Friday, December 31, 2010

The Book of Tomorrow

Interesting to review a book that's about trying to change tomorrow as we approach the cusp of a new year. Just saying. I'm not about to go all Old-Year's-Good-Byes-and-New-Year's-Resolutions on you.

Cecelia Ahern's newest novel, The Book of Tomorrow, will appeal to her established audience, but unlike her other books, this one is targeted toward young adults. It has a magical quality to it, as other Cecelia Ahern books do. Sixteen-year-old Tamara discovers a book that writes itself, in her handwriting like a diary, telling her what will happen tomorrow. Each day when she opens the diary, tomorrow's entry is there for her to read...and try to change, or not. Add to this centerpiece a catatonic mother, a secret-keeping aunt and uncle, mysterious neighbors, a wise and loveable nun, a little teenage love, and a partially burned-down castle, and you have the makings of a sumptuous reading buffet for a cozy afternoon.

I have read two other books by Ahern, one of which I loved and one of which hit too close to home for me to wholeheartedly enjoy it, but which was nevertheless real and honest. This newest definitely matches her style and is a worthy addition to her collection. It's emotional, mysterious and, of course, set in beautiful Ireland. The only grievance I had with it, actually, was its targeted audience. I found the F-word pretty early on, though it was used less than a handful of times throughout. Also, Tamara talks about wanting to have sex for the first time with someone she would not be married to later. That kind of threw me off, and I imagined how a 16-year-old me would have been shocked by this content, which is, in comparison to many teenage novels nowadays, tame. But by the time I actually got to a sex scene, surprisingly, I was finding less and less wrong with this novel. Let me explain.

Tamara is the narrator of her story, and she makes no bones about the kind of girl she is...or was before her father killed himself and she and her mother lost their fortune. She was often careless or downright cruel in her treatment of people different from herself or even her family. Throughout the book she becomes less this way, and it's obvious that her new circumstances are affecting her, changing her for the better. So, her cursing and talking about sex at the beginning of the book makes more sense in this light. When she actually has sex, she's just found out something terrible and she runs away and does it as a form of escapism. There's no joy, no reward, no happily-ever-after romance. The author isn't condoning it. And it feels very real, a mistake that some people would actually make. I happen to know the author isn't that prudish because I've read her other books, but in this book, I was pleased with the statement she was making.

I told my husband I wouldn't let a teenage daughter of mine read this, but I've since thought about it more and changed my mind. It's a good book with depth and intrigue, better than some of the other young adult stuff I've read. If I did let my daughter read it, and I probably would, I would read it at the same time, or before, and be sure to discuss it with her after.

I must say, I particularly enjoyed Sister Ignatius, and I'm sure you will too. It was refreshing to have a godly figure also be the voice of reason without additionally being a killjoy in a secular book. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that Ahern is religious, though perhaps not Christian. A few might find her nun to be sacreligious, but I think she's perfect, a character to love and listen to when Tamara is making her mistakes.

I love to travel to Ireland with Cecelia Ahern, and I think this is a trip you'll enjoy too. Four stars for The Book of Tomorrow, available February 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Dragon stories come and go in the trends. Firelight, Sophie Jordan's young adult novel, has a much different take on dragon lore than I've seen before. Though the story matches the current fascination with supernatural beings, Jordan spins it a new way, casting her female heroine (rather than the love interest) as the shape-shifting, half human Draki, descended from Dragons of long ago, and living in our modern world.

I loved the beginning of this book. I started reading, and I was pulled right into the story. I knew this was one that I was going to love and want on my shelf.

Jacinda is a Draki, part of a pride, the only fire-breather in generations. The pride leader wants her for his son, but Jacinda would like to be less conspicuous, less in the spotlight, able to live her own life how she wants. But when she takes a forbidden daytime flight, she becomes a danger to the pride, and they will go to drastic measures to ensure her cooperation. Jacinda's mother knows her daughter isn't safe in the cult-like pride, but Jacinda would rather be there than let her Draki die in the desert, and that's just what her mother intends. To complicate matters, Jacinda falls in love with a Draki hunter who causes her to begin to manifest her Draki in front of him; the problem is no human alive, especially the hunters, must know that Draki are also human.

Cool premise. Nice set-up. Cool cover (a red-headed heroine again, but I'm not complaining). The first third of the book is about perfect. fizzles to a stand-still.

