Clockwork Prince: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra ClareOnly in London a short time, Tessa Gray’s world has already been turned upside by her brother’s betrayal and the discovery of her own strange ability. With the help of her unlikely Shadowhunter friends, Tessa has managed to make some order from the chaos of lies and mystery that surrounds her.

That order proves tenuous when rival Shadowhunters seek to displace Charlotte and her husband as heads of the London Institute. With Charlotte’s position in doubt, so too is Tessa’s place in the only home she has known since leaving New York City. If Charlotte can find the Magister, the villain cloaked in secrecy who wants to use Tessa’s powers in his mission to destroy all Shadowhunters, her position will be secured. But what if she can’t?

As Tessa helps in the search for the Magister, her future place in London is not the only dilemma presented to her. Why is Jessamine sneaking off so often? What madness leads Will to move so violently between passion and cruelty? Why does her heart still ache so much just to see him? And what of Jem, Tessa’s quiet, steadfast companion in all of this chaos?

With so many secrets, it is unclear which truths should be told and which should remain hidden in Clockwork Prince (2011) by Cassandra Clare.

Clockwork Prince is the second book in Clare’s Infernal Devices series, preceded by Clockwork Angel. This trilogy is a companion to Clare’s Mortal Instruments series which begins with City of Bones.

It’s hard to review books that are part of a series because, particularly in the case of this book, you cannot read just one book. Things are even more complicated when the series ties back to a completely different, longer, series.

That said, if the idea of a quasi-steampunk Victorian London where the descendants of angels fight monsters (even while befriending one of those “monsters” who happens to be a warlock) this is the series for you. But don’t start here. Go read Clockwork Angel first then come back to read this review.

Clockwork Prince is simultaneously compelling and painfully frustrating. Many questions from the first book (particularly about Will’s . . . affliction) are answered. Some of the answers are satisfying and add to the story. Some of them add to the general annoyance I had while reading the book.

Neither being or knowing the author, I’m not really qualified to say what each character would or would not do. BUT, for this one reader, it felt a lot like every single character walked through the book doing the wrong things. Worse, they seemed to be doing them for all the wrong reasons. Will all be resolved to my satisfaction in book three? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Finding the answer to that question (aside from my genuine fondness for these characters and this series) is enough to guarantee I will eagerly await the release of Clockwork Princess in 2013.

Clare’s writing remains top-notch here. While the larger plot does take a back seat to character development, Clockwork Prince sets readers up for what is sure to be a stunning conclusion to a clever trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Sabriel by Garth Nix,  Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

Brightly Woven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Brightly Woven by Alexandra BrackenThe day the rains finally come to Cliffton, Sydelle Mirabil doesn’t know her life is about to change. She has no idea foreign soldiers are preparing to invade her small village. She doesn’t know that her country is on the precipice of war. She certainly don’t know anything about wizards.

All of that changes with the rain.

Wayland North does know all of those things. When the town offers the young wizard a reward for bringing the much-needed rains he also knows exactly what he needs: the young weaver named Sydelle.

Sydelle has no choice but to accompany the wizard on his long journey to the capital. Much as she detests being tied to him she knows they have to get to the capital if the war is to be avoided. Plagued by foul weather, Sydelle’s temper and North’s black mood, the trip is not easy. Wayward wizards and dangerous secrets threaten to derail their journey long before they reach the capital.

As the pair make their way across the country Sydelle begins to understand there may be more to North than his vague statements and mercurial temperament. There might even be more to Sydelle herself. Like any good weaving, it is going to take Sydelle many layers to see the full picture in Brightly Woven (2010) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find the graphic novel adaptation on Bookshop.

Brightly Woven is Bracken’s first novel.

While the story could have used slightly more resolution in some areas, Bracken has created an appealing fantasy here. Sydelle’s narration is lyrical and Wayland North is one charming mess of a wizard. In a story where the two main characters are mostly crossing varied terrain, Bracken’s ability to build drama and maintain tension is impressive.

Without giving away too much, the weaving aspect of the story added a nice dimension to the story. The combination of textiles and magic makes the premise of the story unique. Sydelle’s focus on weaving also fleshed out her character and only helped to enhance the narrative.

