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Friday, February 28, 2014

Just popping in today to mention that this little blog of mine is being featured over at The Paper Sea for Nikki's Book Blogger Spotlight

If you haven't checked out her blog yet, you really ought to! She writes awesome reviews of a lot of YA novels and has some excellent (and thought provoking!) discussions every week. So, head on over there and say hello. Or, at least, read about what I have to say about this ol' blog of mine.

And for those of you who have made your way over here from over there? Hello! And welcome! Enjoy your stay and I hope to see more of you round these parts! 

2013 Reads: Forty-Nine {Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld}

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

This was my first foray into Steampunk as a literary genre. I think. It's totally a genre that should be right up my alley too.

Add in that this book takes place in a reimagined Austro-Hungarian Empire on the eve of World War I, and you have the recipe for a book that I should adore.

However, I think I liked the idea of this book perhaps a little more than the book itself. It wasn't bad, that's for sure. And I enjoyed it. But I think I just wanted so much more from it.

WHAT WAS WRITTEN

It is 1914 and the world is divided between the Clankers (Austro-HUngarian) and the Darwinists (British). The Darwinists have used genetics to evolve animals into being useful to humans for things like transportation and war. Genes are spliced together and giant hybrid animals are the norm. The Clankers lie on the complete opposite end of the spectrum - they have advanced machines and technology to help their society flourish.

In the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, has just been assasinated. His son, Prince Aleksandar, is now on the run from the assassins. As the would-be heir to the throne,  his title is now worthless and has instead become a death sentence as all of his people has turned on him. All he has is an old war machine and a few close, loyal men to help him survive.

Hundreds of miles away, Deryn Sharp is a commoner who has disguised herself as a boy in order to join the British Air Service. She is brilliant at anything that has to do with flight and the 'beasties' who take men into the air. However, she's constantly in fear that her secret will be discovered and she'll be grounded forever.

With World War I on the horizon, Deryn and Alecsandar's paths cross in the most unexpected way. And what follows is an adventure which will take them around the world and change their lives forever.

WHAT MY BRAIN HAS TO SAY ON THE MATTER

Like I said earlier there is so much about this book that set it up to be a book I would adore. But there were times where it, well, where it just fell a little flat for me.

The major problem for me was also something that I found fascinating. Westerfeld spends so much time explaining the alternate history, the machines, and the world around Daryn and Alec that I feel like the story got lost amid the details. Now, yes, the details were fascinating. But by the time I got finished with one of Deryn's descriptions of a beastie I had forgotten what was going on in her part of the story.

It just made the plot drag on for me and stagnate at points. Because, really? The plot (when it was moving forward) was really exciting. With Alec being chased across the Austro-Hungarian Empire and slowly learning about his family history. And then with Daryn's fortuitous rise to a worker on one of the airships she has dreamed of her whole life. This book is primed for an action-packed, fast-paced novel that I should run right through. But it didn't, and that disappointed me. I hate when I get bored while I'm reading.

Now, some of the things that I thought were great.

Let's start with the illustrations. Because? Those are all fantastic. Absolutely amazing. The details that were put into each and every image of that book were marvelous. I loved having them there to bring some of the more technical pieces of Westerfeld's world to life. I would stop and stare at some of the drawings (especially when the story was dragging) because of the exquisite detail. They made such a positive and important impact on the story.

I also really loved the re-imagined history that Westerfeld tells. For a few reasons. One, I am such a history geek. I think it's fascinating when an author can look at a set history in our past and say "well, what would have that been like if...?" and then tell a wonderful story with that as its base. Two, how many kids read this book and then started looking into WWI? I bet a good few. And any book that makes a kid excited about learning makes me insanely happy. So, thanks for that Westerfeld.

Now, while I wasn't completely thrilled by this book, I am definitely intrigued. I plan on reading the second book in this series - I really want to see where he's going with this world. Maybe since so much time was spent in this novel explaining all the little details of the Clankers and the Darwinists the next book will be more plot driven. Fingers crossed.

