ruin anything for those who haven’t read, but for those who have, I’m betting you know where I’m talking about.  

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by A Conspiracy of Kings. It was just the story I was hoping it would be, but I honestly hadn't expected to love it as much as I did after having adored the first three. I cannot possibly pick my favorite of these four books, as they are all so unique and different from one another despite their similarities. I suppose I'll have to suffice it to say they are similar enough to keep me coming back, but different enough to keep me wanting more.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  Not only will I be patiently waiting for the next installment in this wonderful series, I will more likely than not be rereading it before then.

Recommended for:  Again, anyone who enjoys reading...after four books I feel like a broken record.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  Only that I cannot wait to reread this series again before the next book comes out.  I appreciate MWT so much for making each of her books a complete story.  I know where the next books can go, but at the same time it’s nice to be happy with what we already have.

Mar 29, 2012

Review: The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin

Book cover for The Girls of No Return by Erin Saldin
Title: The Girls of No Return [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Erin Saldin
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: February 1st, 2012 by Scholastic Inc.
Format: Hardcover; 348 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge

I know I need to tell my story--our story--but I don’t know how.  Because the truth, see--it’s a messy thing.  Sometimes the only way to clean it up is to hurtle through each decision you made, trying to find the one that changed everything.  Maybe then you can start to fix it.
The Girls of No Return, Erin Saldin’s debut, was not what I expected.  I expected my heart to be pounding, my adrenaline to be rushing, and to be affected by it on a visceral level.  It didn’t happen that way.  Instead, Lida’s story drew me in slowly (very slowly...we’re talking you better have some perseverance and patience because the first half of this book is extremely subdued), chewed me up, and spit me back out again reflecting on women and our relationships to one another in ways that I had not expected.  

Our story begins at the end--with an epilogue.  Lida is determined to tell her story, reveal her Thing.  There are two mysteries, two events to uncover.  The Thing that brought her to Alice Marshall School, deep in the River of No Return Wilderness Area of Idaho, and the Thing that sent her home.  The school is Lida’s chance at redemption.  Alice Marshall is not quite reform school, maybe more reform school-lite, where troubled girls are given a chance to make peace with their past and form a brighter future.  Lida is determined to skate by, tucked away in her own solitude, but the surprising allure of the glamorous Gia, and the persistence of Lida’s bunk mates Boone and Jules work to draw her out.  Soon Lida finds herself pulled in various directions, unsure of her loyalties and feelings--she never realized she could cause so much damage to anyone besides herself.

Like The Girls of No Return in general, I really had to ease in to liking Lida.  She was soooooo convinced that everyone but her was beautiful, and she felt that her problems were bigger than theirs, like she was some unique butterfly who’d had such a harder go of things than every other girl that ended up at Alice Marshall.  And I really don’t think she ever moved beyond this point of view.  Luckily, I did, and so did the story.  I spent the last half of the book with my guts twisting in horror for this girl.  Lida is so vulnerable, so easily manipulated, and so unaware of her own feelings that it hurts to read.

Lida finds herself in the middle of a battle of wills between two girls, Boone and Gia.  Boone is rough around the edges and quick to bite.  She’s renowned at Alice Marshall for ‘welcoming’ the girls as they arrive, and is the only one among them without a safety net out in the real world.  Gia is beautiful, mysterious, and quick to rule to roost.  She wraps Lida around her fingers, understanding the way Lida feels about her even though Lida herself doesn’t really seem to get that her desires for Gia’s attention are more than platonic.  She does so much to draw Lida out of her shell, but when Lida tries to dig under Gia’s surface, Gia balks.  Gia accuses Lida of so many behaviors she herself is guilty of, claiming Lida knows everything about her, when in reality Lida knows nothing.

The Girls of No Return was a very powerful reflection of the relationships girls have with one another.  Initially, I kept thinking that these problems weren’t big enough, or exciting enough, and then I realized that they were more real.  These are the horrible things teen girls really do to one another.  I think the thing that saddened me the most was this--there was next to no male presence in this book, and still, a man almost entirely defines what goes down in the wilderness.  I hate this reality, that women can be so cruel, manipulative, and horrible to one another for such simple reasons.

