Book Review: The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

princess-of-trelianTitle: The Princess of Trelian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Series: Trelian, Book 2
Publisher: Candlewick
Hardcover: 448 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The hundred-year war with Kragnir is over, and Meg will soon be named the princess-heir of Trelian. But her connection to her dragon, Jakl, is making her parents’ subjects uneasy. Will they ever accept this dragon princess as their future queen? It doesn’t help that Meg is suffering horrible nightmares and sudden, uncontrollable rages—and with the link joining them, Jakl is feeling the rages, too. Meg is desperate to talk to Calen, to see if he can help her figure out what is happening and how to stop it before she or her dragon does something terrible…

Meanwhile, Calen is having troubles of his own. He’s far away, gone off with Mage Serek to receive his first true mage’s mark. But his marking ceremony is disrupted by a mysterious magical attack, and ominous prophecies predict a terrifying new danger. The Magistratum’s greatest enemy may soon reappear—and the other mages believe that Calen himself may have a hand in his return!

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Princess of Trelian is the sequel to The Dragon of Trelian, which I read a while ago. It continues to follow Princess Meg and Calen, emphasizing Meg’s struggle to balance her new connection with her dragon, Jakl, and her responsibilities as the heir of Trelian. Calen, on the other hand, is struggling with his desire to learn and master more of his magic while being prevented from doing so by his master, because mages with a predilection for foretelling are convinced that he will be a danger to the Magistratum.

Overall, I think this was a solid sequel. The characters are definitely growing in complexity and the pacing was well done — there weren’t any times when I was bored or I thought things were being glossed over. It has the problem of second books in a trilogy, though, where it’s really just setting things up for the sequel, and it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. However, it still manages to have plenty of action and adventure for all of that, and I enjoyed the fact that those action sequences didn’t seem so conveniently easy to get out of. One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is when the heroes are unstoppable and there’s tons of buildup to something, and then they solve it in a few pages. That does not happen in this book — the characters are sufficiently challenged with what they have to accomplish, which makes for an entertaining read.

My one complaint is the relationship between Meg and her parents. All three characters are either far too understanding or far too harsh (whichever is more convenient to the plot) at different times, and there isn’t much in the way of consistency. I didn’t mind this so much from Meg’s character, because she is growing up and is just learning how to handle herself and anticipate the end-results from her actions and attitudes, but it wasn’t explained why fully grown adults (who are rulers, no less) were acting rashly,  and it bothered me a bit.

However, I thought this was enjoyable and would have LOVED it as a pre-teen, so I think it hits the right marks for its intended audience. I can’t yet recommend the series without having read the final book, but I will say that the first two books are a solid start to a decent fantasy series.

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Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamahs Blessing.jpgTitle: Naamah’s Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Moirin Trilogy, Book 3; Kushiel’s Universe, Book 9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 610 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I can’t begin to express how much I adore these books. I started with Kushiel’s Dart in about 2007 and have read about one a year until I’ve now finally finished the overall series. These books are so immersive that I like taking my time through them and just enjoying the experience of reading about Phedre, or Imriel, or Moirin. It’s been a long journey with this series and I’m sad to see it end, but this series has been wonderful.

This book is the third of Moirin’s trilogy and the 9th of the Kushiel’s universe. Overall, Moirin’s series is a much different flavor from that of Phedre’s or Imriel’s, but this book is the closest to having the fully developed political scheming and intrigues as the first two trilogies. I greatly enjoyed the first two trilogies for including such in-depth political scheming and reading about how religion and relationships all played into how a country is run and how decisions are made.

It’s hard to go into depth without revealing spoilers, but this book is generally about tying up loose ends, since it is, after all, the last Terre d’Ange book. Basically, Moirin goes on a jungle adventure to save Jehanne’s daughter from being taken advantage of by people trying to raise their status in the realm, and to save the Courcel family in general. She has to finally face up to her past mistakes and make them right, which allows her to show how much she has grown and learned from her past adventures.

One thing that has always impressed me about these books, and continued to impress me in Naamah’s Blessing is just how difficult Carey makes it for her characters — they are not given easy choices to make and are put in just awful situations. The one that hurt me the most, at least, was when Moirin has to choose between remaining faithful to her husband or staying a night with a powerful man in order to move her expedition forward and basically save her country. With the previous books and with the Kushiel series in general, it’s obvious what choice she ends up making, but it’s a rough one and being married to someone I love wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine being in the same situation. (Luckily, we don’t live in a fantasy novel, so I doubt we’ll ever have to worry about that.)

I think that this was a fitting end to a wonderful series — loose ends are tied up and everyone seems to be fairly happy for the most part. I like that we’re able to return to Alba with Moirin so we can see her mother again. It really felt like everything came full circle, and while this wasn’t my favorite of the Kushiel trilogies, it was so, so nice to be back in Terre d’Ange one last time. If you like fully developed fantasies, you should try starting with Kushiel’s Dart. These books are long and the first 6 books of the series have a lot more to do with sex and romance, but they are intelligently written and have such wonderful characters to fall in love with.

Book Review: Elite by Mercedes Lackey

Elite by Mercedes Lackey.jpg
Buy it from the Book Depository!

Title: Elite
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Series: Hunter, Book 2
Hardcover: 368 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Joy wants nothing more than to live and Hunt in Apex City without a target on her back. But a dangerous new mission assigned by her uncle, the city’s Prefect, may make that impossible.

In addition to her new duties as one of the Elite, Joy is covertly running patrols in the abandoned tunnels and storm sewers under Apex Central. With her large pack of magical hounds, she can fight the monsters breaking through the barriers with the strength of three hunters. Her new assignment takes a dark turn when she finds a body in the sewers: a Psimon with no apparent injury or cause of death.

Reporting the incident makes Joy the uncomfortable object of PsiCorp’s scrutiny—the organization appears more interested in keeping her quiet than investigating. With her old enemy Ace still active in Hunts and the appearance of a Folk Mage who seems to have a particular interest in her, Joy realizes that the Apex conspiracy she uncovered before her Elite trials is anything but gone.

As the body count rises, she has no choice but to seek answers. Joy dives into the mysterious bowels of the city, uncovering secrets with far-reaching consequences for PsiCorp… and all of Apex City.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I don’t know if I’ve been meta-analyzing books for too long, but I found myself willfully resisting the urge to do so with this book.  What I mean is that when I started reading it (more or less directly after finishing the first book in the series, Hunter), I found myself spending a lot of time trying to decide if I liked the way Lackey was trying to give enough background information for people jumping in cold vs. hampering the plot developing.  From there ,I found myself trying to decide if the pacing of the overarching story was well done.  While I have answers to both of these things now (if you are curious, I think she kept it about as short as she could and I actually loved the pacing since it didn’t seemed rushed, respectively) I found I had a lot more fun reading this book when I just took it for the story it is without trying to over think it.  And I have to say the result was one of the more immersive experiences I’ve had with a book in a while.

I get scared with sequels, particularly of YA, when I like the first book in a series.  A lot of times, authors seem to use the first story to build a great world in the opener and then just hit the turbo button to too-fast-developing-not-super-thought-out plot in book two.  This book absolutely did not do that.  At one point I found myself thinking that this book can feel at times feel like it is just an extension of adventures from part one, which some may see as a negative but I really enjoyed.  This is not to say that the larger plot does not advance.  There are a lot of pretty important developments and the conflicts between the different government programs that are theoretically all supposed to be working together is particularly interesting, however, this information is spread out throughout the book with fun “hunts” and social activity thrown in so it feels like a much more natural progression of story than other books I have read.

The conceit that was hinted at in the previous book that all of the Othersiders are represented in some way in human folklore or mythology is expanded upon in this book in an incredibly interesting way which opens up for even more questions about the worlds relationship with the Otherside.  I also found the consistency of magic in this universe to be very satisfying.  There is something almost scientific about the way magic usage is explained in this world and it leads to new discoveries in magic to be satisfying as a reader rather than random and like a crutch of some type to advance the plot.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this book even more than the first one.  All the things I said in my previous review remain true, especially that the characters seem to act the way people really would which is something I love particularly in YA.  Now I just hope that the series does not suffer from my other largest concern which is not knowing how to end which retroactively makes me not enjoy the previous books as much, but for now I can confidently say that I cannot recommend this series enough if you are at all interested in YA fantasy!

Book Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

HunterTitle: Hunter
Author: Mercedes Lackey
Series: Hunter, Book 1
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 374 pages
Source: County of Los Angeles Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

They came after the Diseray. Some were terrors ripped from our collective imaginations, remnants of every mythology across the world. And some were like nothing anyone had ever dreamed up, even in their worst nightmares.

Monsters.

Long ago, the barriers between our world and the Otherworld were ripped open, and it’s taken centuries to bring back civilization in the wake of the catastrophe. Now, the luckiest Cits live in enclosed communities, behind walls that keep them safe from the hideous creatures fighting to break through. Others are not so lucky.

To Joyeaux Charmand, who has been a Hunter in her tight-knit mountain community since she was a child, every Cit without magic deserves her protection from dangerous Othersiders. Then she is called to Apex City, where the best Hunters are kept to protect the most important people.

Joy soon realizes that the city’s powerful leaders care more about luring Cits into a false sense of security than protecting them. More and more monsters are getting through the barriers, and the close calls are becoming too frequent to ignore. Yet the Cits have no sense of how much danger they’re in—to them, Joy and her corps of fellow Hunters are just action stars they watch on TV.