The last half of the book is full of teenage rebellion and angst. It's like trudging through mud in a circle. If you've watched the TV show Smallville, you can compare it to Lana always telling Clark Kent she can't trust him. Yes, we know. You said that last episode, oh, and the episode before that, and, come to think of it, wasn't that the main dilemma last season? You get the idea. All you want is for the characters to move on. Jacinda can't trust the hunter. She needs him because he awakens her dying Draki. She kisses him. Oh, she'd better not do that ever again. She's done with him. Repeat. And repeat.

As if that weren't tiring enough, Jacinda never gains any ground with getting her mother and sister to understand her, and this annoyed me the most. In fact, by the end of the book, Jacinda is feeling like she's been selfish, and there's no emotional resolution for the reader who has been feeling Jacinda's pain and needing for her family to connect with her and support her. The family supposedly does what they do out of love, but it's difficult to buy.

Even the potential danger of the hunter's evil cousins is buried in all the teenage drama. It emerges for a brief, pitiful attempt at a climax, and then the book doesn't end! It leaves you hanging at a point that I thought would be a good place to begin the climax, and there is no emotional or even romantic resolution, let alone a conflict resolution. I guess that's being saved for the next book. Problem is, you need to end one book before you start another! Even the first book in a series should be a good stand-alone book. It should, at the very least, leave the reader feeling emotionally satisfied. But my reaction to the end of the book was literally, "Ugh."

The only pay-off the writer gave me was at the beginning of the book. When I started to read what the pride was like, I was thinking, wow, this is a lot like a cult. I hope the author realizes that. And though Jacinda didn't realize it, her mother did, and this is made abundantly clear. I liked that. But as I said, the first part of the book was wonderful. It felt like the author just filled the rest of the book with fluff to get something long enough to sell and to not use up all her series ideas in one book.

Though I was ultimately disappointed in the book, I can honestly give the beginning a good four stars for ingenuity and beauty. But maybe Jordan would have had a better book if she had just kept her plot with the pride and not tried to turn her story into a modern, everyday teenage drama. Needless to say now, I don't plan on keeping this book on my shelf, after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010


So, I finally bit the bullet and read an angel novel, attempting to see what the current supernatural teen obsession is about. And it's about what I expected, thus far. I probably didn't get the best example out there, but regardless, I have a problem with novels starring angels since I believe angels exist, though in a far different form than these books portray. Perhaps that's the problem: these teen novels are trying to make angels into these hot superpowers who can fall in love and make out; we know so little about the actual angels God created, but I know they aren't that, and I just don't want to go there. Nevertheless, I did read Harry Potter even though I believe witches are real, and I was able to see the value in that (though I don't ignore the dangers). So, I'll give angel romances the benefit of the doubt for now and stick to this novel's review for the remainder of the post.

Angelfire, the first in a trilogy and Courtney Allison Moulton's debut novel, is about a 17 year old girl whose powers to defeat demonic monsters are just awakening...or, more accurately, reawakening, because she's just discovered that she's the Preliator, a mysterious being who has reincarnated over thousands of years to try to make a difference in the ultimate battle between Good and Evil. But she's also just a 17 year old girl, trying not to fail in school, wanting to hang out with her friends. As her Guardian, a mysterious being 500 years old, who looks like he's 20 and hot, teaches her to access her power and remember who she is, she begins to see visions of her past lives. What she sees terrifies her and causes her to fear whom she really might be.

I don't know if any of this sounds familiar to you, but I felt like I was reading someone's fantasy of how they thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer should have gone. Teen girl reincarnates, kicks butt, kills monsters, has a nickname whose reputation precedes her, even has a mysterious being watching out for her. I wanted Moulton to change things up, do something Buffy wouldn't have done. I was disappointed.

I expected Ellie, the Preliator, to at least have some good fight scenes, but mostly, she just kept getting the tar kicked out of her by the same bad guys. I believe Moulton thought her fights were actually going much faster than they came out on paper. Once, toward the end of the book, I got an inkling of this when she wrote that it happened almost faster than Ellie could see. This was too little insight too late. I kept seeing opportunities for Ellie to chop off a monster's head, and she just wouldn't do it. She'd stab him in the chest, and he'd heal. Or her Guardian would be fighting, and I'd be wondering why Ellie didn't help. It was like only one person could fight the monster at a time. It was frustrating. I know why Moulton did it. She wanted to portray a character who was relearning skills but also just 17. The problem is, I didn't buy it. The chasm between the two sides of Ellie's character was too great. I didn't get a sense that Ellie ever felt like she was that thousands-of-years-old character, but she was no fragile 17 year old girl. I wanted to see more of both.

The ending was also disappointing. The book kept hinting at who Ellie really was, building it up almost further than it could deliver. I was just disappointed and skeptical when the truth was revealed. It didn't work for me. I found it kind of silly, actually.

But I expect Angelfire will get a lot of reads. It has an awesome cover (the heroine has red hair, which many do nowadays and I particularly like since I'm a redhead myself). It has a different sort of plot (if you've never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which most teenage girls have not). It has romance and teenage angst. If it's not popular, it'll be because the market's already inundated with books of its type.

There's nothing horribly inappropriate in this first novel of the trilogy, but that's not because of the author's moral compass. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in the sequels. There is a lot of lying, and a hot guy always comes in Ellie's window (Edward the Vampire did that too), which is never a good idea in real life.

The only cool thing about this book, for me, besides the pretty cover, is that my copy is signed to me by the author. My sister-in-laws brought it for me from a Book Expo. It's always cool to collect author signatures, even if you don't think their work was the best. Still, she's published, and I'm just writing a blog about her. Easier to be a critic than to create, so kudos to her.

Three out of five stars for potential popularity and entertainment value. Two stars for it's-been-done-before. Angelfire comes out in March 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I read this book quickly. It's certainly intriguing, full of danger for its main character right from the start. Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, is supposedly for young adults, but the only criteria met for that genre is a main character who's 16. Nothing else aside from, perhaps, sensationalism (which is very prevalent in young adult fiction) gives cause for this book to be young adult, and in fact, the book is somewhat disturbing, containing a rather adult premise.

Rhine lives in a dystopian world where disease has been eradicated and the first generation to receive this benefit is still alive and well, though growing old. But the world is not a happy place. The chemicals that brought about such a miracle in the world cursed the land, and North America is the only continent still intact (convenient for us!). Even the oceans are polluted. But the worst aftereffect is manifested in the children and grandchildren of that first generation. No male can survive past 25, and no female past 20. Rhine has four years to live.

There are those from the first generation (including Rhine's parents, killed in an accident) who are working to try to reverse their mistakes, and then there are those who are working to find a cure, no matter what the cost, marrying multiple wives and breeding children to use as test subjects, desperately trying to find a way for the human race to hang on.

Rhine is kidnapped and sold with two other teenagers to be wives for a wealthy, but evil, lab scientist's son. With only four years to live, she could try to enjoy them in relative safety and comfort, sampling the world through holograms and never having to leave her home. She could even be the First Wife, with special privileges, but ultimately, she would be a prisoner. Or...she can bide her time and make her escape to freedom. Either way, it will cost her, physically and relationally, as she comes to know her "sister wives" and the man they all share as husband.

Now, does that sound like a young adult novel? It sounds to me more like the disturbing but oh-so-real memoirs of middle eastern women that I sometimes read. Although, amazingly, Rhine never has to sleep with her husband (since one of the wives becomes pregnant and the other satisfies his sexual needs), I found the material to be a little dark and mature for teens. Rhine never felt like a 16-year-old to me. She felt like a girl who had to grow up fast, becoming a woman overnight, and I don't think there's anything in common between her and modern American teenage girls.

Wither is the first in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and it's available in March 2011. I am interested in knowing what happens to Rhine and if a cure if discovered before she turns 20. But I can't recommend this book to teenage girls.

Four stars for a disturbing, sensational, intriguing read. Two stars for inappropriate audience targeting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


This book surprised me. As I stepped into its pages, I felt like I was stepping into an old fairytale. I searched the book's extra content to see if it was, perhaps, based on a fairytale, as many of the books I like are these days, but I didn't see any references to outside stories. So, to my knowledge, Entwined is a new fairytale for young adults, one with all the weight and substance of the beloved classic tales.

Azalea is the oldest of 12 sisters. They live in a castle that was once enchanted but which now has only vestiges of magic left over from the days of an evil king. Their favorite pastime is dancing, and Azalea is the best dancer of all. She is also the Princess Royale and must marry whomever parliament and her father choose. But when the princesses' mother dies, their household is thrust into a year of mourning, and the girls will do anything to be able to dance again, even if it means keeping a dangerous secret from their father and escaping through a magic passageway to an enchanted silver forest where the mysterious Keeper lets them dance the nights away.

