Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Found Things by Marilyn Hilton, 2014

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Experience the wonder of the river in this haunting debut novel, where family is lost, friends are found, and hope runs in the current.One morning, River Rose Byrne wakes up talking like nobody else, and she doesn't know why. Maybe it's because her beloved older brother, Theron, has abruptly vanished. Maybe it's because that bully Daniel Bunch won't leave her alone. Or maybe it has everything to do with the eerily familiar house that her mind explores when she's asleep, and the mysterious woman who lives there. River has to puzzle through these mysteries on her own until she makes a strange new friend named Meadow Lark. But when she brings Meadow Lark home and her mother reacts in a way that takes River by surprise, River is more lost than before. Now all that's left for her to do is make wish after wish;and keep her eyes open for a miracle. Marilyn Hilton's haunting debut dives down deep into murky waters brimming with secrets, sorrow, and hope, giving us faith in the things that we seek, but haven't yet found. 

I really, really liked this book while I was reading it. I decided right off the bat that it would be a snap to review, partly because the whole thing was like one long poetic quote. The main character, River, has a speech defect that makes everything she says take on a rhythmic, pretty feel. For example, here's the first paragraph from the book:

"The morning after Theron leave us, I start talking this way - like no one else I'd ever known in Quincely, New Hampshire. Whenever Mama heard me, she look like she just ate a purple plum and didn't know what to do with the memory of it, all sweet and sour mixed together in her mouth. But the only thing she saw was that miracles are what's left after everything else is used up, and one morning I'd wake up and talk just like her River again."

Of course, the flavor in the rest of the book isn't quite as strong as in the first few pages, but I really like the effect it creates: you can hear River's unique voice, but the writing style doesn't hamper comprehension. Plus (and this is purely the writer in me) Hilton found a really clever way to avoid worrying about verb tense in her writing! I'll bet her editor loved that.

Now, like I said I really loved this book while I was reading it. It kind of reminded me of True (Sort of . . .) by Katherine Hannigan, which is a truly wonderful book (that someday I will get around to reviewing). The big difference was that I didn't finish the book with the knowledge that I would never ever forget the story, as I had when I put down True (Sort of . . . ). It was a nice ending, it really was, but it left me feeling empty. Maybe everything ended too quickly, or maybe I guessed too much of the ending ahead of time: most of what I wanted to happen/be explained did, and I was disappointed in what didn't happen. I mean, I thought there was going to be more about Meadow Lark in the end, a la True (Sort of . . . ), but there wasn't.

Speaking of Meadow Lark, let's talk about her as a character. It really seemed like Hilton was taking her somewhere, but then somewhere down the line couldn't decide what to do with her. Who exactly is Meadow Lark? Why does she move so much? What happened to her mother? You know what? I'll bet there's a sequal in the works. Besides all the questions about her past, though, she seems very insensitive to me. She is constantly pushing River to do things she doesn't want to, and going into Theron's room even though River says they're not allowed. I understand that she thinks they have too many rules, and I know she's good for River because she encourages her to be brave, but I still felt like she went too far every now and then - and then didn't really apologize.

River was a much more complex character, and I really liked her. She is still reeling from her brother's departure (he was basically kicked out of their house by her father, after driving a car into the river when he was, by all accounts, drunk), and has developed a strange way of speaking that springs from her conflicted emotions. She gets made fun of for her accent at school, and is becoming increasingly reticent and insecure. More and more she finds her mind "wandering" during her free moments, exploring a big house that she can see with perfect clarity in her mind. The minute I read that she was adopted I went "ah-ha!" But I have to say that I envy River for this house in her mind. How amazing it would be to be able to effortlessly enter a world in your head and literally hear, smell, and taste your surroundings!

The supporting characters are very strong as well, and some frankly have a better ending than the main characters. The resident bully is anything but one-dimensional, and provides a very interesting thread to the story web. Frankly, some of the later scenes with him are among my favorites from the entire book.

