Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review of Sphinx's Princess

She was far more than just a pretty face. . . .
Although Nefertiti is the dutiful daughter of a commoner, her inquisitive mind often gets her into situations that are far from ordinary, like receiving secret lessons from a scribe. And her striking beauty garners attention that she'd just as soon avoid, especially when it's her aunt, the manipulative Queen Tiye, who has set her sights on Nefertiti. The queen wants to use her niece as a pawn in her quest for power, so Nefertiti must leave her beloved family and enter a life filled with courtly intrigue and danger. But her spirit and mind will not rest as she continues to challenge herself and the boundaries of ancient Egyptian society. With control of a kingdom at stake and threats at every turn, Nefertiti is forced to make choices and stand up for her beliefs in ways she never imagined.
As she did in Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize, author Esther Friesner offers readers a fresh look at an iconic figure, blending historical fiction and mythology in a heady concoction.

[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Mainstream YA fans, devourers of historical fiction...anyone, really
High point:  The blend of myth and fact
Low point:  Nefertiti was a little too modern for belief
Reader maturity:  13+

Esther Friesner has a wonderful gift for bringing myth to life, and Sphinx's Princess is yet another of her triumphs that I thoroughly, unequivocally enjoyed.

Like it's predecessors, Sphinx's Princess ushers modern readers into a historic world of myth, a perfect blend of fact and fiction and legend. The characters, the history, and the golden Egyptian setting spring to life with vibrant form and color. Whereas Nefertiti has always been a beautiful face in the pages of history, in Sphinx's Princess, she becomes a person, real and flawed, with hopes and dreams and a loving heart. Though most of the facts of Nefertiti's life have been lost to time, Ms. Friesner imagines an engrossing and plausible childhood for Nefertiti, bringing her up as a privileged, yet humble, young woman.

The writing is quick and the descriptions vivid; I turned page after page and lost track of time.While I doubt that Nefertiti was actually as bold as she's portrayed here, I enjoyed the connection that I was able to feel with the youthful and vivacious Egyptian royal, long before she became queen. The climax of the novel took me by surprise and forced me to stay up late, desperate to find out the fate of the future queen and her few friends. There's also a sneaky little bit of romance that added the perfect hint of sweetness to the novel and enables the reader to see more deeply into Nefertiti's skills as a diplomat and her natural kindness to all.

In short, I loved it! Sphinx's Princess is a fabulous read. If you love YA historicals, this is a great one to add to your collection, and if you've been waiting to try one out, Sphinx's Princess is well worth the time.

Title:  Sphinx's Princess
Author:  Esther Friesner
Genre:   Fiction - Historical
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Demonglass

Sophie Mercer thought she was a witch.

That was the whole reason she was sent to Hex Hall, a reform school for delinquent Prodigium (aka witches, shapeshifters, and fairies). But that was before she discovered the family secret, and that her hot crush, Archer Cross, is an agent for The Eye, a group bent on wiping Prodigium off the face of the earth.

Turns out, Sophie’s a demon, one of only two in the world—the other being her father. What’s worse, she has powers that threaten the lives of everyone she loves. Which is precisely why Sophie decides she must go to London for the Removal, a dangerous procedure that will destroy her powers.

But once Sophie arrives she makes a shocking discovery. Her new friends? They’re demons too. Meaning someone is raising them in secret with creepy plans to use their powers, and probably not for good. Meanwhile, The Eye is set on hunting Sophie down, and they’re using Archer to do it. But it’s not like she has feelings for him anymore. Does she?
[from Goodreads]
Rating:   4.5 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Fans of Firespell, paranormal and boarding school stories
High point:  The complete package
Low point:  Archer
Reader maturity: 13+

This was entirely unintentional, but it turns out that Demonglass shares its high and low points with Hex Hall. Overall, it's a fantastic book, but I can't stand Archer!

While I rated Hex Hall highly, it was missing an emotional component for me; Demonglass, however, grabbed hold of me and made me a fan. Something about Demonglass just popped for me; it's got almost all the same elements as Hex Hall--sans the actual Hex Hall--but the story feels a lot deeper, and I was much more invested in Sophie's existence than I was in the previous book.

Her friendships, her relationship and her life are all tested and she handles them with classic Sophie Mercer wit, which is a perfect balance of humor and sarcasm, so she makes the book fun to read from her POV. I didn't quite buy her relationship with her dad (it went a little more smoothly than I can believe), but that storyline and the addition of his character gave the story a great new direction. He also gives Sophie some stable ground as she tries to figure out the whole descended-from-a-demon thing, and his presence really enriches that aspect of Sophie's life.

Cal is, of course, swoonworthy and amazing, and even Jenna gave me a reason to keep reading ( I thought she was emo and a little annoying in Hex Hall). Some of the other characters are a bit predictable but are nonetheless well-developed and able to invoke sympathy and joy from the reader at the appropriate time. The big sticking-point for me with Demonglass is Archer. Plot? Check. Characters? Check. Writing? Check. Bad boy/possible villain/supposed-to-be-the-swoonworthy-one guy? Ehhh...not so much. I am squarely Team Cal. Archer is kinda mean and snooty and there's that bad-guy thing (not to be confused with bad-boy thing, which I think he TRIES to have going on, but...he doesn't). Yeah, I'm no fan of Archer or Sophie's obvious attraction to him.

