Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

oddandthefrostFrom Goodreads:

The winter isn’t ending. Nobody knows why.
And Odd has run away from home, even though he can barely walk and has to use a crutch.
Out in the forest he encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle – three creatures with a strange story to tell.
Now Odd is faced with a stranger journey than he had ever imagined.
A journey to save Asgard, City of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it.
It’s going to take a very special kind of boy to defeat the most dangerous of all the Frost Giants and rescue the mighty Gods. Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever.
Someone just like Odd.

I checked an audio version of this out via my lovely Overdrive app a few weeks ago, and was just delighted with it. Neil Gaiman, doing Norse mythology for kids and reading the book himself. The book was less than two hours long in audio, and flew by.

Like many people, I don’t know a lot more about Norse mythology than the Thor and Avengers movies have taught me, so I was pleasantly surprised when some of that movie mythology turned out to be legit. I mean, clearly Thor was the god of thunder and Odin was the king of Asgard and Loki was Thor’s brother, the god of mischief. Those things I knew. I didn’t know that Loki really was a frost giant, abandoned, though.

This story isn’t really about the gods, though. It’s a story about a young boy with a bad foot and an irrepressible spirit. Odd smiles though he has no reason to. And he saves all of Asgard because he has that special power of smiling when he has no real reason to. I can’t say much more without spoiling the book, but I highly recommend this one. It may have been written for children, but The Mr and I both enjoyed it thoroughly.

What’s your favorite Norse mythology book? Do you have one? Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day. 🙂

The Sapphire Flute by Karen E. Hoover

11806837 First book review of the year goes to the wonderful Sapphire Flute (The Wolf Child Saga, #1) by Karen E. Hoover.

Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:

It has been 3,000 years since a white mage has been seen upon Rasann. In the midst of a volcanic eruption miles outside of her village, Ember discovers she can see magic and change the appearance of things at will. Against her mother’s wishes, she leaves for the mage trials only to be kidnapped before arriving. In trying to escape, she discovers she has inherited her father’s secret-a secret that places her in direct conflict with her father’s greatest enemy. At the same time, Kayla is given guardianship of the sapphire flute and told not to play it. The evil mage C’Tan has been searching for it for decades and the sound alone is enough to call her. For the flute to be truly safe, Kayle must find its birthplace in the mountains high above Javak. The girls’ paths are set on a collision course…a course that C’Tan is determined to prevent at all costs.

I finished this book the last day of December, and it was such a nice book to finish the year with. I have to admit, it took me a little bit of time to get into this book for me, mainly because to begin with, the two main character girls are a little too similar for my liking. They sound a little too much alike and have too similar of temperaments at the beginning of the book, that I had to really remind myself which story I was in at the moment, as the story goes back and forth between the two.

That feeling evaporated as the story developed, though, and especially as I was simply consistently blown away with the pure imagination and originality of this book. I was so pleased by some of the elements that were implemented: specific kinds of magical tools, the description of the magic itself, and especially, especially the correlation between music and magic—because really, music is the closest thing we have to magic in our own world. Imagine if music conveyed with it images, spells, and power?

While Kayla and Ember may have similar personalities, they are both very strong female characters, and their journeys are so very different (and yet intrinsically connected!) that they do end up being distinctly individual in their stories.

The second book of the Wolf Child series (The Armor of Light) is available and I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing where this journey goes!

*****

A little background history, The Sapphire Flute was originally published by a publishing house, but that publishing house closed, so Hoover now self-publishes the ebooks, but it is still available in hardcover, if you’d rather read an actual book (the cover is a little different, though) Ebooks are available on Hoover’s blog. 🙂

Thoughts on Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

From Goodreads:

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers thirteen cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and crush who committed suicide two weeks earlier.

On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list.

Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

If there was ever a book to skip reading and buy the audio, this would be the book.

This book is hard-hitting. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s such a journey of discovery that you’re part of as the reader. Ultimately, this is a book I’d highly recommend. It goes through the complexities of the consequences of each of our actions. How something as simple as staying quiet or going along with the crowd can be devastating for the one person who’s silently pleading that someone in the crowd is different.