All in all, a deep book with more threads than you would expect, and extremely gripping. I would call it satisfying, but like I said before there's just something that doesn't resonate with me about the ending. Who knows, maybe I'm just weird and you'll love it. I'd definitely reccomend checking it out for yourself! If you do, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Teaser Tuesdays (Oct. 28th)

Okay, so for those of you who are new to this meme, here's how it works:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My current read is Found Things by Marilyn Hilton.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Experience the wonder of the river in this haunting debut novel, where family is lost, friends are found, and hope runs in the current.One morning, River Rose Byrne wakes up talking like nobody else, and she doesn't know why. Maybe it's because her beloved older brother, Theron, has abruptly vanished. Maybe it's because that bully Daniel Bunch won't leave her alone. Or maybe it has everything to do with the eerily familiar house that her mind explores when she's asleep, and the mysterious woman who lives there. River has to puzzle through these mysteries on her own until she makes a strange new friend named Meadow Lark. But when she brings Meadow Lark home and her mother reacts in a way that takes River by surprise, River is more lost than before. Now all that's left for her to do is make wish after wish;and keep her eyes open for a miracle. Marilyn Hilton's haunting debut dives down deep into murky waters brimming with secrets, sorrow, and hope, giving us faith in the things that we seek, but haven't yet found.

Here´s my quote, taken from page 111:
"Mama hopes. I think that's how she can stand it that Theron's gone."

Let me know what you think of the book, and check back in a couple of days for my review!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thursdays With the Crown by Jessica Day George, 2014

Synopsis (from Amazon):

Castle Glower has been acting weird, so it's no surprise when two towers transport Celie and her siblings to an unknown land. When they realize that no one from home is coming to get them, the kids–along with Celie's pet griffin Rufus–set out through the forest to figure out where they are and what's happened to their beloved Castle. Instead, they discover two wizards and an entire lost people, the oldest inhabitants of Castle Glower. And it seems they may know more of the Castle's secrets than Celie. But do they know how to get her back home?

First, don't read this review unless you've read the first two books (Tuesdays at the Castle and Wednesdays in the Tower) by the same author. There are some unavoidable spoilers from the first book and especially the second book, so consider yourself warned!

I read this book in one sitting the day I got it, because i had been waiting for it for a long time. I liked it, but I'm not really the target audience for the book and it's not going on my all-time favorites list along with George's Dragons series, and her Princess series (see my review of the first Princess book, Princess of the Midnight Ball). However, the minute I finished Thursdays my brother, a tween, grabbed it and read it as quickly as he could. And now that he is done, my sister, in late elementary school, has stolen it to read it in every spare moment she can get (and, because we are homeschooled, "spare moment" actually means "when she's supposed to be doing math"). That's one reason this blog post is a little rambling: I haven't been able to set eyes on the book since I finished my first, quick read-through.

Okay, so this was an interesting follow-up to the first two books. Each book in this series has been vastly different. The first book was a fun, quirky story about a trio of royal siblings whose parents disappear, leaving the royal council to attempt to take over the kingdom. It was a fun, clever book with some politics thrown in, not to mention a moving Castle on the kids' side! The second book continued the whinsical theme of a moving, living Castle and the family who lived there (focusing on Rolf, Lilah and Celie from the first series as well as throwing their wizarding brother Bran into the mix), but added in a secret griffin for Celie, the youngest daughter, to take care of, and started explaining/debunking the mysterious magic behind the Castle. I enjoyed Wednesdays, but I didn't think it was as good as the first book because it ripped away a little too much of the whimsy; knowing some of the inner workings of how the Castle functioned made the Castle a little less grand and mysterious.

Now it's time for the third book, and I liked this one a lot! For a relatively short book, there's a lot of storylines packed in there. Webs of lies must be untangled to figure out the true history of the Castle, and the main characters (this time around it's Celie, Rolf, Lilah, Lulath, and Pogue) must discover the truth while also hunting down a way to get home. Oh, and there are lots more griffins in this story. You can tell it's aimed for a younger audience: the amount of baby griffins alone will cause any ten year old girl to go dewy eyed, including my sister, who starts the book today - I can't wait to hear what I already know will be her gushing delight at the book as a whole, and specifically at the amount of griffins in it. Mid-way through Wednesdays she started writing her own book, about a girl who discovers a griffin egg and takes care of the baby inside. If the first Tuesdays book can turn my sister into a reader (it was one of the very first "big books" she read, after years of avoiding books as much as possible) and the second can turn her into a writer when all my attempts at wooing her toward the field have failed, then I am so excited to see what the third book will do to her!

