Princeless Book One: Save Yourself: A Graphic Novel Review

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. GoodwinAdrienne Ashe doesn’t want to be a princess. It’s boring and, to be brutally honest, she doesn’t understand why princesses always need to wait for a prince to do the rescuing anyway.

That doesn’t stop Adrienne’s parents from locking her in a tower on her sixteenth birthday. It also doesn’t stop Adrienne from bitterly complaining out the injustice and pointing out how she doesn’t even look like a stupid traditional princess with her brown skin and dark, curly hair (not to mention her prowess with a sword!).

Instead of pining for some handsome prince, Adrienne spends her time in the tower befriending the dragon guarding the tower. When Adrienne finds a sword hidden in the tower, she decides she has waited to be rescued long enough.

With a sword in her hand and a dragon by her side, Adrienne sets out to escape the tower and rescue her other sisters in Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself (2012) by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself collects the first 4 issues of Princeless. It is the first of four bindups. There is also a spinoff series.

Whitley delivers a frank and self-aware story that is refreshingly and unapologetically feminist. Adrienne is a no-nonsense heroine who isn’t afraid to do what she thinks is right and point out hypocrisy and double standards when she sees them. This plays out to especially good effect when she meets up with a girl who makes armor for warriors and discovers the vast inequity between standard armor for men and women.

Goodwin’s illustrations bring this story to life with wry humor and charming artwork that beautifully compliments the story. The facial expressions for characters throughout are especially priceless.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself is a great set up for this series. Whitley and Goodwin introduce many of the key players and the basic premise of the series while also delivering a lot of fun arcs along the way. This series is a delightful addition to the typical princess and anti-princess fare. Highly recommended for readers of comics, fans of fairy tales and retellings, as well as anyone looking for a new kickass heroine to cheer on.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Greta and the Goblin King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Greta and the Goblin King by Chloe JacobsAfter four long years in trapped in the world of Mylena, seventeen-year-old Greta has become an expert at hiding her humanity. She has to if she wants to survive. Human’s aren’t welcome on Mylena where goblins, sprites, ghouls and other creatures all blame humans for ruining leaving their world in perpetual winter.

Work as a bounty hunter in Mylena is not easy. Especially for a human pretending to be something she’s not. But it gives Greta access to the caves that she knows transported her to Mylena when she tried to save her brother from a fire all those years ago.

Keeping a low profile in Mylena is simple until Greta catches the attention of a strange young man who appears in her dreams. It becomes impossible when that same young man turns out to be Isaac, the new goblin king.

When Greta’s secret threatens to come out, it becomes obvious that Greta is part of someone’s plan to open a new portal out of Mylena. The only problems are Greta doesn’t know where that someone is and she doesn’t know who she can trust in Greta and the Goblin King (2012) by Chloe Jacobs.

Greta and the Goblin King is Jacobs’ first novel and the start of her Mylena Chronicles trilogy.

This book is an incredibly loose retelling of the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel” in that Greta sort of sounds like Gretel, there is a fire, and Greta has a brother. In some sense this could be an alternate version of the fairy tale or even a continuation but again these connections are loose enough that it’s easier to just call Greta and the Goblin King a unique fantasy.

Greta is a tough-talking heroine who relies on herself and no one else. She does not tolerate fools, posers, or anyone who might underestimate her. Consequently she is also brusque and rash throughout the novel as her pride often prevents Greta from asking for the help she obviously (desperately) needs.

Isaac, by contrast, is remarkably level-headed despite being a goblin who could revert to his baser form (sort of like a werewolf) at the next eclipse. He’s an interesting foil for Greta and also, much to her dismay, a strong ally. There’s also just something entertaining about a goblin being the male lead in a paranormal romance. While Greta and Isaac are fun characters separately, their romance is problematic with a lot of it hinging on Isaac “claiming” Greta as “his” to keep her safe.

The world building here is messy. Some aspects of Mylena–such as why most creatures are essentially humanoid–are neatly explained while others–including how Greta is in Mylena at all and why a goblin on another world would be named Isaac–are tidily ignored.

Greta and the Goblin King is an interesting if not perfect novel. Recommended for readers looking for a fun new retelling/romance after reading the obvious suspects. Ideal for readers who are enjoy lots of action with minimal background.

Possible Pairings: Beastly by Alex Flinn, School Spirits by Rachel Hawkins, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Dust City by Robert Paul Weston, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Scarlet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

ScarletUS.inddHiding from a past she’d prefer to forget, Scarlet disguises herself as a boy named Will Scarlet to avoid unwanted attention. The only thing anyone really needs to know about Scarlet is that she is a skilled thief. She is also better than most when it comes to throwing a knife and fiercely dedicated to Robin Hood’s band–although she would never admit it to Rob, Much or John.

Scarlet’s efforts to keep herself apart and flee from her past threaten to unravel when a thief taker is summoned to Nottingham. Gisbourne is calculating and ruthless in his hunt for Robin Hood and his band. The consequences if he finds Rob could be dire. For Scarlet, being found by Gisbourne might be fatal.

Torn between her loyalty to the people of Nottingham–including the band–and her need for self-preservation, Scarlet will have to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people she loves in Scarlet (2012) by A. C. Gaughen.

Scarlet is Gaughen’s first novel and the start of a trilogy that continues with Lady Thief and Lion Heart. Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the story in Scarlet is largely self-contained and focuses on what the author refers to as Robin’s early years. The novel is also accompanied by suggested titles for further reading.

Scarlet is an inventive and entertaining Robin Hood retelling in the tradition of The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Gaughen adds new dimensions to this familiar story by casting Will Scarlet as a girl with quite a few secrets and writing the story in Scarlet’s unique dialect.