When an act of sabotage against Joy takes an unbearable toll, she uncovers a terrifying conspiracy in the city. There is something much worse than the usual monsters infiltrating Apex. And it may be too late to stop them…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

First of all, I cannot emphasize enough that I think this book is worth sticking through the first quarter or hundred pages.  I only feel the need to bring this up, because I was surprised by the amount of one-star ratings I saw for this book and realized the reason for them was overwhelmingly that people gave up on it about 20-25% in.  I’ll be honest, I don’t blame those people who did.  The first part of the book really seems like it is setting up to be another run-of-the-mill dystopian YA book like Hunger Games or Divergent.  However, while it does not go into a completely different direction I think that the latter part of the book is incredibly well done and more than makes up for the stale beginning.

There are several things that I really liked about the way this book handled itself after the initial set up.  The first was that I enjoyed the relationships between characters.  Most importantly, I liked the way the main character (Joy) was developed.  There was a lot of internal monologue by Joy, as often happens in these kinds of books, but also actually interacted with several other characters including her Otherworld hounds which greatly improved the monotony that occasionally occurs.  The friendships she developed were well written and nothing seemed overdramatic and were still quite compelling.  Most importantly to me, she was in no way spurred on purely through romantic interest of any kind.  This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine when it comes to strong female characters.  I think that she was a nice balance between still being the young girl she is and being incredibly strong and mature when the time called for it (as expected of a heroine).  The book is not devoid of romantic interest, which I think could also ring somewhat false or hollow, but it is very much a subplot that informs feelings and decisions but in no way could be considered a major part of the novel.

The other thing I thought was handled quite well that worried me at first were the Christians (referred to as Christers in the book).  I hate to admit I went from laughing about the fact that they were angry that this cataclysmic event was not the apocalypse to beginning to cringe about how they were being talked about for the most part (again in the first hundred pages or so).  Again though, I think that this was beautifully handled in the subsequent sections of the novel when Joy befriends a Christer hunter nicknamed “White Knight” and we get to see her much more nuanced and interesting relationship with them as a whole.

Also, the hounds are really cool and I want some.

Overall, I don’t think this book will blow your socks off and if you can’t deal with a slow start it is not for you, but if you can get past that and like this sort of novel I think you will be well rewarded with the rest of it.

Book Review: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer

The Last Guardian.jpgTitle: The Last Guardian
Author: Eoin Colfer
Series: Artemis Fowl, Book 8
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Hardcover: 328 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

It’s Armageddon Time for Artemis Fowl

Opal Koboi, power-crazed pixie, is plotting to exterminate mankind and become fairy queen.

If she succeeds, the spirits of long-dead fairy warriors will rise from the earth, inhabit the nearest available bodies and wreak mass destruction. But what happens if those nearest bodies include crows, or deer, or badgers – or two curious little boys by the names of Myles and Beckett Fowl?

Yes, it’s true. Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl’s four-year-old brothers could be involved in destroying the human race. Can Artemis and Captain Holly Short of the Lower Elements Police stop Opal and prevent the end of the world?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It finally happened — I have finally read the last book of the Artemis Fowl series. It was bittersweet in a way, because this is a series that my friend got me hooked on when I was about 13, so it’s been a rather continuous presence in my life. Every few years or so, I think, yeah, I’ll read the Artemis Fowl sequel, so it’s weird to think that in a few years, I won’t be reading another one. (Though I just might pick up another Colfer book, because let’s face it, all his stuff is great.)

I was surprised by how well these books hold up. I have to give Colfer credit, for something I read at 13, I still thoroughly enjoy these characters and their story. They’ve gotten a bit older and the stories have grown and become more complex, but let me tell you, there are quite a few novels “for grown-ups” that I read at 13 and don’t hold up nearly as well — Artemis Fowl books for sure do. This book continues the tradition of being about very serious, life-or-death issues while still retaining humor and lightness. There wasn’t one part of The Last Guardian that I felt was drawn out or melodramatic. It’s perfectly balanced in terms of tone, and like I said, retains some humor.

One of my favorite parts of this book is the fact that while there is a main villain (Opal, just go away and die, seriously!), there are also secondary villains who are complicated in terms of their motives, which I love in a story. I don’t want my villains to be unsympathetic psychos — I want to be able to see where they’re coming from and understand their story too. I was glad that I was able to do that when reading this story — I think it added quite a bit of realism and complexity to the story.

In terms of the ending, it was perfect. I get so nervous when a longer series ends, because who knows what’s going to happen? I’m not even sure what I want to happen. I love Artemis, but does he deserve a happily ever after? Is that even a thing that’s possible, given the circumstances of his life and the story this novel presents? What about the resolution itself? Do I want a tight resolution with a pretty bow on top, or do I want it more natural, just sort of let’s end things, but leave them open? I DON’T KNOW!!! Luckily, Colfer seems to know what I wanted, because the ending is perfect. It ties the story together nicely while still leaving a little bit of wiggle room for the reader to imagine what might happen next. Perfect, right?