Besides highlighting (in a very memorable, but non-teachy way) the signs you can look for in case someone close to you is in trouble, it also shows that suicide is really only the blame of the one who commits it. When it comes down to it, they are the only ones who could have stopped themselves, and looking for blame elsewhere just adds hurt upon hurt.

I can see how this book could have life-changing effects on people, both who might be suffering from depression themselves, or who might know someone who is. It’s a heavy subject, yes, but it’s well worth the read, I think. I highly recommend it.

For a peek at the impact it has made, check out the 13RW project.

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Think unicorns are white and fluffy and gentle creatures? Well, think again. In Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant, unicorns are vicious killer monsters that can only be taken down by virginal maiden descendents of Alexander the Great. Mmmhmm.

This book is a lot of fun. Okay, killer unicorns sound a little ridiculous at first—okay, a lot ridiculous—but Peterfreund finds threads of legends throughout history and weaves them together with a lot of imagination and thoroughness and makes a formidable mythology that stands on its own.

The main character, Astrid, took some time getting there, but by the end of the book she was a seriously formidable character. And isn’t that what a coming-of-age story is all about, the journey?

Things I love about this book:

1) Phil. Astrid’s cousin is awesome from the very beginning. She knows what she wants and speaks up about it, even after something potentially soul-crushing happens to her.

2) Bonegrinder. Bonegrinder is a zhi (pronounced “g”), a little goat-like unicorn—she’s vicious of her own account, but she grows on you.

3) The Boy. He’s pitter-pat worthy. And I do mean worthy.

4) Astrid. It took me a while, like I said, but I honestly loved her by the end of the book and was cheering her every step of the way.

5) Cory. I love her development throughout the book.

What I didn’t like was that a couple of the other hunters were a little hard to distinguish from one another. They were introduced well, but got lost in the hussle. This was forgivable, however, in that overall they were seriously awesome.

All in all, though, I thought the book was wonderful. It really earned its ending and I’m looking forward to reading the second book, Ascendant.

Linger by Maggie Steifvater

Sometimes life gets in the way of even the books you want to read most. That’s what happened for me for Linger. Between getting married, getting used to being married,  moving three times, and general life? Well, I didn’t finish many books at all in the past year and a half.

But anyhow.

As a start, here’s my review of Shiver, the first novel in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series.

I loved Shiver, and reread it before starting this. What’s really fabulous about these books is the voice and the fact that Sam’s is so poetic, while Grace’s is very fact for fact—just like the characters themselves.

I have to admit, I was less enthralled both by my reread of Shiver and by a lot of Linger than I was the first time I read Shiver. But I blame this more on the timing of my reading it (I’d been reading a lot of whiny YA, and while Stiefvater’s angst is, as I said, much more poetic than the usual fare, it is still teenage angst).

A lot of what made this book slower than the first is that there is a lot of waiting in this book. The characters are waiting for a chance to be together because they’re separated by Grace’s suddenly-proactive parents, and a sudden sickness.

Meanwhile, we’re being thrown into the heads of Isabel and a new character Cole, and neither head is a particularly friendly place. Of course, I knew that going in… and I already loved Isabel, unlike some. From what I knew about Cole (read: that he had a massive fanbase) I knew he’d probably win me over… but oh, he takes some time.

This really is two stories woven into one by circumstance—Sam and Grace’s story, and Cole’s story, with Isabel commentating on both.

The end of this book makes everything worth it, though. The whole thing slips together beautifully—and Cole’s turning a new leaf of the redemption flavor is just as winning as it should be, mainly because it’s clearly the just the beginning of something.

Glad to say I already have Forever waiting in the wings. Hoping it’s a strong ending. With Maggie Stiefvater, I’m not too worried.

 

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I was looking forward to this book because of all the hype, and the fact that I think Beth Revis (whose blog/twitter/tumblr I followed before I was able to get my hands on the book itself) is completely kindred-spirit-worthy. I was drawn in immediately by Amy’s voice—so much so that I worried I wouldn’t like her as much when she was awake and interacting with the ship, but I was wrong on that one.

