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review: “magic under glass” March 25, 2010

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Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore.
Bloomsbury // Hardcover // 240 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

Nimira is a singer in a music hall — a trouser girl — the bottom of the social pyramid. So when the mysterious and rich Hollin Parry offers her employment singing with his automaton, she packs her belongings and goes with Parry. But Nimira soon discovers that the rumors of a haunted automaton are exactly rumors — there is someone trapped in the automaton and it’s up to Nimira to set him free.

Dolamore’s debut is a unique work that easy to describe — truly enjoyable — yet hard to categorize. It has a Victorian/gothic sensibility to it, definitely some fantasy, a bit of romance, and this almost steampunk magic…

What is so remarkable is that the world is easy to slip into and understand, without a ton of back story overpowering the clean and simple story of Nimira and Erris.

My biggest problem with the novel was actually the length — it was too short! Nimira and Erris had this lovely building relationship and then, wham — all of a sudden they were in love. Additionally, the last forty pages race to the end and then the reader gets a cliffhanger. That really made me mad when I read it. (Just recently, Dolamore announced that Bloomsbury did purchase the sequel “Magic Under Stone.” No pub date has been announced.)

Other than the length and sudden romantic relationship, I was enchanted with this novel and cannot wait to read the sequel. I hope that we can have a better exploration of Nimira and Erris’s relationship. I also really want to learn more about the fairy world that is only briefly touched upon in “Magic Under Glass.”

This brings me to the hard part — I’m not sure who to sell this book to. I think the best bet is to start off with high fantasy lovers and see if word of mouth draws in other readers. I look forward to talking to my teens about this book!

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Jaclyn Dolamore

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review: “dragonfly” March 11, 2010

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Dragonfly by Julia Golding.
Marshall Cavendish // Hardcover // 390 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Two very different lands are about to unite when Princess Taoshira (Tashi to her friends) is told by her four ruling companions that she is to marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal. Their worlds are very different, and currently in a state of flux, waiting for a mutual enemy to strike. When they meet, Tashi and Ramil hate each other immediately. But when they are kidnapped, each of their homeland blames the other. Can these two polar opposites work together to get back to their kingdoms before the whole land turns to war?

I really enjoyed this book — it has been such a long time since I read an incredibly detailed high fantasy novel. (Other than Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling” and “Fire,” I’m only coming up with Tamora Pierce books. If anyone has some high-fantasy reading suggestions, let me know in the comments!)

The incredible detail of the world-building was awesome. I really liked the differences between the two countries and their cultures. Tashi’s world resembles an Asian-style culture; while Ramil’s world is a very typical patriarchal medieval society. (I just checked online — other reviewers have traced Tashi’s world influence to Shogunate Japan, specifically.)

Tashi and Ramil are good characters, but a bit archetypal. I felt like I had seen their characters before, and I knew their end result — this did not detract from the story, in my mind. The supporting characters (particularly Yelena, the swordswoman) were bright spots, and I was so glad to see a well-rounded, full cast to complete the world that Golding created.

I was a little bit frustrated that we had a kidnapping plot, followed by an escape, followed by another kidnapping, another escape, another problem. It dragged after a while and I was beginning to wonder exactly how Tashi kept getting out of her scraps by sheer luck. (She really has few skills as a character. She does learn how to ride a horse though.)

Thought this was a great fantasy book to add to public library collections with a large fantasy following. Unfortunately, that’s not for my teens. (But I have added the book to my personal library!)

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Julia Golding

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review: “fire study” December 7, 2009

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firestudy

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder.
Mira // Paperback // 448 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

[No major spoilers for the first two books. But if you’re a spoiler purist, I’d skip this one.]

Yelena faces challenges again as she continues to work to discover and control her magic. After the events of the first two books, Yelena is sent to study under First Magician Roze Featherstone — an unwelcome change, considering Roze’s animosity towards Yelena. But when old foes come back to threaten Yelena once again, she journeys back to Ixia to find a solution to a plethora of problems.

This third and final installment in Snyder’s series is a whirlwind of non-stop action. All of my favorite characters from the first two installments were back and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to them.

For me, this book didn’t work as well as the first two in the series. The action is almost too much, and gets a little repetitive with picking rendezvous spots, splitting up/getting back together, the use of Curare/Theobroma, and the mistakes Yelena keeps making.

I feel like what happened with this series is that we were taken into another world (Sitia), when we had fallen in love with Yelena in Ixia. The things I loved about the first book — the politics, the romance, the intrigue — are missing from this magic-based world, and it frustrates me that I didn’t find something to latch onto in Sitia like I had in Ixia.

This book is still an adequate conclusion to the trilogy — the story is tied up, but not closed. I feel like I’ve left the characters at a good point and I won’t worry about them. And I am planning on reading the “Glass” spin-off series, but overall this last installment left me feeling lukewarm.

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Maria V. Snyder

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review: “magic study” December 6, 2009

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magicstudy

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder.
Mira // Paperback // 448 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

[Spoilers for “Poison Study!”]

After the events in “Poison Study,” Yelena travels to Sitia to discover the true nature of her magic, and to reunite with the family she was taken from so many years ago. But Yelena’s mysterious powers even unsettle the seasoned magicians of Sitia — they fear that she is a rare, powerful Soulfinder. And the last Soulfinder nearly destroyed Sitia…

This book, while good fantasy, does have a case of middle book syndrome. The plot dances away from the author a few times, some of the characters get repetitive, and Yelena magically sprouts powers just as she needs them.

Okay, now that I’ve moved on from the negatives, I’ll go to the positives.

The world building is still exquisite. The characters do develop, especially Yelena. I enjoyed watching her grow throughout the course of this book; reconnecting with her family and the people of her native country. I really love this world and the characters that are in it.

I missed Valek and being on the edge of his character — not knowing if he was in love with Yelena or not, not knowing if he was on her side or not. That suspense was what kept me so enthralled during the first book and I was sad that it wasn’t in the second book. (Not that I expected it to be, but I still wanted something to replace that urgent debate.)

To me, “Magic Study” felt even more adult than “Poison Study” and I can’t really put my finger on why. Once again, we don’t have any gratuitous scenes, and Yelena reads well as a YA character, so I still think the titles have great YA appeal, and would be a great bridge into adult fiction though!

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Maria V. Snyder

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review: “poison study” November 17, 2009

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poisonstudy

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.
Mira // Paperback // 416 pages.
Reviewed from purchased copy.

After killing General Brazell’s only son, Yelena has spent her last days in prison awaiting execution. But, on the day of her execution, she is offered a choice — die, or serve at the Commander’s food taster. Yelena chooses to train as a food taster, sampling different kinds of poison in order to learn about them. But Yelena’s past creeps up on her present, and she finds herself at the center of two countries’ conflicts.

This book really surprised me. The gorgeous YA re-cover is what drew me in, but I didn’t expect to find such a high-fantasy world. I loved the world building, this mix between medieval and industrial — the separations of worlds because of this, the conflicts that this would cause. The background of the two countries is so lush and rich that the author could have just stopped there.

But, Snyder didn’t — the character of Yelena is strong, fleshed out, believable, and one of my favorites of all time. The supporting characters stand their own against Yelena’s personality, and contribute to the plotline. I guessed who Yelena’s love interest was going to be early on, and wasn’t surprised to find out I was right. I don’t know if it’s obvious, or I just picked the right couple to root for. A re-read somewhere in the future would probably help me figure that out.

While I think this title has good YA appeal, I would probably still shelve it in the adult section. Content wise, there’s nothing in there that prevents it from being placed in YA (there is one fairly graphic scene…but nothing I haven’t seen already in YA), but I would rather use this as a bridge into adult for teens. Definitely recommended for public libraries with a strong following of fantasy readers.