Filled with adventure and banter, Scarlet remains a surprisingly introspective title as readers learn more about Scarlet’s past and what it costs her to stay in Nottingham and work with Rob. Gaughen keeps the novel carefully focused on Scarlet, Rob, John and Much further emphasizing their strong bonds and exploring the strength of their friendships throughout the novel. There is also a decidedly slow burn of a romance complete with searching looks and misunderstandings.

Although the story will be immediately familiar to Robin Hood fans, unexpected twists keep the story fresh and engaging. Scarlet is an excellent, capable heroine who asks hard questions and saves herself–and her friends–more often than not. She accompanied throughout the story by some of the most honorable and downright likable outlaws readers will ever meet.

Scarlet is a solid historical fiction adventure with humor, romance and non-stop excitement. A must-read for Robin Hood fans of all ages.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Memory of After: A Review

The Memory of After by Lenore ApplehansFelicia Ward doesn’t know how long she has been in Level 2. Time is hard to track when you’re dead and your body no longer needs food or sleep or air. With the constant lure of a memory chamber to help her relive her fondest memories, sometimes it’s hard to even remember she is living in a hive in Level 2 and not back home with her family and her boyfriend Neil in the life she had before the car accident.

She could look at other, less comforting, memories. But what’s the point in reliving the moments from her past that Felicia wishes she could forget?

Everything Felicia thought she knew about her post-death existence is thrown into question when another girl in the hive turns up dead and Julian, a handsome boy from Felicia’s life, shows up in Level 2. On the run with Julian, Felicia will have a chance to reunite with Neil–but at what cost? Soon, Felicia will learn that the truth behind Level 2–and her own place there–is more shocking than she could have imagined in The Memory of After (2012) by Lenore Applehans.

The Memory of After is Applehan’s first novel. It was previously published under the title Level 2.

Applehans offers a haunting story of life and what comes after in this story that combines flashback memory sequences with Felicia’s after-life in Level 2. The Memory of After is an austere story that focuses on Felicia and the truths to be found about death and what comes next.

The story, much like Felicia herself, is divided between Felicia’s memories of Neil and her present escape with Julian. While this story offers a love triangle, it may feel one-sided as Julian is often a much more vivid character compared to too-good-to-seem-real Neil. (Much of the storyline with Neil takes place at church or bible study or other religious activities which while handled well, may pull non-Christian readers out of the story.)

This high-octane blend of action and science fiction mind games create a story that is both engrossing and original. Although the plot often moves in starts and stops because of Felicia’s memories, the storylines are well-balanced. Applehan’s uses the memory chambers effectively throughout the novel to effectively present information.

The Memory of After is a strong and twisty debut sure to appeal to science fiction fans who like their action to take place in surprising worlds. If you want to find out what happens to Felicia next you can also check out the sequel Chasing Before.

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: Matched by Ally Condie, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, Starters by Lissa Price, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, The Program by Suzanne Young, Ashes to Ashes by Melissa C. Walker, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

 

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

The Book of Blood and Shadow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I should probably start with the blood.

. . .

“But beginning with that night, with the blood, means that Chris will never be anything more than a corpse, bleeding out all over his mother’s travertine marble, Adriane nothing but a dead-eyed head case, rocking and moaning, her clothes soaked in his blood, her face paper white with that slash of red razored into her cheek. If I started there Max would be nothing but a void.”

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin WassermanNora Kane never expected her independent study as a research assistant would lead to romance or murder much less a centuries-old conspiracy that started in 16th Century Prague.

And yet, after just a few months translating the letters of Elizabeth Weston, Nora finds herself in the middle of a nightmare tied to a mysteriously indecipherable book called the Voynich Manuscript and the forces who want to unravel its secrets in The Book of Blood and Shadow (2012) by Robin Wasserman.

The Book of Blood and Shadow is a thoroughly-researched blend of thriller and mystery that imagines what secrets the real Voynich Manuscript might hold. This story is dense with details of Prague’s history as well as morsels of truth about the real historical figures who feature in this work of fiction.

Although often long-winded with its extensive detail, this book is always extremely clever. The plotting is surprising and aptly executed even when it veers into the very, very unlikely.

Wasserman also does interesting things with characterization. Readers know early on exactly how bloody this story will be even though the inciting incident from the first page is not fully addressed until about one hundred pages into the story. Throughout the novel there is a push and pull dynamic between what is presented as fact and what is left to the imagination. (Is Max guilty? Is he unhinged or is it just being told that Max is unhinged that makes the difference?)

Sadly, not all books are for every reader either. The Book of Blood and Shadow brought up some particularly specific and personal bad memories that made it very difficult to finish. I also discovered, in reading page after page about it, that I have almost zero interest in Prague or its history. These were obstacles.

The bigger obstable, however, was Nora herself. Despite all of the things Wasserman does extremely well, Nora remains a very one-dimensional character. We see her through a few specific lenses (friend, girlfriend, researcher, daughter) but none of those pieces coalesce into a larger picture. Even as the narrator of the book, Nora’s story often felt more like a frame for the smaller story found in Elizabeth Weston’s letters.

While this book has a good story and raises a lot of interesting questions, it is very thin on closure. The treatment of Adriane is also problematic not just as the only other (not-centuries-dead) female character but also as Nora’s friend. No level of cleverness can distract from the problems surrounding Adriane’s character arc.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a surprising mystery and want to watch all of the puzzle pieces come together. Less recommended for readers with only a minimal interest in Prague. Not at all recommended for readers who might ask themselves what it means when the minority characters in a book are either murdered or complicit by the end of the story.

You can find more information about The Book of Blood and Shadows and the real stuff featured therein on Robin Wasserman’s website: http://www.robinwasserman.com/bloodshadow.html

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Diviners by Libba Bray, Breaker by Kat Ellis, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga,  Tamar by Mal Peet, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin