Tag Archives: fantasy

Marie Lu

Marie Lu is a popular Young Adult writer whose works always seem to be hovering about my to-read list never getting read. I finally decided to change that and over the past week or so read the first books in her two trilogies: The Young Elites and Legend. Unfortunately, neither overly impressed me. 

The Young Elites has an X-Men, fantasy feel. Certain survivors of a deadly fever start developing superhuman abilities. Society fears and alienates them. A few band together and become rebels, openly opposing and attacking the corrupt, inefficient government. I did not particularly care about any of the characters and this removed a lot of the emotional punch from the story. The writing style annoyed me. In the end, this book was more creative than Legend, but never enough to win me over.

With Legend, I liked the characters separately but was driven to distraction by their awkward insta-love. This is an unoriginal, dystopian novel that relies heavily on the usual trope but doesn’t particularly add anything. The writing style annoyed me so much I nearly gave up after the first two chapters. There is certainly some possibility here but it lacks the world-building necessary to be something really interesting. 

I might try her third series when it comes out but I probably won’t go out of my way to read it. 

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Book Recommendations

I love it when my friends ask for book recommendations. It is a wonderful challenge. Today my friend asked for YA Fantasy recommendations. I decided to share the list I put together. This isn’t exhaustive by any means. I avoided most fairy tale style fantasy novels and focused on different versions of fantasy/magical worlds. What would you add to this list?

  • The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. 
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow
  • The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner 
  • Across a Star Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund 
  • The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede 
  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones 
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo 
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

A Re-rereview of The Blue Sword

Today I finished re-reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley…again. Not only have I read this particular book countless times, I have reviewed on this blog before. However, once again I find myself disagreeing with an earlier opinion. I loved the story in high school, found it disappointing in college, and now love it again. I love because in it I see the younger me, but also because I see the current me too. I see the themes, ideas, and characters that fed me. It is like the Inkheart quote:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

The Blue Sword is an old friend. We had a bit of a separation, but now we are good again. In fact, better. Looking at the story now, I realize what an impact it had on me. It wasn’t that I wanted to visit Damar, like I would Narnia. It was rather that I wanted to be Hari, in a way I never felt about Susan or Lucy. I emotionally connected with her. I understood her boredom and I wanted to escape it like she did. I wanted to go on a quest. I wanted to discover secret guardians and magical abilities. I wanted to be a brilliant horsewoman and swordsman and save the day. I loved Hari for her confusion and frustration and emotions. I loved her for her courage. I wanted to face the world with the same determination as Hari; I too wanted to be part of something greater.

In 2011, I raved about the book but claimed it was only a 4 star. In 2013, I semi-criticized my own contentment and basically declared myself too grown up for the story. Now, I find myself a little older and (I hope) a little wiser and I relate more to C.S. Lewis’s words to his goddaughter, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” For me in 2016, this is beyond a 5 star read. This is a cherished memory.

I am always drawn to authors who claim Robin McKinley as a favorite author. It is like we share a secret understanding about fantasy and what makes it good. This book is at a level with my other favorite fantasy novels, like Plain Kate, The Silver Bowl Series (the first two, at any rate), The Queen’s Thief Series and The Chronicles of Prydain. However, it tops them because it comes with a special connection from growing up. I treasure The Blue Sword because of that, and I hope I won’t lose thta knowledge again.


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The Silver Bowl and The Cup and Crown by Diane Stanley

I have mixed feelings mentioning these two. I loved them. The Silver Bowl was adorable, full of danger, wicked curses, a hint of romance, and evil family members. In short, everything a good fantasy novel should have. Its sequel, The Cup and Crown, only adds to the adventure. Our heroine has come of age and now stands out as a butt-kicking, name-taking, epic young lady of magical proportion. It concludes with an ending just bitter-sweet enough to give some emotional pull. And then…the third book happened. I hated it so much I gave it one star. (You will have to read my One Star post to find out why!) So I’m not really sure what to tell you to do with these. Either read just these two and miss one third of the story, or read two excellent fantasy novels and weep as you finish the third, or only read the first because it kind of can stand alone.

The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

I waited much too long to read these excellent books. Both are short and profound. They are philosophically challenging and will take many re-reads to fully grasp. The Abolition of Man masterfully summarize the importance of universal values for societies. The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell and the decisions people make when confronted with them.  I cannot praise Lewis adequately enough so I’ll leave this one short and sweet. Go read them.

5 To 1 by Holly Bodger

The plot takes place in 2054, where India is suffering from an immense gender gap. There are 5 boys to every 1 girl. Tired of being sold to the highest bidder, women in India split from the government and form their own country where boys must compete in a series of tests to “win” a wife. The plot flips between the poetry of Sudasa, the girl to be won, and the prose of Contestant 5, who only wants to escape. On the one hand, it is an emotionally appealing and brief (250 page) story that succeeds where most dystopian novels fail because it doesn’t try too hard. There is no insta-love or cliff-hanger ending leading to multiple, pointless sequels. On the other hand, it is also a serious message about elevating one gender over the other, and the danger of valuing sons over daughters or vice versa. Good truths wrapped in a beautiful little YA novel.

Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis

The inspiring true story of Katie, an average American teenager who discovered a passion for Uganda. A single mission trip quickly became a life calling for 18-year-old Katie, who returned after graduating and ended up adopting 14 girls. This book is inspiring and encouraging. Katie’s passion and joy comes through the pages, and I found myself helplessly grinning as I read it! This is a woman who has found her calling and it is beautiful to behold.  