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Maria V. Snyder

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review: “rampant” October 30, 2009

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rampant

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.
HarperTeen // Hardcover // 416 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Even though Astrid grew up with her mother telling her unicorn folklore and that the bloodthirsty unicorns were real, Astrid never believed her. That is, until her boyfriend was attacked by a unicorn right in front of her eyes. Now, Astrid’s mother has shipped her off to unicorn killing school all because she’s supposedly descended from some great line that can defeat the unicorns and protect the human race. The only catch is that Astrid must remain a virgin to fight the unicorns…and she doesn’t want to fight…and there’s this boy…

Okay, I know what some of you may be thinking out there. Killer unicorns? Evil bloodthirsty killer unicorns?

Yep. And they’re awesome.

Astrid is a hesitant, but solid heroine. I loved her development over the course of the novel. She really grows, as she comes to terms with her “destiny.” The supporting characters (other girls) are fleshed out and real, each with a unique personality. This book would not have worked nearly as well if it hadn’t been for the differences between the supporting characters.

The plot is hard to talk about without spoiling anything, but I will say that it is well thought-out and makes sense — even the twists. What really sets “Rampant” apart from other YA fantasy is the clear boundaries in the author’s world building and history.

There are similarities between Astrid and Buffy from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” It must be said. But where I’ve seen a lot of reviewers bring this up, the things they need to remember are threefold. One, that Buffy is now twelve years old. Two, it has been off the air for six years. And the three, the majority of teens do not know Buffy!

And teens today need their own female butt-kicking role-models. I think Astrid is a worthy fit.

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Diana Peterfreund

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review: “ice” October 6, 2009

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ice

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst.
Margaret K. McElderry // Hardcover // 320 pages.
Reviewed from Hardcover provided by the publisher.

Cassie’s always heard her grandmother tell the story of her mother and the Polar Bear King — how her mother made a deal with him and it backfired, leaving her swept away by the winds. And she’s always believed that it was a fairy tale, meant to warm the nights in Alaska. Until one day, Cassie sees a polar bear magically disappear before her eyes and the veil between her world and the fairy tale world melts away.

I have a confession to make. I actually liked this book more than the “Into the Wild” and “Out of the Wild,” Durst’s first two YA novels. And I didn’t think that I would. I wondered how Durst would be able to create a likable character out of Bear, and that there might be an awkwardness to Cassie and Bear’s relationship.

Cassie’s a smart, likable, capable heroine in the true style of Tamora Pierce’s heroines. (Throw-back to my youth, guys!) I never felt sorry for her because I knew she’d figure it out, that she would be able to change her own circumstances and rise up on top. So, the book didn’t hold as much tension or suspense as I thought it might. That’s okay. I liked being as ease with Cassie leading the way and taking my time with the book.

The re-telling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” is wonderfully re-imagined and seamless. The modernization of the world adds a new dimension to the fairy tale, one that today’s YA readers will easily relate to before falling into the fairy tales aspects.

Fairy tale re-tellings are becoming a popular trend in YA literature, and libraries should definitely add “Ice” to their booklists and shelves.

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Sarah Beth Durst

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review: “shiver” September 8, 2009

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shiver

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.
Scholastic // ARC // 400 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference 2009.

Grace has been fascinated with the wolves at the edge of her backyard since she was a little girl, dragged into the woods and rescued by a wolf with yellow eyes. But Grace’s world changes when the wolf that rescued her appears as a human, as Sam. Amidst community concerns about recent wolf attacks, Sam and Grace fall for each other. And they have a much larger obstacle in their path — when winter comes this year, Sam will change into a wolf again for the last time, leaving Grace alone forever.

I expected a lot from “Shiver” and I was not disappointed.

My favorite part about the whole book was that the mythology was tied so closely to science. I loved that the wolves changed when it got cold. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in a fantasy before.

Sam was the more real character, for me. He was who I connected with, his experiences were more realistic, more believable. I had a hard time relating to Grace, but that’s probably because my parents were ridiculously involved in my life and adolescent.