In the end, I appreciate how The Girls of No Return affected me.  It was a slow, but powerful story that unfolded in a way that jerked at my emotional core.  There may have been no tears, but I certainly had some nice long thoughts about why I’ve never had many close female friends.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: I would love to check out whatever Saldin writes next.  The Girls of No Return has been compared to Speak and Cut.  While I didn’t think it was as strong as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, I am interested in checking out Patricia McCormick's Cut.

Recommended for:  Girls (or women) who are going through a rough time, those who enjoy outdoorsy stories (though it wasn’t as outdoorsy as I was expecting), fans of Speak.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  One of the sites in this book is a fire watch tower up in the wilderness.  In the Big Horns, where I grew up, we have our own fire watch tower that you can hike to for an amazing view. I thought it might be fun to share something from my own experience that would be similar to what Lida saw:

fire tower in the Big Horn Mountains taken by Heidi Frederick
Looking up at the fire tower pre-climb.
View of meadowlark lake from Big Horn fire tower taken by Heidi Frederick
View of Meadowlark lake from the fire tower.
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Mar 28, 2012

Review: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Book cover for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Title: The Scorpio Races [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Maggie Stiefvater [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: October 18th, 2011 by Scholastic Inc.
Format: Hardcover; 409 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Award Winning Reads Challenge.

Are you ready for this?  Steel yourself and gird your loins, because this is going to be one of those reviews.  One where I gush unabashedly about my love for a book in a way that should be totally shameful and embarrassing but I don’t care one bit because I’m in love and I don’t care who knows it!
It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.
Each year, the island of Thisby plays host on the first of November to the Scorpio Races, featuring the deadly horses from the sea.  Many of those who sign up will not see the finish line.  
There are too many people on horseback today trying to prove themselves, trying to prepare, trying to get faster.  They haven’t discovered yet that it’s not the fastest who made it to race day.

You only have to be the fastest of those who are left.
Sean Kendrick has won the races for the past four years and is the man to beat, though Puck Connolly is determined to try.  No woman has ever ran the races, let alone on an island horse rather than one of the water horses, but Puck has concluded that the races are her only option for the future she needs.  Unfortunately, winning is the only option for Sean Kendrick as well.

I’m about to say something about this book that can be said so rarely.  I’ve read tons of reviews, I’ve seen the awards, I’ve experienced the hype, and yet, The Scorpio Races was nothing like I expected.  I love when a story can really take me by surprise.  This one drew me in so that I did not feel the need to try to predict what would happen, I was content to absorb it, and could not have been more happy with what I found.  The Scorpio Races was so beautifully written with moments such as this:
There are moments that you’ll remember for the rest of you life and there are moments that you think you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and it’s not often they turn out to be the same moments.  But when Peg Gratton turns around and chalks my name on the list, white on black, I know, without a doubt, that it’s an image I’ll never forget.
I adored Puck and Sean, and the relationship between them that while important to the story didn’t encompass it.  Both characters are strong, brave, hard-working, and fiercely in love with their animals and their home.  Their affection is one borne of mutual respect, very similar to the relationship each has with their horse it is built on trust, understanding, and requires very little words.  Each of them desperately needs to win the races for their own reasons, but instead of the competition driving a wedge between them, it draws them together and makes them both stronger.  I myself wasn’t sure how I wanted the book to end up, and felt my own stomach knotting with nervous anticipation as the races approached as if I myself were participating.

I think my strongest attachment to The Scorpio Races wasn’t even the characters, but the setting.  Maggie Stiefvater manages to expertly create her setting as its own character, something that is so rarely done well, and I love love loved it.  The island was its own personality, with desires, characteristics, and being, and the water horses were tied to it so closely.  Personally, it reminded me so much of Prince Edward Island in Avonlea books and the Road to Avonlea TV series, but you know...with killer sea horses.  It just made me want to spend windy fall days on the beach in fisherman’s wool sweaters drinking tea from a thermos.  

My heart was warm upon finishing this book, it filled up up in places I didn’t even know needed filling.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  I cannot wait for The Raven Boys, Stiefvater’s new quartet to premiere this fall.  I enjoyed Shiver, but I loved The Scorpio Races.  You can see some definite progression over four books, and I am hoping she can keep up the momentum in a new series.

Recommended for: Pretty much any YA fan--it totally stands up to the hype!  Also horse lovers and fans of quieter romance.