Elder’s voice wasn’t as enticing to me… I liked him better through Amy’s POV also. I have to say I knew who the killer was early on… there was a little too much foreshadowing done there, I think it could have been dealt with a lighter hand. Another red herring would have served better, I think. It would have been great if Amy really had been unsure about either Elder or Harley.

So, for me the reveal of the murderer wasn’t that shocking. THAT SAID, the twist after it certainly was.

Amy is a GREAT character. Smart and strong and not about to take crap from anybody, but still vulnerable and alone in a lot of ways. I’m hoping Elder steps up his game a bit in A Million Suns. And I’m looking forward to finding out more about the history of Godspeed. I have a feeling a lot more secrets are left to be uncovered.

If you’ve read the book, I have a more spoilery review on goodreads, here.

Deep Blue Secret by Christie Anderson

California teen, Sadie James, thinks her life couldn’t get any better. She has great friends, an energetic mother she adores, and the beach practically in her own backyard. But her carefree life is turned upside down when she’s rescued by a mysterious and strangely familiar boy who won’t even tell her his name.

Each time the boy appears, Sadie’s unexplainable attraction to him deepens along with her need to unravel his secrets. The boy is there to protect her. But as wonderful and exciting as it might be to have an irresistible boy with crystal green eyes protecting her every move, every minute of the day…why does Sadie need one?

As Sadie finds answers, she realizes her life isn’t as perfect as she thought. Not only is she caught in a world of dangerous secret agents she never knew existed, but it turns out her true identity may be the greatest secret of all.

This book has an interesting idea behind it. A group of otherworldly agents who travel throughout the world healing the sick by means of special healing waters. Sadie is connected to healing water in a way she’s never known and certainly doesn’t understand, but she knows something isn’t right. Then a mysterious stranger—a boy from her dreams with crystal green eyes—shows up every time she’s in trouble and somehow makes things okay.

This book had a lot of potential, and I admit I was very excited to read it. The cover, the copy on the back, and the great reviews on Goodreads were all great.While it had the fairly common normal-girl-falls-for-mysterious-newcomer-boy outline, the “secret agent” aspect was intriguing and seemed to promise something new. Unfortunately, the book didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

It had some definite strong points—a few pieces of “technology” that I thought were interesting, some very true-feeling friend drama, and some nice descriptions of landscapes*, to name a few. But for the most part, I felt like this book just wasn’t finished. The background story needed flushing out, as did the characters themselves—there was very little that made Sadie Sadie, very little that distinguished her from any other teenage girl. We don’t what her interests are, what her weaknesses are—we don’t even know what her favorite subject in school is. All we know is that she thinks her life is perfect—but she gets sad for no reason, and that she’s never felt much of anything for any guy—until her mystery man shows up, and then she’s so head-over-heels in love she can’t control herself.

I have to admit, the writing was very much like stuff I scribbled in my journal at seventeen, so in one sense it was very real… but at the same time, it too felt underdone. Details are skipped over and many things are told rather than shown. The whole story seems to be happening to Sadie—instead of being an active part of the story, she lets Rayne take her by the hand and lead her down a path. Her slowness to question red flags often left me frustrated.

I’m sorry to say that I didn’t particularly like this book. I wanted to. I really wanted to. I even feel badly that I’ve been asked to write a review, because I don’t want Ms. Anderson to be discouraged by what I say—I just want her to know that her book could have been better. It could have been more fleshed out, and it could have been sharpened.

Funnily enough, what I enjoyed most about the book were the things that Sadie couldn’t wait to get away from—the normal teenage things. I thought that the dialogue and the jealousies between the teens Sadie hung out with were very true to teenagers, and felt very natural. I almost wish the book had been a straight contemporary about the difficulties of high school. It would have been interesting to read a book about a teen who had bouts of depression even though she thought she had a great life—more interesting, I think, than having most of her emotions influenced by things outside her control.

But that’s just my two cents.It really does have great reviews on Goodreads.

You can buy Deep Blue Secret here, and find more about Christie Anderson at her website.