Now for the actual story. The characters are well developed for a MG novel, and have become ever more developed as the series progressed. None of the children are cookie-cutter royals - they're more like ordinary kids who happen to be royal. Not in a cloying way, either. They know they're royal, and Rolf, heir to the throne, is ready and willing to take the throne someday. But he loves his father, and doesn't want him to die. He also doesn't lord it over his siblings that he's king over them (even in - well, I don't want to give spoilers. But I really loved his attitude in the first book). 
I was a bit confused by the bad guy(s), but that was kind of the point: everyone lied to the main characters, and they had to figure out the truth. There was also a character who kind of randomly appeared and disappeared throughout the story. He was originally on the side of one of the bad guys, I think, and then he helped the kids escape, and then they didn't trust him because of - actually, spoilers on that one. I don't want to ruin it for you! But the point is, he didn't add anything to the plot. I think he was the only part of the book that made me go "hmm." Everything else was spot on and perfectly woven together.

All in all, a solid installment in a great MG series. I still love the first book the best, and I don't know when/if I'll ever re-read this one, but I do know that if you asked either my brother or my sister, they would give you a glowing synopsis, complete with arm waving and huge spoilers. And that excitement they have for the series is what really makes it special.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan, 2014

Though the Greek and Roman crewmembers of the Argo II have made progress in their many quests, they still seem no closer to defeating the earth mother, Gaea. Her giants have risen-all of them-and they're stronger than ever. They must be stopped before the Feast of Spes, when Gaea plans to have two demigods sacrificed in Athens. She needs their blood-the blood of Olympus-in order to wake.
The demigods are having more frequent visions of a terrible battle at Camp Half-Blood. The Roman legion from Camp Jupiter, led by Octavian, is almost within striking distance. Though it is tempting to take the Athena Parthenos to Athens to use as a secret weapon, the friends know that the huge statue belongs back on Long Island, where it might be able to stop a war between the two camps.
The Athena Parthenos will go west; the Argo II will go east. The gods, still suffering from multiple personality disorder, are useless. How can a handful of young demigods hope to persevere against Gaea's army of powerful giants? As dangerous as it is to head to Athens, they have no other option. They have sacrificed too much already. And if Gaea wakes, it is game over.

I'm going to do a sort of review for the entire Heroes of Olympus series, so you can see my thought process and why I felt the way that I did at the series' end. It's a bit long, but then again so are all the reviews of Riordan's books on Goodreads, so there we go. Be warned, there are some spoilers from all of the books in here, mainly just plot twists that are crucial to later books in the series, and some romance themes. I don't spoil the ending of Blood of Olympus, at least not the "real" ending - I do talk a bit about the romantic aspect.

Okay, so I have literally been waiting for this book in form form or another for almost seven years. That is, if you start counting from when I first read The Lightning Thief (the first book in the original series). I have read every book in the first series (Percy Jackson and the Olympians) more times than I can count, and I'm not just saying that to exaggerate. I literally re-read the series, especially the first book, periodically and I can't remember how many times I've read each book. What I do know is that I loved the series, along with every other middle schooler on the planet.

And then. Then the Heroes of Olympus series was announced, and I was so excited. I thought it would be amazing! I started the first book with no idea what to expect in the storyline department, but expecting to relish seeing all the old characters again.

The whole book was about three kids I'd never seen before. And I came to love them, and I gushed over the book with all of my friends, but inside I was still holding out judgement. The second book, Son of Neptune. That would be when everything really started, that would be when Percy stepped onto the page once more. And you know what? I did love Son of Neptune, because seeing Percy struggle to remember his life was so fascinating, and I sighed along with every other junior high girl on the planet when I saw how the only thing Percy could remember was Annabeth.

Of all the books in the series, I was least concerned about the quality of Mark of Athena going into it. Annabeth and Percy were finally together, and the crew united!
At this point, though, I was getting a bit of all the encounters with random gods (seriously, Rick needs someone to go through and chop about ten monster encounters from each of the Heroes of Olympus books). I was still invested, though, mainly because I still loved Percabeth and couldn't stand not knowing what happened after a certain literal cliffhanger that finished off an otherwise pleasing book.

Then came Blood of Olympus, and I officially came to the realization I honestly didn't care about all seven of the crew members. Not as people, anyway. They're not really people to me, they're just tools for Riordan. Tools for him to a) have as many races, ethnicities, and even sexual orientations as he can possibly cram in there, and b) create enough love angst stories to fill about four separate middle school series. I guess his success with Percabeth made him think the world was full of teenage suckers who would wholeheartedly ship every random coupling he threw in just for the sake of having couples. And I guess he was right. But I for one was getting pretty tired of Rick's old tricks.