Real life repercussions of reading this book: Making real life November Cakes of course! They're not quite as pretty as intended because I didn't have the time to make icing beautiful, but that hardly affects the taste. People, these things are AMAZING. Maggie Stiefvater posted the recipe here, and I highly suggest you try it.

November Cakes, recipe by Maggie Stiefvater, made by Heidi Frederick

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Mar 27, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd play hooky with.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weakly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  They love lists as much as I do, so it's only fair to tip my hat.
This week it's spring fever!  So let's talk about those books you just can't stand to put down.  Those books so good you would consider (or even would) calling in sick to stay home and read.  Or at least shirk some duties like cleaning the dishes in the sink and filling out your tax returns for...The following are all books I'm either dying to pick up, or couldn't put down.  The books I'll read in one sitting without realizing how many hours have passed.  Which, of course, makes them some of my favorites of all time, or some of my most anticipated reads (clicky for GoodReads):

Mar 26, 2012

Review: Slide by Jill Hathaway

Book cover for Slide by Jill Hathaway
Title: Slide [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Jill Hathaway [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Book one in a new series.
Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Mystery
Published: March 27th, 2012 by Balzer & Bray for HarperCollins
Format: Kindle edition.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge’s wrong that death is a loss.  It’s something you gain.  Death is always there, whispering in your ear.  It’s in the spaces between your fingers.  In your memories.  In everything you think and say and feel and wish.  It’s always there.
Everyone knows Vee has a problem, they just don’t really know what it is.  Diagnosed as narcoleptic, Vee passess out on an increasingly regular basis.  What everyone doesn’t know, is that when she’s unconscious, she slides.  Vee finds herself looking through the eyes of other people, an unwilling passenger to their lives, unable to look away.  When her little sister’s best friend supposedly commits suicide, Vee’s the only witness who knows the truth--Sophie didn’t kill herself, she was murdered.  Now, Vee is forced to remain silent for fear of being labeled crazy, but she is compelled to solve Sophie’s murder and stop the killer before more harm can come to her sister.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Guy and girl are best friends, but their friendship is on the brink of unraveling because it’s pretty clear that one (or both) of them has feelings for the other beyond friendship, but they’re too wound up to actually talk about it and instead start pushing each other away.  New guy comes to town and sees said girl as ‘special’, and is totally into her even though she’s probably not hot/popular/his type enough for him and her life is completely screwed up right now, but he sees beyond all that to the unique flower that is her.

Sound familiar?  If so, you might find aspects of Slide as tedious and wrote as I did.  But (yes, there is a BUT), I will tell you that luckily, this played out love triangle is a considerably minor part of the plot.  For me, there was plenty more to Vee and the mystery and suspense of Slide to keep me turning pages at top speed until I reached the end, leaving me liking Jill Hathaway’s debut much more than I was expecting to when I was about ⅓ of the way through.

Thankfully, Vee Bell isn’t just about the boys in her life.  Vee is quite possibly one of the best big sisters I’ve encountered in recent YA.  She doesn’t smother her sister, she lets her make her own mistakes (though let’s face it, I did have that scene from 10 Things I Hate About You where Kat tells Bianca why she ‘quit’ being popular running through my head...they have just about the same dynamic), and yet she has her back and makes taking care of her when she’s down her top priority.  Of course, Vee doesn’t see that she has a choice.  Her mother has passed away, and her father is largely absent due to his job as a surgeon.  Vee has pretty much shouldered the emotional responsibility of an adult twice her age, which is common for the oldest children in this type of family, but the fact remains that she does have the option not to take care of everyone around her.  She’s strong and she does, despite her own cavalcade of problems, and this makes her a winning lead.

Of course, there’s also the mystery.  Slide was a fairly fast paced and thrilling read; Vee’s affliction in which she passes out and ‘slides’ into others was both unique and terrifying.  Vee is drawn into other’s bodies through an empathetic connection made when she is touching an object with emotional significance to another person.  This means she’s basically become OCD, avoiding other people’s belongings and used items (like books) with due care.  When she does slide, she is stuck in that person’s mind.  She cannot read thoughts, control anything, or look away.  As a result, Vee finds herself the only witness to a murder, and knows that if she ever tells she’ll be labeled ‘crazy’ instantly.  In order to appease her fears, Vee must learn to use her curse as a gift.

Slide, for me, brought up some interesting privacy issues.  Vee cannot really control when she slides, and despite her efforts to control who, often seems to overlook items that might direct her.  She realizes the secrets she knows about people because of her affliction are a horrible invasion of privacy, and yet, she also begins to feel that it is okay to invade someone's privacy if you have good intentions.  I had a hard time with this sentiment, although I could see the logic that brought her to this conclusion.  As someone who values our privacy and freedom with the utmost dedication, I found it hard to stomach the notion that this type of ‘spying’ might be justifiable in order to make someone feel better. It does help to solve the mystery, but it's also no surprise that it blows up in Vee's face as well.

I appreciated Slide’s nauseating typeface on the cover, but will say that I was disappointed in the story’s end.  It just seemed too convenient to me.  All in all, a take it or leave it kind of read.  It went very quickly, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t have to have this book in my life. The concept for me was cooler than the actual story.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  Eh, not sure.  Upon finishing Slide, I remarked that I actually ended up liking it more than I thought I was going to, but at the same time I don’t really see the need to make this a series.  Not sure I’ll be reading the next installment, but who knows, maybe I will.

Recommended for:  People looking for mystery and suspense, but only if you’re willing to overlook some overplayed tropes to get it.  The book it reminded me most of ‘feel’ wise was Fracture by Megan Miranda.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  For the love of all that is good, I cannot even think the title of this book without getting the Goo Goo Dolls in my head.  

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Nina Reads

Mar 25, 2012

TBR of Shame: My Big Three

stack of books from Microsoft clip art
Hi friends!  I only received one book this week, so I figured instead of doing an IMM, I'd save it for next time and share with you my TBR of Shame.  In the last few weeks, Holly over at Book Harbinger, and Chachic at Chachic's Book Nook made some lovely lists inspired by Flannery's list over on The Readventurer.  Not only did these lovely ladies get me to start reading The Readventurer (which is a pretty sweet blog if you don't read it yet), they kinda got me itching to make my own such list.  You can check out Holly's here, Chachic's here, and Flannery's here.

I'm going to try to keep my list realistic for me for this year...because let's face it, long term goals are a problem for future Heidi.  I call this my 'TBR of Shame' because these here are the books and authors I'm most ashamed of myself for not having picked up yet:

My Big Three: Authors

So the authors on this list are all ones that I've read nothing by, but want to read all of the books!  Seriously.  Pretty much every book in each of their backlogs is on my TBR, and I solemnly swear to read at least ONE thing by each of them this year:

Melina Marchetta

Book cover of Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
It's pretty hard to hang out in the YA blogosphere and not hear all about Melina Marchetta.  She's probably the best known Aussie YA author this side of either ocean.  Chachic, bookevangelist pro, is celebrating Marchetta Madness which has done a lot to solidify my shame and guarentee I will be picking up Saving Francesca in my next digital library haul.  Why am I starting here?  Well, for one, it's available through Overdrive, and two, I've heard comparisons between Thomas Mackee and my latest mad crush, Marcus Flutie, making Saving Francesca and The Piper's Son an easy priority.

Marcus Sedgwick

Book cover of Midwintersblood by Marcus Sedgwick
Marcus Sedgwick is another one of those authors where I pretty much only hear good things about his books.  Especially from Ana of The Book Smugglers.  Ever since becoming intrigued by last year's Midwinterblood, I've been meaning to pick something of his up.  Particularly when every time I run across a new book of his, I just add it to my TBR.

Juliet Marillier

Book cover of Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Ah...Juliet Marillier...I really have no excuse for this one slipping under.  She writes exactly the type of books I adore, and yet, I've failed to ever pick one up.  Well, this year I have sworn up and down that I will at least start the Sevenwaters series.  Mostly so that Alyssa doesn't stop being my friend. :P

My Big Three: Series

Song of the Lioness

Book cover of Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
Somehow I got through a childhood parked in the Fantasy section of my library without ever picking up this series.  I'm going to go ahead and blame my slight Mercedes Lackey obsession.  But the time for excuses has ended, this year I want to at least start this series.  It's classic girl in boys clothing, and how can I resist that?  That's right, I can't.


