F is for Fowl (Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer)

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015--FWhen I was making my list of books to help me complete my goal of 100 books read this year, I wanted some short, fun reads. The first series of books that I thought of was the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer. I had read the first two books previously, but that was years ago. So I started from the beginning, and I’ve been working through the series. As of this post, I’ve read the first 5 books plus the companion piece, The Artemis Fowl Files. It’s been a fun ride.

Artemis is a child genius with a penchant for criminal behavior, having come from a long line of criminal masterminds. When he discovers the existence of the underground Faerie world and kidnaps LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaisance) Captain Holly Short, we get to see an entertaining chess game of sorts between the two worlds.

These books are just great fun. Artemis reminds me of a young Sherlock Holmes (perhaps more like Mycroft, actually), more of an anti-hero than a villain, too smart for his own good sometimes, always one step ahead of his enemies, but socially inept. Holly Short is more than his match, the first female Captain in the LEPrecon, and I love her sarcastic sense of humor. Colfer writes a tongue-in-cheek story, deliberately cheesy at times. The rest of the characters are well developed, from Foaly, the paranoid tech-support centaur, to Mulch Diggums, a kleptomaniac dwarf. The second book, The Arctic Incident, improves on the first in character development and the stakes involved. Book three, The Eternity Code, is my favorite of the series, with Artemis working together with the LEP to take down a rival human with connections to the mafia who has stolen faerie technology from Artemis.

While I haven’t read all the books, I can heartily recommend at least the first few to anyone wanting a series that can bridge the gap between Mid-Grade and Young Adult books. I’ll be revisiting the series later in the month, so stay tuned!

If you have recommendations for some quick reads for me to meet my challenge, feel free to share them in the comments! Or let me know your favorite literary villain or anti-hero. 🙂

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E is for Elisa (The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson)

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--EOk, this will be a longer post, but I just have SO MUCH to say about this book. Bear with me.

At first glance, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson appears to be just another trope-filled YA high-fantasy novel. You have a chosen one who is also a princess, forced into an arranged marriage with the king of a neighboring land. Both kingdoms are on the verge of war with a mysterious nearby country that is made up only of evil doers and that employs sorcery in battle, whereas the “good” kingdoms practice a religion that forbids all sorcery apart from the magic of the chosen one.

And yet… I fell in love with this book. Princess Lucero-Elisa is the overweight second daughter of a king who overlooks her because her older sister is so much more beautiful, graceful, a natural leader. But Elisa is the Bearer–she carries a magical stone (the Godstone) in her navel. A bearer is chosen by God once every hundred years, and they are tasked with a great act of service. Elisa doesn’t think she’ll ever discover what she is meant to do with this gift, and it soon becomes obvious that her life is in grave danger from others who would use her or simply kill her to take the stone from her.

The world Carson creates is different from the stereotypical pseudo-European setting for high fantasy, and that’s a huge selling point for me. Distinctly Spanish in influence, this land is filled with dark haired, dark eyed, tan-skinned people. There is a vast desert region as well as sweltering coastal jungles. While the people essentially practice one faith–resembling Christianity in some ways, but still unique to her world, especially since one of the holy books is essentially The Art of War–a huge part of the conflict in the story involves the many different ways people interpret the same holy texts, particularly in regards to the Bearer.

Elisa’s weight is also a key part of the story, in a way that I think could really inspire good discussions about body image. Elisa grows greatly as a person throughout the story, becoming ultimately a strong leader, but many characters cannot see past her physical attributes. She starts the novel as a heavy sixteen-year-old, still growing. Physical hardships and long journeys on foot cause her to lose much weight over the course of the book, and Elisa sees that people who looked down on her before now pay her very close attention. While part of her wants to enjoy that, she is angered that those people only respected her when she became beautiful in their eyes.

The magic system to me is one drawback, but I think that is largely because Elisa herself (due to the beliefs of her people) has been deliberately kept in the dark about the Godstone she bears. It also seems that each of the three main kingdoms has just part of the truth about the magic of their world, so I’m sure much more will be revealed in the later two books of the trilogy. The ending of this one does tie up perhaps a bit too neatly, but it still felt to me like the calm before the storm. The characters are given one moment of peace and happiness, knowing full well that their battles are not over. This is a tactic employed by many series authors–the Harry Potter books come to mind–and at least shows that Carson intends each book to be a distinct story arc.

The copy I own also had additional materials at the back, including an essay by Carson about weight and body image, an interview with the author, and a scone recipe, as well as the typical sneak peek at the next book. I enjoyed the first two items, and may actually try to make the scones. I will definitely be reading the next installment in this series, and hope that it lives up to the wonder and intensity of this first book.

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D is for Drusilla (Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton)

DTo say I loved Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton is a massive understatement. This very dark YA fantasy is set in a small town in Kansas, where Drusilla (Silla) and her brother Reese have just lost their parents in a gruesome apparent murder-suicide. Then one day, Silla receives a book of spells written in her fathers hand, along with a letter from a mysterious person known only as the Deacon.

Silla decides to try the magic, believing fervently that her father didn’t kill her mother and himself. But discovering the magic is real is only the beginning. She and her brother, along with newcomer Nick–who has a history with the magic that he’d rather forget–must learn to master the spells and uncover the identity of her parents’ real killer, who would like nothing better than to drain them of their blood in hopes of gaining immortality.

The mystery element of this story is carried out with a sort of dual story structure. On the one hand, you have Silla and Nick’s contemporary tale, on the other, the journal entries of Josephine Darly, born in the late 1800s, tell the story of a young woman who becomes obsessed with the magic and with her own mentor, and uses the blood of other practitioners to extend her life by decades. The opening line of the book is, “I am Josephine Darly, and I intend to live forever.” Gratton tells Josephine’s story beautifully, and truly leaves the reader guessing as to her identity. She sets up three distinct possibilities, all of whom have deep connections to Silla and Reese, making uncovering Josephine’s identity a dangerous task.

More than anything, I applaud Gratton for her very real telling of a teen in grief, both with the loss of Silla’s parents and as she deals with a profound loss within the story. From the physical shock she goes through to the way her friends and classmates treat her differently than before, it echoed my own experiences from when I lost my brother when I was 17. Since books were such a help to me in my own grief, I applaud her for not glossing over the pain of loss.

There is more to this story than meets the eye, and I am so glad that I finally read it. I should also mention that my husband snagged it from my book pile before I read it, and now compares pretty much every new book he reads to it. (“Well, I liked that one, but it’s no Blood Magic.”) So I’m not alone. He’s currently reading The Blood Keeper, Gratton’s second book in this magical world, and I’ll be reading it as soon as he finishes, and plan to review it mid-month.

Do you have a favorite haunting fantasy novel? Share it with me in the comments! I love adding to my TBR list!

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C is for Cinder and Cress (The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer)

CThere is a new gold standard for me in YA, and it is Marissa Meyer’s incredible Lunar Chronicles series. These sci-fi retellings of fairy tales feature a cast of characters that defy your expectations in the best ways.

The first installment, Cinder, is the story of a cyborg Cinderella. Scarlet is a bad-ass Red Riding Hood character with a pretty amazing rebel grandmother.

Cress, the third story, finds the characters from the earlier books needing help from a girl with ridiculously long hair who has spent nearly all her life in a satellite in orbit around the Earth. This Rapunzel retelling is far from the norm, with Cress being a genius-level computer hacker who has seen the world through only the vid streams she watches, making her incredibly naive and socially awkward.

All of this is set in a future Earth that is battling a deadly plague with no cure, whose best hope is a treaty between Earth and the Lunars, who possess incredible telepathic gifts and the ability to glamour themselves. (I’ll touch on the Lunar queen, Levana, later in the month.)

While there is a big reveal at the end of Cinder that I figured out around 20 pages in, that didn’t detract from the experience of the book for me. I finished it in the middle of the night right after Scarlet came out, and I couldn’t wait until morning to go to the bookstore, so I bought the e-book and dove right into it. I seriously can’t remember the last time I’ve been this excited about a series. Each book improves on the last, so much so that I think I’ll need to take time off when the final installment, Winter, comes out this fall. Read them all, you won’t be sorry!

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B is for Lord and Lady Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel)

We seek him here, we seek him there,

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

Is he in Heaven?–Is he in Hell?

That demmed, elusive Pimpernel.

BI’ve been wanting to read The Scarlet Pimpernel for a long time, especially after my 2013 NaNoWriMo project was set in an alternate history version of Revolutionary France. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t believe I waited so long!

This classic novel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy is part swashbuckling adventure, part court intrigue. Set in 1792 during France’s Reign of Terror, which sent thousands of aristocrats, sympathizers, and suspected enemies of the Republic to death under the blade of “Madame Guillotine”, The Scarlet Pimpernel tells the story of a hero who works to save those destined to death. The Pimpernel, named after the little red flower he leaves on anonymously-penned notes, works under cover of darkness and cunning disguises to thwart the efforts of the Republic’s officers. One in particular, Chauvelin, has made it his mission to see the Pimpernel unmasked and on his way to the guillotine.

To do so, Chauvelin blackmails the Lady Marguerite Blakeney, a French citizen married to a foppish English Lord, holding over her head information that her own brother has been in league with the Pimpernel. Lady Blakeney is an intelligent, fashionable woman, devoted to her brother and torn between her deeply Republican beliefs and her understanding that the current bloody version of the Republic betrayed the core principles of the Revolution.

The language of the book is rich, but mostly doesn’t overwhelm with detail. There were only a few places where the story drags, and usually it’s because the author is giving us backstory for a character. It’s a fairly quick read, with the biggest question–who is the Pimpernel?–not being answered until well into the book. It’s a brilliant case of secret identity, a predecessor to the comic book and silver screen heroes most of us know well. And while you certainly couldn’t call it a romance, the estranged Blakeneys rebuilding their love after secrets strained it is central to the story. The author is herself an aristocrat, so her sympathies toward those of noble descent are obviously stated, but at the same time, she doesn’t really say the Revolution was unjust. Marguerite is undeniably Republican, but still believes the Pimpernel is a hero because she rejects the bloodbath happening in her homeland.

In short, I felt swept away to a different place and time when I read this. The Scarlet Pimpernel is a great read for anyone who loves historical fiction, or who is new to reading classics. I will likely be reading more of Orczy’s novels about the Pimpernel’s adventures soon. Do you have a favorite adaptation of the story? Or a favorite classic novel? Share your comments below! 🙂

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A is for Adelice (Crewel World series by Gennifer Albin)

AIt’s the first day of the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, so I thought I’d kick things off with a personal favorite. Five years ago, I moved to Kansas City just before National Novel Writing Month began. I knew few people here outside of the roller derby community, and wasn’t working yet. At the first write-in I attended, I sat beside a kind, funny, welcoming woman who would become a cheerleader for me that month, and would end up winning NaNo herself right at the last minute. Two years later, I attended Gennifer Albin’s launch party for Crewel (the first book of a YA sci-fi trilogy), and fell in love with the world she created.

Crewel takes place in Arras, a world where powerful women called Spinsters are able to manipulate matter and time. Adelice Lewys can see the weave of the world all around her, not just on the special looms the Spinsters use. Unlike most girls at her school, who swoon at the very idea of being chosen as a Spinster, Adelice has been actively trying NOT to be selected. Her parents have been training her to hide her gift, for reasons she doesn’t fully understand until after she slips during the last day of testing, and touches the weave. That evening, she is forced from her home, and taken to the tower, where she is swept up in the intrigue of a world built on secrets.

From the beginning, I was caught up in Gennifer Albin’s carefully crafted world of Arras, as well as the characters. Adelice is strong, sarcastic, but also vulnerable. Cormac Patton is the smarmy villain you love to hate. The technology of the world verges on magic, which makes it a perfect match for a reader like me who loves both sci-fi and fantasy. The climax, while not entirely unexpected, does have a twist that startled me and made me hate having to wait for the next book. (Now that all three are out, you don’t have to wait!) I’ve read each book in the trilogy as it was released. The way the truths of the world reveal themselves over the course of the series is incredible. (A HUGE surprise in Altered made me squeal with delight!) In short, I highly recommend the entire Crewel World trilogy for any lovers of dystopian fiction.

For more information about the Crewel World, check out Gennifer Albin’s website and the Macmillan page. Happy reading!

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A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

During the month of April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging challenge. This is my first year, and I’m really looking forward to participating. The idea is to write a post for every day of the month except Sundays, and have each post relate to a different letter of the alphabet. So I’ll start out on April 1st with a post related to the letter A, and end on the 30th with a post related to the letter Z.

Although not required, many participants will choose a theme for their posts. While the most important thing for me is just to write something each day, I am going to try a theme for my posts this year. And that theme is…

Book reviews!

I’m going to use titles or characters to tie in to the letters. Not only will this help me become better about blogging regularly, it will be good motivation for me to keep up with my Goodreads reading challenge so as to have more material for posts.

I’m really looking forward to visiting other blogs during the challenge, and seeing the ways other bloggers use the letters of the alphabet to inspire them. If you’re participating, feel free to share your blog link in the comments.

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