Then came House of Hades, and I was ready to throw in the towel. While I enjoyed seeing Percy and Annabeth trusting and relying on each other as they navigated the difficult situations they encountered, I had no real interest in what the rest of the crew was up to. Riordan's writing was still engaging, but I'd seen it all before. There was literally nothing new outside of Tartarus, and I really didn't care enough about Piper to find her road to magic-usage that exciting. Wait, was it Piper or Hazel? I can never keep those two straight. Did you read that? I can never keep those two straight. And one is the Native American daughter of a movie star and the goddess of love, while the other is an African American dead girl whose father is Hades. If I can't keep those two straight, then Riordan is doing something wrong. The Leo and Calypso angle was sweet, though, and I was looking forward to seeing that come to fruition.

And now. Now Blood of Olympus has finally arrived, and I still bought it the day it came out. Why, you ask? You got the impression that I was starting to get sick of the series. Why would I buy the latest book? Well, mainly because I was sick and tired ("ill and exhausted," not "exasperated"), and my father went to Target. Also, the other book that came out that day (Jessica Day George's Thursdays with the Crown, another book I'll get around to reviewing one of these days) wasn't at Target.

So, I read Blood of Olympus. And far from loving it like every other fangirl on the planet, I disliked it. A lot. Because you see, everything I loved about the series had all but disappeared, and it felt like Rick was just using his tired old tricks to make everybody happy. The new Nico storyline is very much not to my taste, so while I empathized with him as a poor, lonely kid who thinks he has no friends, I still found the bits about his sexal orientation less than appealing. As for the members of the Argo II, you'd think I'd still have Percabeth to fall back on, right? Nope. They're barely together at all, and even when they are the scenes between them felt fake and cheesy, instead of sweet. And don't get me started on Leo and Calypso! The first time he called her "Sunshine" I felt sick. The whole interaction between the two of them feels like Rick completely recast their relationship - it goes from this unspoken loyalty/love thing that was really sweet, and I liked a lot, to this obnoxious, comfortable "We've been dating for years" sort of feel. To be perfectly honest, the book reads like a fanfiction you could find on the internet. Sure, it's longer than most of the fanfics online, but the romance is as out-of-character and clumsy as the average fanfic.

I know I'm one of the minority in my opinion of this series, especially for my age demographic, and I truly feel bad about that. I came into the series ready to love it. And if anyone who knows me in real life reads this, they'll be shocked because I always seemed just as in love with the series as they were. But who knows, maybe I'm not the only one secretly disappointed with the series. Whether you agree with me or not, comment below and let me hear your thoughts! And please, don't think I hate all things Percy Jackson now: Percabeth will always have a place in my heart, and nothing the later books have to say can change that. And who knows, maybe the new series (officially titled Magnus Chase) will be better!

Haha, I was joking. I'm trying the first book just to see how it is, but just because Chase is Annabeth's cousin, does not mean I will read five more five hundred page books. If I want to see how Percy and Annabeth are doing, I'll just Google it, thank you very much.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, 2005

After Gen's bragging lands him in the king's prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king's scholar, the magus, needs the thief's skill for a seemingly impossible task -- to steal a hidden treasure from another land. To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.

This is what I wrote two years ago after my first time reading it. As you can tell, I wasn't a great fan. I was also a bit annoyed because my mother said it had to be good because it was a Newberry award winner:

"I'm not sure I should even write a review for this book, because my response to it is so different from all the other responses I've seen.

Gen is the classic witty, clever orphan. He goes on an adventure to get something, and is bullied into doing it. This book won a Newberry. That seems, to me, just about all you need to know to make your decision about whether to read it, and even whether to like it. Maybe it's because I had just read the fantastic False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen that I had such trouble getting into this book, because they share enough aspects that it felt really blase. Guy forcing main character to do things he doesn't want to? Got it. Some sort of sidekicks that turn out to be different than how they originally seem? Nice, but seen it! A twist ending? Sorry, but it wasn't handled very well. I had to read it through twice to figure out what the big surprise was, and I'm still confused exactly what "that" entails.

I'm not saying this is a bad book, I just personally didn't connect with it. I have been told that "it's a Newberry. It's good. End of story," but I don't really accept that as the instant makings of a classic."

Now, it's a few years later. I've lived, I've learned, and I've perhaps acquired some patience. Plus, I really liked the sequelSo, approaching the book with an open mind, I did realize that it wasn't as dry and uninteresting as I first found it to be. The rest of the books in the series gave me a lot of serious respect for Gen, so when he was all whiny in this first book (honestly though, there is a lot of whining going on in this book!) I took it with a grain of salt. It's all part of the plan, right?