*Though I have to say, as a San Diego native I thought her version of California was sadly TV-version stereotypical, but I suppose Anderson grew up where the stereotype was the rule? My high school was nothing like a “sea of blonde,” personally. Just sayin’.

I was provided with a copy of  this book for review. It did not influence my review in any way.

Book Review: The Key of Kilenya by Andrea Pearson

When two vicious wolves chase fourteen-year-old Jacob Clark down a path from our world into another, his life is forever changed. He has no idea they have been sent by the Lorkon—evil, immortal beings who are jealous of powers he doesn’t know he possesses—powers they desire to control. 

The inhabitants of the new world desperately need Jacob’s help in recovering a magical key that was stolen by the Lorkon and is somehow linked to him. If he helps them, his life will be at risk. But if he chooses not to help them, both our world and theirs will be in danger. The Lorkon will stop at nothing to unleash the power of the key—and Jacob’s special abilities.

****************

When I was reading The Key of Kilenya, I felt like I ought to have a ten year old boy next to me reading along. I felt like that age group is probably the key audience for this book, because the kid in me was fascinated with what was going on in this fantasy world.

The story here is fast-paced from the get-go, starting with a chase through the woods by scary wolves and followed by adventure after adventure. One of the chapter titles is “Breakneck Speeds,” and that’s often what this book felt like. Jason is throw into a mystical new world, and is quickly put on a dangerous quest to retrieve a powerful stolen artifact from the clutches of terrible, invincible enemies.

I think the real strong point in Key of Kilenya is that a lot of the fantastical elements really feel original. In fact, reading this put me in mind of the creatures you would come across in an Oz book or one of the more fanciful Chronicles of Narnia, because the creatures really aren’t the norm. Pearson clearly hasn’t been hampered by other people’s imaginations. My favorite  thing in the whole book was probably the creatures called Dusts whose hands changed to adapt to what they needed to do—but often changed without the owners’ consent, confusing the creatures and tripping them up.

I think that this book also did the “journey quest” very well. There is a lot of traveling going on in the story, but it never feels like “and then they walked for half the day.” Instead, there are different challenges and mentors sprinkled all along their road, keeping things interesting to say the least.

My biggest problem with the book is that it often felt like Jacob (and through him, the reader) was often withheld information from. A lot of things happened in a “don’t ask questions” kind of way, with adults brushing aside questions or simply not giving  time for them to be asked, even though in many cases they did have the answers. In dealing with the Lorkon, Jacob was told that it was better the less he knew about his enemy, but why it was better never became clear, even after Jacob infiltrated their castle and stole back the Key he was looking for.

I was also a little less than enthusiastic for Jacob himself. He seemed to be following this quest just because he’d been told he had to and that he was the only one who could.That was alright in and of itself, I suppose, but in the end he’s supposed to have become a hero, and I don’t know that he truly acts heroically at any point. In fact there is more than one point in the book where he passes by people who are under enchantments and curses and instead of wanting to help them, he’s disgusted by what he sees and simply moves on. I would have been a little more ready to cheer him on if he’d at least seemed to feel bad about the strangers he couldn’t save.

There are also a lot of unanswered questions at the end of the book—though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering this is the beginning of a series. I’m definitely curious as to how this will all play out in the end.

______________________________

You can purchase Key of Kilenya here.

Find out more about Andrea Pearson and her Kilenya series at her website, here.

A is for Älvor by Laura Bingham

Today is the first day of the monstrous A-Z blogfest, and it just happens that today I finished a book that starts with the letter A, so here we go!

Älvor is the story of Erin and Bain, twin siblings who discover a mystical cabin in the woods near their home. After a little investigation, and a few interesting encounters, they learn that they are to train to become alvs, or elves. After training, they are inducted into a magical world and a whole new community, but they aren’t there long before Bain goes off on his own, and it’s up to Erin to track him down.

This book has some great aspects to it: I could certainly see everything that was going on, and in a fantasy novel, that’s not always true with me. Secondly, aspects of it were quite original, or at least turned on their head in an interesting way. Erin and Bain were both interesting characters, and most people could probably relate to one or the other of them.