Brightly Woven has everything readers hope to find in a traditional fantasy. Beautifully written, this novel evokes not only the physical landscape of Sydelle’s world but the culture as well. Sydelle and North are wonderfully rendered characters that are dimensional, funny and completely captivating. In other words Brightly Woven is absolutely a must read for fantasy lovers and Bracken herself is definitely an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Warped by Maurissa Guibord, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011

Exclusive Bonus Content: Aside from being my favorite publisher at BEA, Egmont also has some really amazing covers, like this one here. I’m completely in love with it. I also am thrilled at how well it captures Sydelle and how many elements of the story are represented here.

Clockwork Angel: A (special) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra ClareLondon’s Downworld isn’t always a safe place, especially for a human in 1878. Filled with its own magical brands of vice and iniquity and all manner of unexpected creatures from vampires to warlocks the Downworld is, in fact, almost never safe.

Only Shadowhunters, warriors trained to fight demons, stand between the human world and the Downworld’s myriad dangers.

Orphaned and penniless, sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray knows nothing of London’s Downworld or Shadowhunters. Newly arrived in England, she is eager to reunite with her brother. But Nathaniel never comes to collect her. Instead she is taken in by the mysterious Dark Sisters. Imprisoned and alone, Tessa learns more than she ever wanted to know about the Downworld, including her own strange ability.

Everyone seems to want something from Tessa. The Dark Sisters want her to use her power. A shadowy figure called the Magister seems to need her. The Shadowhunters want her help. All Tessa wants is to find her brother and to forget all about the Downworld and her own place in it . . . even if it would mean forgetting about William Herondale and James Carstairs, two Shadowhunters with their own inner demons to battle.

But Tessa can’t forget any of it.

Plans have been set into motion and Tessa must play her part for better or worse in Clockwork Angel (2010) by Cassandra Clare.

Find it on Bookshop.

Clockwork Angel is the first book in Cassandra Clare’s new Infernal Devices trilogy. The Infernal Devices is meant to be a companion/prequel to The Mortal Instruments (Clare’s bestselling trilogy that first introduced readers to the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders in modern times). The books are all meant to complement each other with references to family names and shared characters, but Clockwork Angel stands alone.

Clockwork Angel is also exceptional. A little fantasy, a little steampunk, and a lot of period atmosphere come together to create a full immersion reading experience. Clare evokes Tessa’s London as expertly as she brings her charming characters to life including memorable secondary characters with their own complexities and motivations.

Tessa is an utterly engaging heroine who is as fearless as she is guileless. Will* and Jem are the perfect foils to Tessa (and each other). Fans of The Mortal Instruments will find a world of new characters with a very familiar wit and verve. Gripping and rich, Clockwork Angel will hold readers’ attention from the first page to the very last leaving many eager for the next book in The Infernal Devices.

*Will is the character on the cover. It is one of my favorite covers. Ever. Which is why it’s huge in this post.

Possible Pairings: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Mister Monday by Garth Nix,  Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: I was very lucky to be able to attend Simon and Schuster’s Fall 2010 preview thanks to one of my lovely professors from library school. At the preview I was fortunate to not only see Cassandra Clare talking about this book but also to receive a very advanced bound manuscript of Clockwork Angel (it’s like one step earlier than a regular advanced reader’s copy and is the coolest thing in the entire world because on top of that it’s signed!). I, of course, had to read it immediately since Clockwork Angel is the one 2010 title that I have literally been looking forward to since last year. So great was my excitement, dear readers, that I had to break the cardinal rule of reviewing and post this review right after I read it instead of waiting for the August 31 publication date so that you too could share in my excitement as soon as possible.

UPDATE 8/21/10: The official trailer for Clockwork Angel is finally out! You should go watch it. Right now. It’s one of my favorite book trailers. I love the symbols that appear. I love the scene with Jessamine and her parasol (straight from the book) and Will and Jem and Tessa. The ending is awesome too. I’ve already read the book and it makes me excited about it.

City of Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Glass by Cassandra ClareThe Mortal Cup and the Soul Sword are gone. Valentine has disappeared once again, taking his army of ravening demons with him. For now. The dust seems to have settled in New York City. But that doesn’t mean Clary’s life is back to normal. Not by a long shot.

Her mother is still hospitalized with a mysterious coma. She is still painfully in love with Jace. Who is still her brother–and determined to be only her brother. He is also determined to do everything in his power to keep Clary away from Idris’ City of Glass–the jewel of the Shadowhunter home country and the place where Clary might finally find the key to finally waking her mother.

But after coming so far and getting so close to saving her mother, Clary isn’t about to take no for an answer.

It turns out entering Idris illegally is going to be the least of Clary’s problems. Her best friend Simon, a vampire who can now withstand daylight, has been thrown in prison. Jace still refuses to help Clary save their mother while another mysterious Shadowhunter named Sebastian seems strangely eager to offer his assistance.

Meanwhile Valentine is still searching for the last Mortal Instrument–known to be somewhere in Idris. With a demon army at his fingertips, it’s only a matter of time before he finds it and declares war on all Shadowhunters.

The Shadowhunters are fierce warriors but few in number. Aligning themselves with their Downworlder enemies could turn the tide of war in their favor if both sides can see past age-old differences in time. No matter what happens next, one thing is clear: Everything is about to change in City of Glass (2009) by Cassandra Clare.

The stunning conclusion to Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy (a fourth book is due out in 2011 and a companion trilogy starts in 2010) is packed with the action readers will have come to expect from the series. Demons are fought, battles are waged, and everything question is finally answered.

While readers might recognize some common fantasy themes, the story itself remains fresh–filled with twists that are both shocking and, unfortunately, sometimes heartbreaking. Clare’s writing is drum-tight throughout the story from the initial set-up to its satisfying conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

City of Ashes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Ashes by Cassandra ClareWhat would you do if the worst person in the world was your parent? Valentine Morgenstern is bent on destroying the Clave–the Shadowhunter’s arm of the Law–and ridding the world of the demons that Shadowhunters are mandated to hunt and the Downworlders the Clave holds as uneasy allies. Valentine already has The Mortal Cup. Will stealing The Soul Sword bring Valentine closer to his goal? Sure, some innocent people might get in the way, but what’s a little collateral damage when you want to remake the world in your own vision?

Clary and Jace are not bad people. Yes, they might be in love. Even if they are sister and brother. But that doesn’t mean they’re destined to follow in their father’s footsteps, does it?

Clary wishes she could turn her back on the secret world of the Shadowhunters and return to a normal life with her best friend. But nothing is normal for Clary, not while her mother lies in the hospital in a coma.

Jace meanwhile tries to drown out his troubles by hunting and alienating the people he cares about. The only problem is, the alienation part isn’t that hard when no one he cares about seems to trust him anymore. Instead of seeing the Jace they knew, it seems like everyone sees Valentine’s son lying in wait to betray them.

Will Jace be able to prove he isn’t his father’s son? Will Clary’s mother wake up? And what about the Downworlder children being murdered throughout New York City? Find out in City of Ashes (2008) by Cassandra Clare.

City of Ashes picks up soon after the first book in The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones). Clare goes over the key past events without excessive rehashing. It is likely that this book would even stand on its own although readers will miss out on a lot of the fun if they skip the first book.

This book offers more introspection for all of the characters. Clare shifts viewpoints between several principal characters offering a wider view of events and the world Clare has built. Readers also get a wider view of the characters themselves. Jace in particular is fleshed out a lot in this book.

Then, of course, there is the star-crossed romance aspect as Clary and Jace struggle to move past their impossible feelings for each other as they try to understand what it really means to just be brother and sister. It might seem like a strange situation to add to a story, but Clare handles it tastefully and well enough that it’s easy to bear with her for the length of the book (and the rest of the series) to see where things will lead.

City of Ashes is as action-packed as its predecessor but with more character and world development. Clare has created another gripping, enjoyable read sure to dazzle.

The Mortal Instruments saga continues in City of Glass.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, The Demon Catchers of Milan by Kat Beyer, White Cat by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Inferno by Dante, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Paradise Lost by John Milton, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Pure Dead Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Pure Dead Magic by Debi GlioriDebi Gliori‘s novel Pure Dead Magic (2002) first caught my attention as a library page for two simple reasons: the unique title and the rather enticing plaid background of the cover (which also features a neat illustration by Glin Dibley). Before embarking on Pure Dead Magic, a work of longer fiction, Gliori had written and illustrated picture books for children. I have seen this book, the first in a trilogy, shelved both with children’s and young adult books. I’m more inclined to call it a children’s book although I also have no problem imagining teens who would enjoy it. That said, let’s talk about what happens between the covers of this book.

Twelve-year-old Titus Strega-Borgia and his ten-year-old sister Pandora do not live in what most people would term a normal household. Things are strange at StregaSchloss, the family’s house near the Scottish Highlands, even before their father Luciano mysteriously disappears. Dealing with an unwieldy household while completing her degree in advanced witchcraft, Baci Strega-Borgia is overextended. Enter Mrs. Flora McLachlan who tries to bring some order to the household along with fries that are crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and the occasional lullaby for Damp, the youngest of the Strega-Borgia children.

But order doesn’t reign for very long at StregaSchloss before things get out of hand. Thirteen baby rats go missing, followed soon after by Damp. Then the gangster in the rabbit suit shows up and everything gets even messier.

If any of the plot brought to mind the Addams family, it’s not a coincidence. I have no proof for this, but feel strongly that the Strega-Borgia’s might be distant cousins of Morticia and Gomez. Gliori pulls off a blend of humor and the macabre, with the odd man-eating monster thrown in, admirably and much in the style so common to the Addams family movie.

Needless to say this novel does require a willing suspension of disbelief, but once you get into the story it’s really fun. Gliori’s prose is straightforward and broken up into manageable chapters (usually four or so pages at a time) which make it a good pick for a reluctant reader who might not want to read a long chapter in one sitting.

The characters are also excellent. In addition to the family and staff, several mythical beasts and one hungry crocodile also add a lot of dimension to the book. Pure Dead Magic is one of those books that, if you can tolerate some fantastical elements, has something for everyone: a variety of characters, excitement, suspense, and humor. A well-rounded book for anyone looking for a story that will leave them smiling.

Howl’s Moving Castle: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesBefore Hayao Miyazaki made Howl’s Moving Castle into a feature length animated film in 2006 (2004 if you saw it in Japan), it was a book written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986. Due to the inherent difficulties of creating an animated film, Miyazaki greatly abridged and adjusted the plot of the novel for his movie. I happened to enjoy both film and novel but after reading the book I realized that the plot is extremely different in the novel–enough that the book and movie become completely different viewing experiences.

Find it on Bookshop.

Anyway, that’s all I’m going to say about the movie. On to the discussion of the book:

Sophie lives “in the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility exist.” In other words, all of the traditional fairy tale stories are real. Not so bad, except that Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, which everyone knows means Sophie is doomed to failure should she ever set out to seek her fortunes. Sophie is resigned to her fate–living obscurely, and less than successfully, working in the family hat shop. Except that this is not a traditional fairy tale and events soon intervene to set Sophie on a very unexpected course indeed for an eldest daughter.

It all starts in the hat shop after some interesting things begin to happen when Sophie talks to the hats she trims. Interesting enough to attract the attention of the dangerous Witch of the Waste. When her encounter with the Witch of the Waste leaves Sophie cursed in the body of an old woman, she has no choice but to go out and seek her fortune in hopes of breaking the curse (even if she is an eldest daughter).

Along the way, Sophie comes upon a mysterious moving castle that has taken up in the hill’s of Ingary. The castle belongs to Wizard Howl “who was known to amuse himself by collection young girls and sucking the souls from them. Or some people said he ate their hearts.” Either way, he was not anyone Sophie expected to ever meet let alone move in with. Until she does. Adventure ensues as Sophie tries to break the curse and help Howl with his own uniquely magical problems.

In terms of fantasy novels, Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorites. The world Jones creates is fully realized without ever getting boring or limiting the reader’s imagination. The tone of her narrative is also spot on. Readers of Jane Austen’s novels or the “Sorcery and Cecelia” series will notice a similar narrative voice. Although this novel is largely timeless, the prose has a charmingly Victorian tone–taking its time to arrive at the action, the better to familiarize readers with the characters involved and show the readers just how fantastic they (and the story) really are.

I also adore this story because it is romantic, thrilling, and completely absorbing. Even at 329 pages, the novel is far too short. Happily, Diana Wynne Jones follows up Howl’s Moving Castle with Castle in the Air (1990) and a brand new book featuring Sophie and Howl (House of Many Ways) is due out in May of 2008.

Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westefeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Howl’s Moving Castle (movie)