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Review: The Warrior Heir (The Heir Trilogy) by Cinda Williams Chima

in a sentence: 16 year old jack discovers he is part of a rich history of weir (magic folk), specifically in the warrior guild. this discovery comes just in time too, as there happens to be an interest in warriors to fight to the death at the Game.

jack has a typical teenage morning - scarfing down breakfast in order not to be late to school. only this time, for the first time EVER, he forgets his heart medicine. after nearly obliterating someone accidentally at soccer practice (a rather tool-ish someone really), he decides he feels really great - like a blurry contact lens has been removed from his eyes and he is more in tune with what he hears and sees. the near-obliteration was caused by a burst of magic energy, and draws in all sorts of strange people start coming to the small town.

there are many interesting characters, both weir and anaweir (non magic), in this book. my favorites were jack's non-magical, but very understanding and supportive, best friends - will and fitch. they are the typical loyal friends, but each with their own useful quirks. while i felt emotion about other characters, like jack's mom becka and the principal at the high school, i also felt like they were not very developed. it didn't matter if they were good guys or bad guys, i still felt like they were surface characters lacking depth.

the story itself is fun and creative. chima creates an interesting fantasy world of wizards and guilds, with the added bonus of barbaric traditions and an oppressive guild system which puts the wizards in charge of all the other guilds whether they like it or not (mostly not). jack's journey from complete ignorance to his immersion in the weir-world was a bit confusing and frustrating...for him and for me as the reader. i felt like the weir-world was explained away, rather than being explored and made rich with detail and history. a majority of the explanations were focused on him having a 'warrior stone' though he should be a wizard, which i assume sets up the next book in the series but seemed like a distraction in this one. chima does have a backstory for the ultimate creation of wizards and the other guilds, which i LOVED...so i know that there was potential for something deeper than was presented in the book.

i thought it was a great story, but it lacked a certain...richness i expect from a fantasy book. one example of this is at a very formal and elegant dinner before the Game, and there is one paragraph describing some various wizard party favors - bubbles that burst with different things popping out of them. one paragraph...really? if i'm 350+ pages into a book, i'd like a little more detail about the inner workings and traditions of the wizarding world i've been reading about so far. i'm torn as to whether or not i'd like to continue on with the series...perhaps some further peeking around for other reviews will help me to decide. in the meantime, i think the warrior heir was an interesting and creative story, sans the elements of rich details and characters.

fave quote: "But it wasn't just that. He felt danger closing in, drawing closer with every breath he took. He pulled the thin sheet up to his chin. The motel felt like a frail eggshell, a feeble shield against the dark. And he worried that all his relatives and friends together would not be enough to save him." (81). now that is the detail and feeling that i wish had permeated the whole story!

fix er up: consistency and details. this is a fantasy book after all! let loose and splurge on deets.

title: The Warrior Heir (The Heir Trilogy)
author: Cinda Williams Chima
genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Review: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

in a sentence: 16 year old Mattie is talented enough to pursue her heart's desire of becoming a writer and going to college in New York City...but will she have the guts to leave all the familiar things she loves behind?

the story takes place in the north woods, 1906. mattie and her 3 sisters live on a plot of land (farm-ish) with their dad, and formerly their brother who ran away. her mom died from breast cancer, leaving the rest of the family reeling in despair, heartache, and a total lack of communication. having the talent that mattie does with writing is rare enough, but having that talent in a time that was so forbidden for girls and when responsibilities to family were put above all else, makes it even tougher for mattie. now throw in a hunky neighbor boy who's putting the moves on her...and she's got a really tough decision to make.

mixed in with mattie's bumpy home life are her friends (my favorite is weaver), her aunt josie (town gossip), and her inspiring teacher (ms. wilcox). the story shifts time from past to present, but the past isn't that far back - so eventually they line up and move forward chronologically.

there's also a sub-story about grace brown, a young woman whose body is found in the river outside of the hotel mattie works at...the day after grace begged mattie to burn a stack of letters for her. SHADY! while it felt a little disjointed to have this side story going on with the rest of mattie's life, it really does serve a purpose in the end.

jennifer donnelly has a very mesmerizing writing style. there is something about the pace she uses, the way she develops characters, and the way she tells a story that really drew me in. i wasn't blown away by the story or any of the twists, and i don't think i was meant to be. she drafts a story that's unique, elegant in it's own way, and creative, and very simple but deliberate in delivery. her research about women author's helped form an integral part of the story, and served as a good reminder about how much there was to overcome. i especially like when she delves into why women authors (and most other progressive women really) either didn't marry and were happy enough (like jane austen) or did marry and were terribly unhappy (like her teacher, ms. wilcox). very interesting...

i liked this book more than i anticipated for sure. i thought the pace would be boring, but it was just right. it's a coming of age story, but it's also about overcoming adversity found within your own family and within your own expectations of yourself. it was not a run-of-the-mill empowerment book either...there were wayyyy too many let downs for it to be a feel good book. i strongly suggest reading it, you'll like it.

fave quote: "It was one more hard and hopeless thing, and I was tired of hard and hopeless things." (mattie, 184)

fix er up: the grace brown sub story could have been woven in a little neater, while still keeping the mystery factor in tact.

title: a northern light
author: jennifer donnelly
genre: Chick Lit, Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Printz Honor title

Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

in a sentence or two: miles 'pudge' halter leaves his home in florida to go to the boarding school of his
father, and his father's father, etc. while attending culver creek (the alabama boarding school), he discovers friends (for pretty much the first time in his life), first love, and explores all the intricacies of the 'great perhaps'.

this was a book i listened to on tape. i must say, the audio recording was fantastic! the southern drawls of the colonel (miles' roommate) and alaska (the girl) were so well done and distinct with their accents, inflections, and personalities. well done brilliance audio!

miles arrives to his dorm room when as a 16 year old junior, which means that everyone else (for the most part anyway) have been there since they were freshman. this gives him only a slight disadvantage as his roommate is chip martin, referred to as the colonel. the colonel is quick to give miles his nickname, pudge. miles is skinny as a rail and lanky to the most gawky extent...which is why pudge is so perfect! the colonel is loyal, considerate, brilliant, and almost always in charge - hence the title for him. it is at culver creek boarding school that miles/pudge has his first cigarette, gets drunk for the first time, and has his first...ahem...3rd base experience. it is also at culver creek that miles/pudge has the opportunity to explore the intersection of christianity, buddhism, and islam in his religion class, the opportunity to develop real friendships with people who are from totally different backgrounds than him, and to learn more about who he really is as a young person.

so much of this novel was about just being a teenager and growing up. though some critics say that the use of explicit language and situations makes it unsuitable for kids or young people, i say - when was the first time you dropped the f-bomb? when was the first time you felt like you really loved someone? when you were 20? 25? hardly. the reality is that so much happens when we are teenagers and john green takes the experiences seriously and genuinely in this book. but it is so much more than a mere teenage coming of age story...

the words on the back of the CD case say "first drink. first prank. first friend. first girl. last words." miles/pudge has a weird obsession with last words (as does the author, it turns out). it's this quirk that helps him to fit in to culver creek. all those firsts listed? well, that's the meat of the story. the first girl is the underlying theme for the book - again, very real to a teenage boy's experience at a co-ed school for the first time. miles/pudge becomes 100% totally enamored with the quirky, brilliant, and foxy alaska. she's so different from anyone else he's ever known, an enigma of sorts that entrances him and challenges him. just as he thinks their relationship is turning the corner, something happens that changes everything.

i can understand why this book is the 2006 Printz Award Winner. it's clever, thoughtful, creative, real, and honest. it's also funny, ridiculous, and awkward in the best teenage ways possible. green takes all of the reality and dissects it in a way that makes total sense (in hindsight of course), and as a reader and former teenager - i really dig that.

fave quotes: "how will i ever get out of this labyrinth?" - an ongoing quotation in the novel, used first by Alaska as the last words of a general. utilized by the characters in the book and the author to keep a central theme on the whole experience.
"i go to seek a great perhaps" - more famous last words, and the whole reason miles/pudge declares he is going to the boarding school.

fix er up: i felt like near the end, i got a little tired of the 'searching' and the theories for why the event happened. though, if it were my friend and my heart and my hurt, i'd probably do the same thing that miles/pudge and the colonel did.

title: Looking for Alaska
author: John Green
genre: Coming of Age, Challenged Title, Friendship, Lisa's Faves, Printz Winner

Review: Are You in the House Alone? by Richard Peck

in a sentence: it all starts when gail gets a very graphic and sexually violent note in her locker at school...and then the phone calls start, but only when she's all alone.

i must confess, this has been on my to-read list for awhile, but after a recent conversation with my friend elizabeth about goosebumps and fear street, i decided that now was the time to read it. i was hoping for something that would be so absorbingly scary that i could jump up in my seat as i was reading! high expectations, i know, but this book did a pretty darn good job of getting there.