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

A brilliant addition to the world of well-told stories. I Am Princess X is a pink and purple book that tells the story Libby and May: the dynamic duo. Best friends since 5th grade, they were co-creators of Princess X, a katana-weilding, ghost defeating princess of their imagination. Libby drew the comics, May wrote the plots, and Princess X made them the perfect trio. Until Libby died in an accident at age 13. Three years later, only May is left. Until one day she sees a Princess X sticker on a building. Then graffitied on a wall. And again on a backpack. Princess X is everywhere, made popular by an online webcomic. Only two people knew about Princess X, and one of them is dead. Or is she? This book is full of convenient coincidences and implausible moments but it really is one of my favorites from this year. It is a fairy tale and a thriller and a story of friendship with a superhero feel. Bad Guys are Bad and Good Intentions save the day. What more could you want?

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing is a riveting story with a double mystery and an unreliable narrator. Maud can’t remember. She knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, she wrote it down. However, no one believes her, not her daughter, her caretaker, or the police. But Elizabeth is missing. Or is it Maud’s sister, Sukey, who is gone? The years get mixed up for Maud – a woman with dementia – as she recalls the mysterious disappearance of her older sister. Except now it is her friend, Elizabeth, who has disappeared and no one will listen! A very well written mystery that simultaneously echoes the frustration of growing old and the hardship of caring for an aging parent.

Feeling Sorry For Cecelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors. Feeling Sorry For Cecelia follows a teenage girl named Elizabeth and the struggle she feels losing her best friend, Cecelia. However it is not told in the usual way. The plot is laid out in notes between Elizabeth and her mother, letters with her pen-pal, postcards from her best friend, and occasional letters from her self-esteem. It is very well done. The book handles serious issues (divorced parents, changing friendships, relationships, etc.) but does so in a funny, wry style that kept the story bitter-sweet instead of just plain depressing. The book is peppered with a variety of wonderful, quirky characters. PG13 for content, but well worth it if you’re looking for a solid YA read.

 


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

Based on the vast number of good books I read this year, I have broken this post into three parts to help readability. As usual, books are not laid out in any specific way, but in the random order ordained by Goodreads (and myself!) See any favorites?

Enjoy!

Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched A Hundred Years of Federalism by Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips

Rarely do you find biographies so readable and uniquely connected to everyday life. Contempt of Court covers the trial and lynching of Ed Johnson, an African American accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, a judge found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened and eventually went so far as to hold those connected to his lynching in contempt of court. This case was the only time the Supreme Court ever heard a criminal case. United States v. Shipp did more than decide one man’s guilt or innocence. It declared the Supreme Court had authority over a state criminal court case. This both reflected and launched a new age of federal involvement. Very worth reading.

Strong Poison (book 6), Gaudy Night (book 12), and Busman’s Honeymoon (book 13) by Dorothy L. Sayers

These are all books in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. To be honest, I love them all and if you haven’t discovered the brilliance that is Dorothy L. Sayers, you really need to. Her mysteries are intellectual and intriguing and Sir Peter Wimsey is wonderful. However, these three were my absolute favorites. (If you know the series, you’ll realize all these books involve Harriet Vane. She is fabulous.) What is great, though, is that they are all wonderful in equally different ways. Strong Poison involves a cold case, where the murder happened months earlier and now Sir Peter must piece together the clues. Gaudy Night takes place at Oxford and is very soul-searching and academic. Busman’s Honeymoon is everything a fangirl could want for the couple she’s been shipping for 6 books. Oh, so good. I want to go re-read them right now.

The Science of Success by Charles Koch

Easy to understand and filled with helpful principles, this is an “abbreviated” predecessor of Good Profit. It was designed for more internal use and that comes across. Certainly worth reading for a better understanding of Market Based Management and Koch Industries. There are lots of interesting stories and it really is a good grounding in MBM. However. Good Profit is now out. Go read that one.

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

If you want to be technical, only The King of Attolia (book 3) and A Conspiracy of Kings (book 4) got 5 stars from me, but the entire series is totally worth it. While the first book, The Thief, feels a little slow, it has a terrific twist at the end. Plus, the series picks up and gets better and better and BETTER. It has adventure, battles, romance, plot twists. The series will break your heart a million different ways, every one of them worth it. I can’t really give plot descriptions without giving something away, so just go read it already. (There are some mature themes, so I recommended for high schoolers on up)

Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham

Chad Eastham’s book Guys Like Girls Who… played an influential role in my life in high school. It was great reading him again. Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti is aimed at teenagers and talks about the different ways guys and girl function. It covers a myriad of topics like brain development, emotions, and relationships. Funny, serious, and easy to read, the book is a mix of stories, facts, and zany quips.  Even “outside” of the intended age group, I found it very helpful. Highly recommended, especially for teenagers.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

A dark, twisted children’s book that breaks your heart but is eminently worth it. The story is very reminiscent of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. “Plain” Kate is a woodcarver, left on the streets to fend for herself after her parents die. Her woodwork is beautiful, but many whisper that she is a witch. In order to escape the accusations, Kate makes a bargain with a mysterious man: her shadow in exchange for her heart’s wish. Gypsies, magic, and love all come to play in this lyrical story.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend this book to just anyone, and certainly not the intended age group. Plain Kate involves witchcraft, raising the dead, and sacrifices. While many of these things are treated in a negative light, I know many of my readers will not like it.