29 February 2016

Magisterium Series

I really should give a shout-out to the youth services librarian at my local branch--I told her of my literary itch (as referenced in the last post) and she recommended the above books: The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet by Black & Clare.

I adored The Mortal Instruments when they first came out--the world-building and plot were divine, the characters intense. The only thing that lost me was the tangled romantic situation around Jace and Clary. Then Clare inexplicably chose to continue the series. I tried City of Fallen Angels and hated it. As for Holly Black, I tried The Spiderwick Chronicles, but they were too dark for me. (I won't read Lemony Snicket either and  YOU CAN'T MAKE ME. Nyah nyah. So sue me, but I like a good HEA. Or at least a smidgen of hope and uplift in a book. ANYWAY.) I did like Geektastic, so there's that.


I knew that Black & Clare were queens of urban fantasy, which is what I wanted, but I didn't want dark and hopeless. (See ever-so-mature parenthetical rant above.) So, on the librarian's advice, I gave the Magisterium series a shot.

The Iron Trial was hard for me. It's a good read--compelling and interesting--but it hits every. single. beat. that makes Harry Potter the character he is. I would be specific about these points, but I don't want to spoil the story. In the notes I made after reading the book, I have: "ALL PLOT POINTS BELONG TO HP. ALL." Done well, no harm, no foul. But this was so BLATANT.

HOWEVER. (There is an excess of all caps in this review. Forgive me, but they are necessary to convey ALL THE EMOTIONS.) There is *just* enough different about Callum and the magical world he inhabits that I had high hopes for The Copper Gauntlet...and I was right. THANK GOODNESS. The plot takes a left-hand turn that I didn't see coming right at the beginning of Copper Gauntlet that made all my frustration with The Iron Trial worthwhile. Copper Gauntlet left all vestiges of Harry Potter behind and forged its own path, asking questions about how far to trust authority and other people's assertions and all that you think you know about yourself--ripe questions that all adolescents really want to know the answers to as they start to form their own independent worldviews.

Overall, I think that this will be a journey worth taking. Rough start (for me, anyway), but worthwhile to see what Callum and his friends get up to and who the true villain is and how all this elemental magic will work and how it will be *new* and *different* from magical systems I've read before. I love a good coming-of-age series and I think that Magisterium will be an excellent one.

Gentle Reader Alert: I found nothing of concern. 

All the Truth That's In Me

Sometimes I'll take a risk on a book. I read Julie Berry's The Amaranth Enchantment many years ago and failed to be stunned by it. It lacked a certain amount of depth in both characterization and plot, if I recall correctly. 

But last week in my cute little local branch library I was wandering around the shelves, just waiting to be grabbed by something. I had a literary itch to scratch--I just needed to find the right book. I was looking for something more contemporary with a fantasy edge. The cover for All The Truth That's In Me grabbed my attention. I recognized the author, of course, and took a chance. It didn't scratch the literary itch (more on that in the next post), but I ended up loving it anyway. 

From Goodreads

"Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared from their small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago, only Judith returned, permanently mutilated, reviled and ignored by those who were once her friends and family.

Unable to speak, Judith lives like a ghost in her own home, silently pouring out her thoughts to the boy who’s owned her heart as long as she can remember—even if he doesn’t know it—her childhood friend, Lucas.

But when Roswell Station is attacked, long-buried secrets come to light, and Judith is forced to choose: continue to live in silence, or recover her voice, even if it means changing her world, and the lives around her, forever.

This startlingly original novel will shock and disturb you; it will fill you with Judith’s passion and longing; and its mysteries will keep you feverishly turning the pages until the very last."

I LOVE THE VOICE IN THIS BOOK. It's written entirely from Judith's perspective, and Julie Berry uses her internal narrative brilliantly, demonstrating Judith's kindness and observational skills to weave a fascinating mystery. Having only access to Judith's thoughts and her interactions with others, the reader's view is narrow but allows us to get a sense of Judith's innocence, in spite of what she's experienced. She doesn't rage against things that are out of her control, she doesn't despair, but continues to move forward in compassion and maturity. Her generosity of character, even when her hopes are thwarted, is demonstrated when she does her best to make a good situation out of her circumstances.

The mystery is excellent--it hinges on a tightly twisted plot that turns on Judith's lack of knowledge, but that lack isn't because she's stupid or unobservant, and she puts the pieces together remarkably well. For such a tight narrative focus, the story is rich and textured. I loved it. I was completely captivated.

Gentle Reader Alert: There were no swears that I recall, and there was some frank talk of anatomy at one point, but I didn't find it to be offensive. Judith experiences some trauma, but it's handled with care.

20 February 2016

RETRO REVIEW: Being Jamie Baker

I have a strange litmus test for how much I like a literary character--when they cry, do I feel awkward or do I sympathize? There are some characters who burst into tears and I feel like a heartless robot because I. Just. Do. Not. Care. (No, I will not give you examples. Remember, I'm a *nice* person. Most of the time. Y'know. On days of the week that end in a y.) And then there are some who have been dumped on time and time again and really, when they cry, I just want to reach through the book and poke the author for being emotionally manipulative.

BUT there are characters who earn their tears, who have taken the load of tribulation in front of them, done what they can, and have to let some of their strength leak out of their eyes for a while. So, with that beginning, I'd like to introduce one of my favorite superheroes--Jamie Baker.

I really don't want to give away too much of the story, so I'll let goodreads do the hard work:

"An accident that should end in tragedy instead gives seventeen-year-old Jamie Baker a slew of uncontrollable superhuman abilities. To keep her secret safe Jamie socially exiles herself, earning the title of Rocklin High's resident ice queen. But during a supercharged encounter with star quarterback Ryan Miller she literally kisses anonymity goodbye. Now the annoyingly irresistible Ryan will stop at nothing to melt the heart of the ice queen and find out what makes her so special. Unfortunately, Ryan is not the only person on to her secret. Will Jamie learn to contain her unstable powers before being discovered by the media or turned into a government lab rat? More importantly, can she throw Ryan Miller off her trail before falling in love with him?"

Kelly Oram is one of my favorite authors because of her superb characterization ability. Jamie is more than believable--she definitely earns her tears--and her reactions to her new life, her new abilities, and to Ryan Miller are so legit. I love the Jamie under the Ice Queen--she's witty and loving and stubborn. Her moral compass is solid, just like Captain America, though she has way better fashion sense. My favorite part of the book is her growth as she learns to control her power and become a real person, integrating her superpowers and herself into one person.

On a Facebook fan page, Kelly herself suggested that Ryan Miller looks a lot like Chris Evans. (Yay Captain America! Yeah, I'm a fan.) And Ryan himself is absolutely adorable without being cheesy--that's a difficult feat to pull off, but Kelly did it. Of course, it helps that Ryan has a giant ego. And a heart of gold. He's not perfect, but he's pretty awesome.

Of course, not everything can be sunny or this book wouldn't have any depth. In this case, Jamie's superpowers make her a target for all kinds of nefarious characters--one who absolutely surprised me the first time I read the book. Despite her tempermental teenage nature, Jamie also finds help in the least likely of places. The pacing and the plot are tight, and I find it hard to put this book down every time I read it.

Being Jamie Baker is a jewel among superhero stories. Kelly Oram has taken the angst of high school and combined it with electricity and toxic fertilizer to create a tale of loneliness and despair transformed by love into the best thing in the world--confidence and a complete sense of self. Read Being Jamie Baker. You won't regret it.

08 February 2016

Post Apocalypse and the French Terror

I ran into an interesting confluence of events last week. The book I requested from NetGalley, Tell the Wind and Fire, and a book I've been wanting to read for years and finally got from the library, Rook, were set in the same time period. IN THE FUTURE. Not just any future, however, but a post-apocalyptic French Terror sort of future. It was intriguing.

Sarah Rees Brennan, author of The Lynburn Legacy, has written a retelling of A Tale of Two Cities in her new book, Tell the Wind and Fire. I don't know about you, but in ninth grade English we read Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities and there was a LOT of Lucie bashing. Ms. Brennan has taken that on, making Lucie beyond redeemable. I really liked her and her courage as she stood against not only the oppressive government but the overly enthusiastic rebels as well. The story is set in a future New York City, where magic has divided the populace into two kinds of magic users--Dark and Light. The Light magicians are oppressing the Dark magicians and have walled them off from the general population, but you have the usual Romeo and Juliets out there, causing mayhem with their cross-boundary love and creating untenable situations for their offspring. Ms. Brennan's writing is beautiful, and she has a gift for giving the reader just enough information about the characters to decide if they're likable, but leaves out enough to keep them mysterious. The suspense was well done and I found the resolution satisfying.

Rook has been on my radar since it was published, but being poor makes me subject to the library's purchasing whims. *dramatic hand to forehead* But my awesome little branch library in my new city had it and I devoured it. Sharon Cameron is also the author of The Dark Unwinding series, which I loved, and Rook was yet another example of her deft writing. Her characters are gleefully complex and hate fitting in with society's expectations, something I can identify with. And the plot is richly textured too, bringing together the worlds of post-apocalyptic Britain and France like a wonderful brocade. This story is also a retelling, this time of The Scarlet Pimpernel, and was an enjoyable, tense, exciting read. I really adored it.

I'm no historian, but I think that these two stories do an excellent job of showing that man's inhumanity to man--as demonstrated by The Terror, in this case--brings out some formidable heroes and provides a complex background on which the best of men and women truly shine.