Book cover of Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden
Okay not having read this one isn't so incredibly shameful.  It's a series that Aussies grew up with, but never got the notoriety it probably deserved in the U.S.  Well, ever since hearing about it I've been dying to read it, especially after seeing a trailer for the movie over at Inkcrush.  Instantly added the movie to my Netflix queue, and I'll be reading the books asap to prepare.

Five Hundred Kingdoms

Book cover of Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey
Ahem.  Remember two minutes ago when I declared my Mercedes Lackey obsession?  Well, I lied.  It's more of a Valdemar obsession.  I've shamefully never read any of one of my favorite author's works outside of the Valdemar universe.  I particularly want to read this series, as it's all fairy tale retellings.  In fact, I am so ashamed I haven't read this series, I can barely say it publicly.  I love Mercedes Lackey and I love retellings.  From my understanding, each is more or less a stand alone novel taking place in the same universe, so I think I can read them in whatever order I please, but someone correct me if I'm wrong. 

My Big Three: Books

So there are books I'm probably more ashamed of not having read.  When I was in college, my History of the Book class was full of bibliophiles, and we'd sit around playing "What's the most famous book you've never read?"  And there's a lot I could name, but these three are books that I feel like I'm the last person to read, and have wanted to read for ages.  They're books I actually really want to read, not just to fill in gaps or because I think I should, because I genuinely want to pick them up and think I'll love them!

The Phantom Tollbooth

Book cover of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
You might find this hard to believe, but I didn't even hear of this book until I was in college and found out it was my good friend's childhood favorite.  I'm sad for childhood me every time I see this book.  I've actually checked it out from the library at least three times, and never read it before returning it.  How shameful is that?

The Book Thief

Book cover of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This one's fairly recent, but I have little doubt that it's on its way to being called a classic.  I've been meaning to pick it up since it came out, but never feel quite in the mood for it.  It always takes something out of me to knowingly read WWII stories.  Still, I've heard good things about the audio, and will probably listen to this one fairly soonish.  I hope.  Maybe.

The Last Unicorn

Book cover of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
The Last Unicorn was, without a doubt, my favorite movie as a child.  I made my parents rent it constantly.  And get this--I honestly believed it was magic.  Somehow, every time I watched it I would fall asleep (hey, I was a kid!), but every time I would fall asleep just a few minutes later than the time before.  I didn't know I was falling asleep, I honest to God thought that the movie would get a little longer every time I watched it.  To me, it was magic.  It's my strongest memory of really having that belief as a child, and I can't believe I haven't read the book yet.  I mean, I own the VHS, I own the DVD, I name my Rock Band bands 'Last of the Red Hot Swamis'.  Of course I'll love it, but something inside of me is afraid to disappoint.

So that's it--my TBR of shame.  Fewer books than other lists, but probably more wordy.  Let me know if you've read any of these books, what you've thought, or who and what is on your own TBR of shame!

Mar 23, 2012

Review: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Book cover of The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Title: The King of Attolia [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Megan Whalen Turner [Website]
Standing: 3rd in The Queen’s Thief series
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: January 1st, 2006 by Greenwillow Books
Format: Paperback; 387 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Spoilers!:  This review contains spoilers for the first two books, The Thief and The Queen of Attolia, so go read those first!

You can always change the perceptions of fools.
Eugenides, the former Thief of Eddis, has found himself in an uncomfortable situation as the reluctant new consort of Attolia.  Beyond nearly anyone’s comprehension, Eugenides didn’t marry the queen to become king, he became king to marry the queen.  Costis, a young guard, finds himself reluctantly dragged into the king’s circle, acting as the brunt of his ploys.  Grudgingly, his scorn for the new king turns to respect as Costis realizes that Eugenides has more to offer Attolia than it would appear.

A story that had matured in The Queen of Attolia has officially reached a point where I hesitate to say this series is really Young Adult any longer.  Not that it isn’t a perfect read for the intended age group, but it saddens me that so many adults probably overlook this series not realizing its depth and complexity despite the fact that at this point all of the characters are adults (yes, I realize this is the second time this week I've bemoaned labeling).  While many YA authors churn out books at the rate of one or more a year (and I am in no way degrading the work they put into them at this pace), Megan Whalen Turner takes around 5 years to write each installment.  This pace alone should be a tip off of the many layers of complexity and intrigue that exist in The Queen’s Thief series; if MWT takes five times longer to write her books, the result appears to be that I will be five times more satisfied and boggled when the pages run out.