Other than Archer, though, Demonglass is a fabulous second novel in the Hex Hall series, and I can't wait for the next one!

(And, this has nothing to do with the story, but I love that the Demonglass cover mirrors the one for Hex Hall. They're amazing!)

Title:  Demonglass
Author:  Rachel Hawkins
Genre:   Fiction - Supernatural
Year:   2011
Book Source:  Purchased

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Ballad

In this mesmerizing sequel to Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, music prodigy James Morgan and his best friend, Deirdre, join a private conservatory for musicians. James' musical talent attracts Nuala, a soul-snatching faerie muse who fosters and feeds on the creative energies of exceptional humans until they die. Composing beautiful music together unexpectedly leads to mutual admiration and love. Haunted by fiery visions of death, James realizes that Deirdre and Nuala are being hunted by the Fey and plunges into a soul-scorching battle with the Queen of the Fey to save their lives.
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  3 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Anyone, even the faerie-resistant
High point:  The completely different angle (from Lament)
Low point:  Clingy Nuala
Reader maturity: 13+

Ballad is the sequel to Lament, my first foray (in a long time) into the world of Faerie. While it explores some of the same topics and is certainly a decent novel in its own right, I much prefer the story of Lament.

For starters, Ballad follows James, who was a cool enough character in Lament but didn't interest me enough to carry Ballad. I also found Nuala to be quite clingy and desperate. Even as Deirdre (the main character from Lament, pining after Luke) is falling apart, she still seems like a stronger, more likable person to me than Nuala. I also didn't understand how everyone could just run after the Horned King every night without anyone noticing. Or how a 16 year old boy could be so good at the bagpipes that no one can teach him. Or that no one notices something's wrong with Deirdre. Or that James would be so cold to her. I know he's mad, but she did...[spoiler alert for Lament] save his life!

And there's so much subterfuge that results in a very inefficient ending. Don't get me wrong, it was a great ending, but the lead-up to it felt wasted, like this was an ending for a different story; I was expecting something totally different.

One thing that I did really like about Ballad is that it explores a completely different angle than Lament while still centering around faeries, so while it's a sequel, it doesn't simply regurgitate the events of Lament. The background information is seamlessly included, and I was fascinated by all the castes and legends.

Whatever my nitpicking complaints may be, Maggie Stiefvater is obviously very talented, and while I enjoyed Lament more than Ballad, Ballad is still a strong tale with interesting mythology.

Title:  Ballad:  A Gathering of Faerie
Author:  Maggie Stiefvater
Genre:   Teen Fiction - Faeries
Year:   2009
Book Source:  Won from The Serpentine Library

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Supernatural Saturday: Review of Lament

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .
[from Goodreads]
Rating:  4 out of 5 boxes
Target Audience:  Anyone, even the faerie-resistant
High point:  How engrossing the story was
Low point:  The threat of a love triangle
Reader maturity: 13+

I didn't think I liked faerie books. With the exception of The Iron King (which I liked, btw), I don't think I'd read any, but faeries are mean and I don't like books with mean people! After languishing on my shelf for almost a year, Lament totally changed my mind, leading me to dive into the sequel, Ballad, and an unrelated novel, Illusions, but more on those in another post.

Lament has all the makings of a great YA paranormal--swoonworthy, mysterious crush, not-too-painful love triangle, girl being hunted by supernatural beings, evil aunt! was all there.

Normally, I don't like love triangles, but Dierdre wasn't an active part of this one, i.e. she wasn't stringing anyone along on purpose, and once she figured out the truth, she was as kind as possible. And the swoonworthy, mysterious crush had me in his spell as well. Looking at it in hindsight, he should've been kinda creepy and weird, but in the novel, he comes off as sweet and romantic, if a bit tragic and tortured. Dierdre was great, what with the stage fright and confusion. Like Luke, she's not too perfect or too imperfect in any way, and she handles her new situation with realism and understandable emotions.

Another thing I really enjoyed (and I might go so far as to say this made the book)--the Celtic faerie mythology is awesome. It's a little different than what I'm used to reading about, and it was incredibly vibrant and detailed without feeling contrived. Consider me impressed.

There are some lightly crude moments (do we really need to know that much about vomit?), but other than that, Lament is a clean and page-turning read. Overall, I was really impressed and now that I've torn through Lament and Ballad, I'm diving into Shiver next.

Title:  Lament:  The Faerie Queen's Deception
Author:  Maggie Stiefvater
Genre:   Teen Fiction - Faeries
Year:   2008
Book Source:  Won from The Serpentine Library

Friday, June 3, 2011

Winner of Bandits

The winner of the Bandits by LM Preston prize pack is Jo! Congratulations!! I hope you enjoy Bandits and all the swag. Check your inbox!

Thank you all so much for entering and spreading the word. You guys are all awesome! :-)