you're introduced to a multitude of characters that could be the creep doing these things to gail, so you're guessing along with her to try and discover who the guy is.the first 2/3 of the book was what i expected - mysterious, creepy, scary, angsty. after the 'event' that shifts the story, i was not sure what to expect for the last 1/3 of it. however, this was a scary story, and if the scary part happens before the end, what are we to do with the rest? good thing richard peck had an idea of what to do, and executed it well.

at the same time viewing the entitlement issues of small town-high school dynamics and relationships paired with a suspensefully uncomfortable undertone, this book takes a hard look at some tough issues. as someone who is an avid Lifetime Movie Network fan and Law and Order: SVU, this book particularly spoke to me. happy endings are not a given. punishment isn't always just. victims sometimes make themselves more of a victim from their lack of action. if the first 2/3 of the book is the mystery, the last 1/3 is the genius of the author for taking that mystery and making it feel tangible and real.

though a bit clumsy in parts, especially with the veiled conclusion at the end, are you in the house alone was a thrill ride for the first part and a thoughtful pondering for the last part which made for a unique and relevant book. in particular, the last conversation between the mother and daughter about the overall conclusion. that gave me the heebie jeebies. i was hoping for something better than Fear Street (my memory of Fear Street rather as i have not read them since i was about 10), and i was not disappointed.

fave quotes: "When you've got a problem your friends can't face, you become a...leper" (87)
"I felt drunk with all the knowledge. I knew hew was missing an important, human part. Call it insanity if you feel like making excuses for him. He thought everything belonged to him and that he could do no wrong. Nobody had ever told him otherwise. At that moment it didn't even chill me to realize how many people there are like that in this world." (147)

fix er up: there were some loose ties i was not down with. the family's lawyer after the incident just sorts of fades into the background for example.

title: Are You In the House Alone
author: Richard Peck
genre: Horror, Mystery

Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

in a sentence: sherlock holmes and dr. watson are on the case of a mysterious, super-huge, hell-fire breathing, psychotic hound from hades intent on killing all the baskerville men.

i must sheepishly admit that this is the very first sherlock holmes book i've ever read, despite the fact that i own the complete sherlock holmes by sir arthur conan doyle (a gift from my wonderful husband). i was so excited about the cover of the book that i own that i took the time to take a picture of it for this post because i could not find it anywhere online. seriously, how cool is that cover?

the story is narrated by watson both as an active voice and from a couple entries from his diary and letters to holmes in correspondence. his observances of holmes were very interesting and more at the 'commoner' / reader level. after all, we'd be foolish to assume that we are anywhere near the intellect of mr. sherlock holmes!

the mystery was a little tough to get into, though by the end i was rushing through the pages to discover what conclusion the detectives would come to! i enjoyed the cleverness of the clues, the creativity in laying out the net to catch the bad guy / bad hound, and that i was kept in the dark enough to enjoy the suspense. there were many shady characters that had me guessing who was good, who was bad, who was shady, etc. these characters also felt distracting from the story line at points too, but i believe it was supposed to be a diversion from who the real culprits were...creating a line of shady suspects to choose from.

as a result of reading this book, i am interested to read further adventures of holmes, and perhaps even watch a movie version of this book. the pace of the plot was pretty even keel, with mystery and new developments tossed in periodically to keep you intrigued, and saving the intense conclusion for the very end. and for those who missed parts of the story, sherlock holmes kindly recalls all details for watson (and consequently, the reader) and pieces everything together from the start of the case to the end.

fave quote: (holmes to watson) "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people, without possessing genius, have a remarkable power of stimulating it" (pg 8) a solid description of what holmes thinks of himself and of watson - in a backhanded compliment sort of way...

fix er up: i had a really hard time visualizing the locations. this could be because doyle just didn't spend as much time on describing physical places as he did on describing the characters, or because i just don't know what the English country side is supposed to look like, let alone a mire / moor.

title: The Hound of the Baskervilles
author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
genre: Mystery

Review: Breaking Dawn (Twilight Saga, Book Four) by Stephenie Meyer

in a sentence: the saga of Bella and Edward draws to a close, despite the complicated logistics of vampire life.
(note: since this is the last book of the series, there are spoilers galore.)

this book is definitely the most "romantic" of the series. and by romantic, i mean steamy as all get out.  bella and edward's love is totally infallible, pure, whole, etc etc etc. Breaking Dawn picks up the day before Edward and Bella's wedding, which is of course the most romantic and perfect thing ever. Bella is adorably awkward (per usual), Edward is breathtakingly gentlemanly and irresistible (per usual), and they tie the knot at the ripe age of 17 and 18 in the company of their friends and family. while on their honeymoon at Isle Esme (apparently the Cullen family can afford to buy islands, but when you can predict the stock market and live forever, money racks up i suppose) - which is just as romantic as you suppose it is - they discover that vampires and humans CAN get pregnant together and have babies.