The writing of The Queen’s Thief series is incredibly subtle, and I appreciate that MWT gives her readers the credit they deserve.  She doesn’t feel the need to explain everything, but lets you figure it out from the context, and she doesn’t use dialog unnecessarily.  Words aren’t needlessly repeated or wasted when actions or previous conversations can explain things.  You can divine the nature and strength of relationships from things so simple as the usage of names.  For example, the usage “Gen” vrs. “Eugenides” vrs. “Attolia” can exemplify the character’s relationship to Eugenides without us needing a lengthy explanation of their feelings toward one another.

I love the usage of folklore and mythology in these books.  Each book has at least one break where we get to learn a new tale of the gods or an old folktale.  The presence of the gods is really the only point of ‘fantasy’ in this series, but it’s enough.  The existence of the gods as not only real but immediate and powerful and interested in mortal lives is unique.  The stories we are told are always pertinent to the story, but come into play without hitting us over the head.

I realize this “review” has been more like “ramblings on The King of Attolia” but what’re you gonna do?  I love it.  I love the feeling you get when all of the pieces finally click into place and you can see the big picture.  MWT never hides the truth from her readers, but that doesn’t make the truth easy to see, and I cannot wait to go back and reread to see all of the breadcrumbs as they’re laid. When I began, I was heels-digging-in-the-ground stubborn about the point of view change to a character we had never even heard of. By the end, however, I could completely understand the reason for this and ended up loving this story told largely from a guard's perspective.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  Of course!  Although I have to admit I’m somewhat hesitant to start A Conspiracy of Kings because I know that once I finish it I’ll have a good few years to wait before the next installment. Still, I'm OCD enough to want these reviews consistent, so hopefully I'll have one ready by next Friday.

Recommended for:  Pretty much everyone.  This series is complex enough to keep adult minds reeling, but totally accessible to younger readers.

Real life repercussions of reading this book: I want a map! I'm certain I have Attolia and Eddis and Sounis so jumbled up in my head, I need this to sleep better at night.

Mar 22, 2012

Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

ARC book cover of Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Title: Scarlet [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: A.C. Gaughen [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Retelling, Historical
Published: February 14th, 2012 by Walker Childrens
Format: Hardcover; 292 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge

We do what we do because there's something we can do about it. Things like 'how long' and 'what if' aren't part of that. It's about the hope, not the horror.
Scarlet, known to the people of Nottinghamshire as “Will”, but to her small band of outlaws as just Scarlet has spent the past two years as one of Robin Hood’s most trusted friends and partners in crime.  The band works tirelessly to make certain that the townspeople are fed, and have the money to pay the outrageously high taxes demanded by the sheriff.  They work the roads of Sherwood forest, trying hard to provide for the people that should have been under Robin’s care, but for some contrived treachery his father supposedly committed to crown and country.  When the sheriff hires a thief taker, Gisbourne, to capture and kill the Hood and his mates, Scarlet finds herself pushed into corners she’s been avoiding for years.  Suddenly, her trustworthiness and loyalty to the band is called into question as she strives to hide her past and stay a firm part of the band.  Each of these tasks becomes increasingly difficult as Gisbourne works to destroy them, and as Scarlet deals with the emotions of those around her.

So...let’s talk about this slight obsession I have with books that star girls masquerading as boys.  LOVE IT.  For some reason, this theme always grabs me.  I think one of the reasons for this is that it always guarantees you a strong woman balking against stereotypes--just the kind of girls I like to root for.  One of my favorite parts about Scarlet was the fact that her band knew she was a girl the whole time.  There wasn’t that whole ‘omg when is he going to realize she’s a woman and fall madly in love?’ pressure the whole book, because all of the characters that matter already know.  I mean, I love that moment (All Men of Genius, Leviathan), but it was refreshing to have a new play on this thing that I love so much.