That said, there are a lot of things here that could have used some more work. In fact, something that kept running through my mind as I was reading was how I’ve heard a lot of agents and authors say that in order to get published, you should write a whole novel from beginning to end, then put it in a drawer and write a new one, and likely the second one will be better, because you’ve learned the process already and aren’t grasping around for it like you do in your first. Then sell that book. And then, if you want to, go back to the first novel and fix it up and work on it again.

Obviously that isn’t true for all writers, but I felt like maybe Älvor could have benefited by this advice, or at least from a few more beta readers. There were a lot of places that just didn’t quite hit the mark like they should have, or more to the point, could have. This book had a lot of potential, but I feel it was underwritten. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, a lot of info-dumping that could have been related through actually going through the scenes, instead of summing them up later, and in general it felt a little rushed, like the author was taking the easy route and handing ability over to her characters, instead of having them earn it.

My main concern with the novel, though, are Erin and Bain themselves. They were meant to be fifteen years old, turning sixteen in the course of the novel, but they were written much younger, to where I was imagining them being twelve or thirteen, at most. Once in a while a comment would be thrown in that reflected the ages they were supposed to be, and I was completely jarred out of the story for a second. I had two versions of Erin and Bain in my head—the younger ones, who read like their own age, and the older versions, who I forced my imagination to come up with.

I was also a little disappointed with the kids themselves. Erin had the potential to become quite the hero in this story, but instead she spends a whole month being heartbroken and feeling like she’s nothing because her brother left her—this is as bad as Bella going catatonic just because her boyfriend broke up with her. Not the best message to send to kids. I wanted Erin to realize that she could be her own person and that she could save Bain because he needed to be saved, but instead she wasn’t even particularly worried about her brother—just selfishly wanted him back, as she says herself.

I… don’t know what to do with that. I can’t understand anyone losing all contact with a close family member for an entire month or more without worrying even a little bit what might have happened to them. Even when Erin does move forward with looking for her brother, also, 95% of it is done by others and handed to her. She falls for another elf named Joel that becomes her friend, when really all we get about him that’s anything at all attractive is—that he’s attractive. In their first encounter Erin is bored with him, and there’s nothing to talk about until she admits she wants to find Bain—then that is all they talk about. Suddenly Erin is blushing around him and being self-conscious, but why would she, if they have nothing in common, something she also said herself?

Joel is helpful, though, certainly. He knows the ins and outs of the elf world, and is able to like I said, hand information to Erin on a plate. Joel doesn’t even do most of the work himself, there are mysterious, amorphous groups of techie elves that belong to the community that do the work for them.

Really, I think this book played it safe in a lot of ways, ways that robbed the book of being as strong as it could be. Middle-grade readers would probably enjoy the book, but I didn’t very much. The sequel comes out in just a few days, but I don’t know that I’ll be going to track it down… still, I wish the author the very best.

Review: The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carman

The Dark Hills Divide is a middle grade book about a girl named Alexa who lives in a world (city, really) encased by very high walls. All her life, Alexa has looked for ways outside of the walls, and finally she finds one.

I can already tell you that this won’t rank among my favorite reads for 2011. Actually, I’ve been reading this book for a long time. Put it down a lot, lost it a few times, got distracted with getting married last year, etc. Even so, I remained intrigued enough to keep truckin’ through the book.

It was extremely predictable. Now, to be fair, this is a middle-grade book. That said, I felt like all of Alexa’s little discoveries were made a little too conveniently. The one character whose flip was supposed to surprise you didn’t at all, and the one whose was supposed to be galling wasn’t—because we had no emotional tie to him.

Really the biggest problem I have with this book, though, is that I feel as though it may have shot itself in the foot so far as potential goes. There are several more books in the series, and I own three more of them myself, so I’ll keep reading, hoping that the magic that disappears in this book comes back at some point, but the fact that there was no reason for the magic to go away in the first place frustrates me.

The writing was alright, though, and like I said, I’ll keep reading the books. I’m intrigued by this world, and I like Alexa, which is always a plus.