I loved that Sam worked in a bookstore during the summers. I loved that he wanted to learn. I related to that. (No surprise there, I am after all, a librarian.)

The pack dynamic was so well-crafted. I really feel like I got to know all of these characters through Sam’s experiences and reflections.

I thought that the book stood up nicely as a stand-alone novel, but I will definitely be reading the sequels that are planned. “Linger” is set to release sometime in 2010. And Maggie Stiefvater has just started writing “Forever” — no release date set on that yet.

Now, I don’t normally include book trailers, but you must watch the “Shiver” trailer that Maggie Stiefvater created. It is magnificent.

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Maggie Stiefvater

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review: “fire” August 18, 2009

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firecover

Fire by Kristin Cashore.
Dial // ARC // 480 pages.
Reviewed from an ARC, received through ALA Annual Conference 2009.

Fire is a girl named for the color of her hair, a half-monster, half-human…the last of her kind. Her world is one of unrest — she must always be vigilant of the monsters around her, and the political war stemming around her. But Fire has her own defense. She can manipulate minds. When the royalty of the kingdom finds out about her ability, she is called to work there as a spy. It is in the capitol that she meets King Nash, his brother Prince Brigan, and the young Princess Hanna. It is in the capitol that Fire’s life changes forever.

This is the second time that I’ve been so privileged as to read Kristin Cashore’s work from an ARC. Last year at ALA, I stood in a life and didn’t know where it led — it wound up leading to Kristin autographing the ARC of “Graceling.” I still think of it as my most treasured book from ALA 2008.

As much as I loved “Graceling,” I think I actually love “Fire” more. This was an intricate piece of writing, where you wanted to wait and savor the whole book. It took me a week to read, not because it was a difficult read or a choppy read, but because I knew from the first page that I didn’t want the story to end.

Fire is a mature character, one who is unsure of herself and yet has a strong compass in life. Brigan and his family are real, the family connections are believable even though they are royal. And the world is beautifully painted with a strong background and sense of the monsters and extremes that Fire meets along her journey.

I will echo what School Library Journal already has — this is a novel for older teens. Younger ones will not be as patient as the relationships in the book take their time to develop. But this is a novel that older teens will devour slowly and will only want to re-read all over again. I know I did!

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Kristin Cashore

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review: “the demon’s lexicon” August 14, 2009

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thedemonslexicon

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.
Margaret K. McElderry // Hardcover // 336 pages.
Reviewed from library copy.

Nick and Alan Ryves have been on the run their entire lives from he magicians and demons that threaten their family. Nick’s survived by isolating himself from everyone except his brother. But when two teenagers show up announced on their doorstep needing help to remove a demon’s mark, Nick’s small family is put into jeopardy when Alan receives his very own demon mark. Against Nick’s wishes, Alan invites Jamie and Mae to join them on their journey to the closest Goblin Market to try and remove the marks.

I start off this review with one disclaimer: I am primarily a reader that connects with characters. Not every reader is like me and I respect that.

However, it is because I connect with characters that made this book a difficult read for me. I struggled for a lot of the book, trying my hardest to find someone to connect to. There is a reason for this disconnect, though I won’t spoil it for you, and it does make sense within the world. The lack of relatable characters does not destroy the story.

World-building is heavily in use here and I really liked the mythology of the world. The Goblin Market and subsequent dance, in my opinion are the best scenes in this book, and entirely a creation of the mythology. Additionally, there is a spectacular conclusion to this book that left me running to the computer to ensure that there was a sequel planned.

A lot of people have compared this book to “Supernatural,” the television show. It is similar in that it’s a book about two brothers fighting supernatural creatures, but other than that it is a largely independent work. This is a grittier book, fantasy bordering on the edge of horror.

I suspect that the books will grow (this is a planned trilogy) and I do look forward to the sequels. But I’ll be waiting on the hold list at my library instead of running to the bookstore.

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Sarah Rees Brennan

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