I wasn’t sure going in how I was going to react to Scarlet.  I’d seen her described as ‘prickly’, ‘defensive’, and knew that a lot of people had a hard time bonding to her.  I am happy to say that while yes, these are completely accurate descriptions, I am in the camp of people who fell for and loved Scarlet immediately.  She’s quite moody, and withdraws into herself in an unhealthy way, but she’s also completely kick-butt with her knives, fiercely loyal, and completely dedicated to helping those in need.  Scarlet pushes her own emotions to the backburner so often, she herself doesn’t really even know how she feels about her bandmates John or Robin.  Or rather, she doesn’t let herself acknowledge her feelings.  Scarlet has so much hope for everyone else in her life, but so little for herself.  She’s so certain of her own eventual unhappy ending that she doesn’t dare risk the notion that she is worthy of anything more.  She’s entirely who she wants to be, and not at all who she’s supposed to be.  She’s faithful, dedicated, and willing to take the world’s troubles onto her back.  I found my heart wrenching for Scarlet for so much of this book, I adored her so.

And then there’s the men in her life--Robin Hood’s band of merry brothers.  In Scarlet, the band currently exists of only four ‘men’; Scarlet, Robin Hood, Little John, and Much.  A.C. Gaughen explained that she kept the band at this because Robin Hood was so young in her rendition.  Little John and Much were Robin’s “boys”, he’d grown up with them, and mysterious Scarlet was his dearest friend.  I liked Robin, he was haunted by his past in ways that let him understand Scarlet like no one else, and his need to protect the people of Nottinghamshire made him a true hero in my book.  He could be a bit of a prat, and was outright mean to Scarlet on occasion.  He’s so caught up in what he should feel and what those around him feel, that he fights against his own emotions in some rather annoying ways.  Also, I got really sick of hearing about his eyes.  Apparently, Robin Hood’s eyes are the most amazing things ever because I swear they’re mentioned in detail just about every time Scarlet looks at him.  

John provided a good counterpoint to Robin.  He obviously was crushing on Scarlet, and I love how completely oblivious she is to the whole thing.  I also wasn’t sure until the very end how John really felt about our heroine, if his feelings were genuine, or if he just thought them so.  He’s a good guy, but he certainly isn’t one to take a hint!  I actually liked John’s perseverance with Scarlet, even though we all knew he isn’t the man for her.  He’s confident in ways that Robin and Scarlet are not, but he also doesn’t really understand either of them with the depth that they are able to understand one another.  Honestly, I think my favorite of the men was Much, who we got to see the least of.  He was the most identifiable for the townspeople, and for me as well.  He was just a plain nice guy, who had everyone’s best interests at heart.  When Robin and John would get all mixed up in the head about Scarlet, Much was always there to step in and be a bastion of sanity and solace for her.

All in all, this wasn’t a completely character centered story, and that’s okay!  The action and adventure was worth the lack of character depth, and I’d also like to say that though not all of the characters complexities were highlighted, they were in no way shallow or lacking.  I loved that the plot was driven in an open and direct way.  From about 20 pages in we know the gist of what Scarlet is hiding from the band. But the devil is in the details, which get spread throughout the story like breadcrumbs, revealing more of her and her past to us slowly as time goes on.  I really appreciate this style; I sometimes get annoyed at the big ‘gasp’ moment of reveal that isn’t really a surprise at all.  That wasn’t how Scarlet was done!

Finally, I just have to say that I loved the way Scarlet ended (despite it lacking a certain scene...*ahem*!).  I love that it doesn’t just tie up everything all neatly; Scarlet has some loose ends, but in the best possible way.  This book is entirely about the power of hope, and the ending allows us to go on with the hope and knowledge that Scarlet, Robin, and the band will have many more adventures to come.  Fantastic!  I’m sure that Scarlet wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty perfect for me, and I highly recommend it to you.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: Yes!  I loved this retelling so much, I want to give A.C. Gaughen a big ol’ hug.  She created a new and unique spin on a well-known and oft retold tale, that is totally legit!  I love the history and reasoning she included in her author’s note, and the fact that this book contained a primer for those of us wanting to read more Robin Hood?  LOVE IT.  Totally on board with this author.

Recommended for:  Fans of books like Tamora Pierce’s Allana, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (Scarlet reminded me quite a bit of Deryn at times--I think it’s the way they talk!), and Lev A.C. Rosen’s All Men of Genius.  Again, we’re talking strong female protagonists who are willing to go against society to be themselves and follow their dreams.

Get a second opinion:
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