If you’re an Artemis Fowl lover, don’t worry about this being the last one. It sucks a little that the series is ending, but I think it’s incredibly well done and a perfect last book if there ever was one. I thoroughly enjoyed it and couldn’t find anything disappointing about it, and trust me, I was terrified of being disappointed. If you’ve yet to read the Artemis Fowl books, get started! They’re so good and I think enjoyable for all ages, especially if you love reading about fairies.

Book Review: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

bazaar of bad dreams.jpgTitle: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Hardcover: 495 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Even though Stephen King is known for being prolific and creating monstrosities of books, I was surprised to find that his short stories are really, quite good. Some of them are ridiculously sad and terrible, but for the most part, I loved the eerie atmosphere he provides in these stories that are usually more spooky and unsettling in this collection rather than outright “scary.”

I like short stories, as I’ve said before. They’re nice for the satisfaction and closure they can give in such a short amount of time. Instead of only being able to get through a portion of a novel during my 20 minute lunch break, I’m able to read a full short story or two, which is a nice change of pace. This collection is wonderfully cohesive and intriguing, but I did find myself needing a break from reading it. I can’t deal with reading too many terrible things at once, so it was nice to be able to set it aside for a bit without worrying about losing track of characters or plots, and then picking it right back up again.

The stories that shone for me in this collection were “Afterlife” and “Ur.” King is a master at mixing fantastical elements with horror and tragedy, and these stories were perfect examples of this. “Ur” is the story King wrote to promote the Kindle, so I feel almost bad liking a promotional story (even though I love the Kindle!), but it was probably my favorite story in this collection. It just proves what a wonderful imagination King has and his ability to not flinch when his mind takes a darker turn with a “what-if.”

Overall, I enjoyed this. I didn’t hate any story, though the first one really got to me emotionally and made me have to take a break right away. But, even after taking breaks from the difficult stuff, I went right back to this book to see what else King’s mind could come up with. If you’re at all a King fan or like darker sort of stories, I recommend you check this one out.

Audiobook Review: Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Dodger by Terry PratchettTitle: Dodger
Author: Terry Pratchett
Narrator: Stephen Briggs
Publisher: HarperCollins
Running Time: 10 hours, 31 minutes
Source: Download from the Audiobook Sync program
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A storm. Rain-lashed city streets. A flash of lightning. A scruffy lad sees a girl leap desperately from a horse-drawn carriage in a vain attempt to escape her captors. Can the lad stand by and let her be caught again? Of course not, because he’s…Dodger.

Seventeen-year-old Dodger may be a street urchin, but he gleans a living from London’s sewers, and he knows a jewel when he sees one. He’s not about to let anything happen to the unknown girl–not even if her fate impacts some of the most powerful people in England.

From Dodger’s encounter with the mad barber Sweeney Todd to his meetings with the great writer Charles Dickens and the calculating politician Benjamin Disraeli, history and fantasy intertwine in a breathtaking account of adventure and mystery.

Beloved and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett combines high comedy with deep wisdom in this tale of an unexpected coming-of-age and one remarkable boy’s rise in a complex and fascinating world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you probably already know how I feel about Terry Pratchett. The man was hilarious and created such wonderful worlds in his writing. What I’m consistently struck by was how much his love for his writing shines through in his works. Dodger is a story about the a poor young man living in Victorian England written by a man who clearly loved writing about all the weirdness and darkness of Victorian England.

In a word, Dodger is simply: fun. There’s mystery, intrigue, drama, and humorous callouts to notable 19th century figures, both fictional and non-fictional. I loved the tie-in to Dickens and Sweeney Todd, and I especially enjoyed learning about Dodger’s world — a world that, I’m sure, was shared by many 19th century London dwellers. This book is plain entertainment, and I love Pratchett for that. The one and only complaint I have for this story is that I didn’t think the ending was paced perfectly, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment very much, so it’s a small negative thing.

Stephen Briggs did such a good job with narrating this book. When I’m listening to a book, I’m — sadly — probably not paying as much attention as I should be, and I sometimes get lost in terms of who says or does what. Briggs makes it incredibly easy to distinguish between the characters, especially — it seems — paying attention to the social status of each character and letting that reflect in their accent and mode of speaking. Some of the minor characters were given a lot more life than just reading the book would have given them, and I really appreciated the listening experience.

Overall, I recommend Dodger if you have any interest at all for Terry Pratchett books, or if you enjoy a good Victorian England mystery. I had a lot of fun listening to it and think it’s well worth anyone’s time.