I really can't go into any more detail about the book, because practically everything holds a second meaning after you finish the book. I am still a bigger fan of the the Ascendance trilogy,  and I always will be, but the Thief series is no longer cast aside in my regard. I will never be the biggest fan of The Thief, because it really isn't my cup of tea. But I can respect good writing, and I know when to pass it on to those who will enjoy it more than me.

Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark by Ridley Pearson, 2005

In this fantastical novel, Disney's Magic Kingdom suddenly becomes a bit eerie. Finn Whitman and four other teens have been hired as Disney World guides, but with an odd twist: With cutting-edge technology, they have been transformed into hologram projections capable of leading guests around the park. What begins as an exciting theme park job turns into a virtual nightmare as Finn and his pals attempt to thwart an uprising by a menacing group of Disney villains.

First, I want to quickly sum up how I got this book. I was at Barnes and Noble with twenty dollars in gift cards, an hour to kill, and no brand-new hardcover money-grabbers to blow all my money on in one go. So, I bought three paperbacks instead: Because of Mr. Terupt, Out of My Mind, and Disney After Dark. I had read both of the other books previously (and, as an aside, absolutely adored them), but Kingdom Keepers was a new find. I'd seen tue fourth book around before multiple times but never the first, so seeing Disney After Dark at Barnes and Noble prodded me into taking the plunge of buying an unknown book. 
Five years ago I (and, seemingly, the rest of the world) fell in love with the Percy Jackson series. And how did I discover Percy Jackson, you might be wondering? Well, you're probably not wondering, and you're probably wishing I'd just get to my review already. But I'll tell you fast: I got "The Lightning Thief" from Borders on a whim.
So, in the back of my mind I was hoping to find another great series like Percy Jackson in Kingdom Keepers. Keep this in mind as you read my review.
So. Kingdom Keepers. Disney After Dark. I have to admit, I thought the title was kind of cheesy when I started the series. I still do. But in a strange way, it fits the book - not that I'm saying the book is particularly cheesy (because it isn't), but it pretty much sums up the whole idea of the book.

Finn is a normal kid, except for the fact that there are holograms of him all over Disney World. You see, he and five other kids were chosen after auditioning to be scanned and projected throughout Disney World in Orlando, Florida as tour guides known as DHIs (which stands for both Disney Host Interactive and Daylight Hologram Imaging). The perks? Finn instantly became the superstar at school who everyone recognized from Disney World, he got a substantial amount of money for his college fund for the right to use his image and voice forever at Disney, and his family got mega gold packs so they could go to Disney whenever they wanted.

The downsides? Well, Finn can only go to Disney after specially clearing it with the security guards ahead of time, and only if he wears a hat so no one confuses real Finn with DHI Finn. This also means that when he sneaks into Disney World, he has to constantly be dodging guards who are trying to get him out of there before tourists spot his non-virtual-tour-guide self.

The side that's both up and down? Finn starts to dream he IS his DHI every single night. And there is a strange man named Wayne (an "Imagineer") in these dreams who claims that Disneyland is being threatened by the evil "Overtakers" - who include many of the villains from various Disney stories.

Finn tracks down the other four DHI hosts at their various schools, and learns they all are having the same dreams. When they all go to sleep within half an hour of one another, they are all in their DHIs at Magic Kingdom at the exact same place and can talk to each other.  These dreams aren't just dreams; they're real. Add Maleficent (the witch from Sleeping Beauty, utterly unrelated to the upcoming movie), who is an Overtaker, and two strange girls - one strangely helpful, one strangely stalking - and you've got a pretty good picture of Disney After Dark.

Now, in this kind of book deep characterization is a bonus, not a must. We barely meet Finn's parents. Each character has a personality trait that is why they're "part of the team." , but at the end of the day Finn is the leader, Maybeck is the rough kid with a softer inside, Philby is the computer genius, Charlene the girly make-up expert, and Willa is a girl, who is smart. They stay faithful to their personalities, though, and each has an individual flavor as a character - but if you asked me what Willa's main goal in life was, I couldn't answer farther than "help the Imagineers defeat the Overtakers."

Does it live up to Percy Jackson? Um, no. Sorry, but it's not quite humorous enough, and all the detailed references to Disney World, while fun (very fun!) are a bit confusing. It's good, though, and I've already gotten and read the second book (also in one go, these books aren't exactly Moby-Dick). I'll request the rest of the series from the library as soon as I pick up the nine books waiting for me right now.