THE NITTY GRITTY

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Alternate History
Medium: Hardcover, 440 pages
Publisher: Simon Pulse (6 October 2009)
Date Read: 27 DEcember 2013
Source: Borrowed From The Library
Recommended For: Middle School +, Those Who Enjoy Alternate Histories, Steampunk Enthusiasts 
Challenges: Goodreads

First Line: The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised
Favorite Line: Maybe this was how you stayed sane in wartime: a handful of noble deeds amid the chaos. 
Last Line: But the eggs just sat there, not answering at all. [whited out, for spoiler's sake]


2013 Reads: Forty-Eight (Page - Tamora Pierce}

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I still think that Kel might just be my favorite of Tamora Pierce's characters, ever.

While not my favorite book she's written, I completely enjoyed this one of this series.

WHAT WAS WRITTEN

Keladry of Mindelan, the first girl to apply to train as a knight since Alana the Lioness, is finally a Page. She's finally on equal footing as the rest of her class - equal to the boys in all things. However, she still has three years before she can become a squire and train at the side of an established knight.

Those three years? They're not going to be easy for Kel: A lot of the other pages still want her to fail and go home. In this second installment of The Protector of the Small, Kel continue to stands up to bullies, mean older sisters, and her training master.

WHAT MY BRAIN HAS TO SAY ON THE MATTER

One thing I really appreciate about Tamora Pierce as an author is her commitment to her story. She brings together such a fun and interesting story, but tells it in such a simple way that there is a certain honesty that comes from her prose. You never have to stop and think about what's going on in the story, instead you become completely wrapped up and absorbed by the tale. It's the mark of a wonderful author, in my opinion, and especially for an author focused on a younger audience.

I still think Kel is a brilliant character.  Yes, this falls into the framework of your standard hero tale - Kel has to battle the odds to achieve her goal of becoming a knight of Tortall. She has to continually prove herself above and beyond any of her classmates simply because of her sex. And she does it gracefully and with an effort to show anyone who may question her that she is deserving of her rank. She is kind and compassionate and one of the most selfless heroines I've read in a long time. Kel is an admirable hero to any young reader. Or any not-so-young reader.

Lasalla is a wonderful addition to Kel's life; such a means to highlight Kel's goodness and her devotion to those around her. Lasalla had a difficult past and is tentative and shy around everyone in the castle - even Kel at the beginning of the book. It was lovely to watch her open up to Kel and to see their friendship bloom over the course of the story. Similarly, you can't help but love the addition of Jump, the mangy, ugly dog, and the birds who become a part of Kel's life. And her friends who we get to spend more time with from the last book. Particularly Neal, who is still hilarious and all sorts of wonderful.

Joran still gives me the creeps - especially since he seems to be acting all proper and reformed. As an adult this was a total neon sign pointing at him saying "this guy is totally going to be trouble later on!" I'm not sure if I had read this at the targeted age if I would have picked up on it - I think I would have, but who knows. But he was also such a jerk in the previous novel that you go into this book completely inclined to hate him not matter what - even if he truly had reformed his opinion on Kel's presence.

The major drawback of the novel for me was pacing. This book covers the entire four years of Kel's training as a page - a section for each year of her time at court. I understand that it has to be this way to move the story on (as the next book covers her time as a squire and the last book is about her time as a knight). The other option was a book for each year - and while I love Kel, that would not have been the most exciting or interesting series of books. While I understand and appreciate why it moved at the pace it did, I couldn't help but want it to slow down.

Despite that, it's an excellent addition to an amazing series. The Protector of the Small is still, in my opinion, the best series I've read from Tamora Pierce so far. She is not afraid to confront difficult topics in her books, but she approaches them with a tender hand. In Page we see abuse, bullying, death, and discrimination - but they're all discussed in a way that a younger reader can process and learn something from them instead of being slapped in the face by them. It takes a talented writer to handle tough issues in such a positive way.

If you haven't read this series, you really ought to get your hands on these books. 

THE NITTY GRITTY

Title: Page (Protector of the Small #2)
Author: Tamora Pierce
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, High Fantasy
Medium: Hard Cover, 272pp
Publisher: Random House Books For Young Readers (23 May 2000)
Date Read: 23 December 2013
Source: Borrowed From The Library
Recommended For: Middle School +, Fantasy Lovers, Those Who Love Strong Female Protagonists
Challenges: Goodreads,

First Line: Fall that year was warm. 
Favorite Line: If arrogance were shoes, he'd never go barefoot.
Last Line: Her mysterious benefactor had written, "Gods all bless, Lady Squire." [whited out, for spoiler's sake]