part of me dreaded that everything would work out perfectly, and the book was just the wrapping up of the journey through the lives of Bella and Edward. i knew that despite the anxiety around the baby, it'd be fine. i knew that despite the worry about Bella becoming a vampire, she'd be fine. i even knew that despite the fear that the vampire/human hybrid baby would be an issue for the volturi (the vampire government), everything would be fine. however, i couldn't help the guilty pleasure enjoyment over reading about the Cullen family, how Bella breaks the news to Charlie that she is a mom / vampire, that werewolves - excuse me - shape-shifters, can coexist for a common purpose, and i still enjoyed reading about the relationship between Edward and Bella.

i was disappointed that more suspense, mystery, intrigue, SOMETHING, didn't take a more prominent role than a storybook romance in the 756 pages. part of me realizes that as an author, Meyer has a gift for creating suspense and a difficult time delivering it. which was the case for Breaking Dawn. Meyer also has a gift for creating characters that readers care about and want to see happy in the end, and delivers.

all in all, i enjoyed my time spent reading the series, and will most certainly do so again. i will try and look for clues and foreshadowing throughout the series, though doubt i'll find anything. more likely, i will shamelessly gush over the epic romance and love every minute of it. the series definitely fades off in creativity and innovation towards the end, but like i said, at that point you already care and are invested in the characters and the story that it doesn't matter as much as it should.

the Twilight Saga was quite a journey, and i had an absolute blast. read it, you'll like it. (just don't over think it or expect too much)

fave quote: "And then we continued blissfully into this small but perfect piece of our forever" (Bella 754).

fix er up: i was irritated that i was able to accurately predict things. i like to be surprised, to be on the right track but not spot on, or to be totally wrong. i had to suck it up and just enjoy what happened.

title: Breaking Dawn (Book 4, Twilight Saga)
author: Stephanie Meyer
genre: Vampire, Romance, Mystery

Review: Eclipse (Twilight Saga, Book Three) by Stephenie Meyer

(note - since this is the 3rd book in the twilight saga, there are spoilers for the first book in the series, twilight, and the second book in the series, new moon)

in a sentence or two: a group of vicious vampires is on the move towards Bella, Edward, and the rest of the gang in Forks. good thing there's a growing group of werewolves in the area...but can the vamp and the wolvies make the teamwork happen? 

i'll just put this out there - not my favorite book in the series. oh of course i (shamefully) loved the Edward + Bella romance back on track, and i enjoyed learning more about the history of the werewolves and all that stuff...but it just felt like it lacked something the other two books have. for the rest of the post, i will try and review the book on it's own merit and not as a comparison to the other books in the series, but i did want to add that for those who are interested in the series as a whole.
we're back deep in the love triangle- Edward (vampire), Jacob (werewolf), Bella (clumsy, cute girl). Bella is finishing her senior year in anticipation of becoming a vampire sometime soon after graduation. suspicous activity in her room and a huge murder spree in Seattle raise some serious vampire eyebrows. someone (or some group of someones) is interested in coming to pay the Cullen family and Bella a visit. and it's not going to be very pleasant.

i was glad to see some good action sequences by the end of the book and trying to tie up some loose ends that were still out there from the series. Meyer does a solid job of portraying emotions in an authentic and palpable way, and not just with the main character. a prime example is my favorite part of the book was a scene where Jacob and Edward (both madly in love with Bella) are talking about their love for her, while she's quasi-asleep. the dialogue is just so thoughtful and heartfelt. Meyer's created a varied cast of characters you care about and want to follow up with that you like, don't like, maybe even some you'll hate. Meyer has created characters that are forced to explore some of the more difficult decisions we have to face in life with tact and awkwardly honest intentions.

fave part: the Jacob & Edward chat in the cave over Bella's head about their love for her - comparing, contrasting, and appreciative.

fix er up: there was hardly any depth of character development, and some characters (Rosalie, Edward's sister) were left out almost completely. also, it's becoming increasingly evident that Bella is a shell of a character...i'm craving some uniqueness in her that sets her apart as an independent creature.

title: Eclipse (Twilight Saga, Book 3)
author: Stephanie Meyer
genre: Vampire, Romance, Mystery