This book is simply beautiful and much more than the typical princess romance. In fact, the story is about 12 princesses who learn what it means to be a family and how to care for each other in their misery. Interestingly, the royal family is poor. Though they are royalty, they have less to eat than the marriage-seekers who visit Azalea during their year of mourning. They even have to mend their own dancing slippers, which they wear out every night (though this is mostly because they are dancing in secret).

Twelve sisters seem like a lot of characters to keep track of, but Heather Dixon does a fine job of giving them each their own quirks, and by the end, readers will be familiar with them all. The king is another interesting character. Readers will not know what to make of him at the beginning, and they will find that the princesses do not know their father very well. At the risk of spoiling a plot line here for some, I will say that the king begins the story as the antagonist, but surprises wait along the way. This story is as much about the girls' relationship with their father as it is about their sisterly affection or about the romances of the older sisters. Every character is vivid and entertaining, and as the danger increases, the characters become more and more intriguing.

This is also a book of morality and chivalry, celebrating an older time when even a girl's ankles could make a man blush and when overstepping boundaries with a woman deserved a punch to the face, if not a duel.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Entwined, but you will have to wait until its publication in April 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (in theaters now)

Another great Narnia movie has finally arrived, but I do have some disclaimers. If you aren't familiar with the Narnia books, there will be some SPOILERS in this blog post.

I very much liked Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As a movie, it was fabulous - full of adventure, beautiful settings, fun characters (especially Eustace!).

If you've seen the movies but have not read the books, this is essentially the plot: King Caspian is at sea, looking for seven lords, loyal to his father, who disappeared when the kingdom went to Caspian's evil uncle. Lucy and Edmond return to Narnia, accidentally dragging along their very logic-minded and, therefore, completely disbelieving cousin Eustace into the world of talking animals and deep magic. The results are entertaining, to say the least.

As with all movie adaptations from books, there are differences. Here's what I think worked and what didn't. I am also comparing the new movie to the old BBC adaptation, which was much closer to the books. Though out-dated, especially special effect-wise, the BBC did an excellent job, and it's hard to erase their Narnia movies' former glory from my mind.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is less than two hours long. While I applaud the movie-makers' attempt to go against the current trend of longer and longer movie adaptations (in order to get as much of the book in as possible), this was a strange book to do this with. However, they condensed it well. I missed some of the parts they left out, particularly parts that had been in the BBC productions, but the new movie stands pretty well without them. I thought combining the isles of the gold water and dragons was genius. Both have to do with wealth and the temptation of it, so it was a good match.

What I didn't think worked so well was the adaptation of Coriakin's dufflepud isle. I liked the setting. I didn't like Coriakin or how his role, especially with Lucy, was changed. The isle has a lot to do with vanity in the book, but in the movie, Coriakin becomes a sort of guide to defeating evil, an evil which appears as a mist throughout the movie and which is an expansion of just one of the islands in the book. I didn't completely dislike the way the movie was tied together by the evil from Dark Island. I liked the idea. After all, the book is very much about temptations for all its characters. I just prefer the subtle way the book approaches the subject, and I thought the green mist throughout the movie, symbolic of Dark Island's expansive reach, was a little over-the-top. It actually made me cringe a little. For the movie as a stand-alone, perhaps it was fine. It just didn't mesh well with my idea of the book.

Another change from the book is that instead of just searching for seven lords, Caspian's crew is looking for their seven swords, which can be used to defeat the evil of Dark Island. Completely added. Not in the book at all. And I didn't mind it too much. But the reason it is there and the reason for all the changes in the movie is so that there can be a big battle scene at the end, something there is not in the book. The book is full of episodic adventures, the underlying themes being the glue that holds it together. I do understand why the producers wanted a big climax at the end, and I'm not completely against it. I'm simply processing what I've seen and missing certain elements from the BBC version, and in the end, I will go buy this movie when it's out on DVD because I love the characters.

Eustace is awesome, and that was important because he is the hero of the next book, and the Pevensie children aren't in the next one at all. If they are going to do another movie, they needed this Eustace, and their choice was brilliant.

I was happy to see that the producers did not erase all vestiges of Christianity from the movie. That would have very much been out of line with C. S. Lewis's vision. In fact, there are some rather overt references to religion (not necessarily Christianity, but certainly in line with it). At the end, as in the book, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmond that they must learn to know him by another name in their world. This is as close to saying "Aslan is Jesus!" that Lewis gets. It could be interpreted as any other religion, perhaps, but combined with the sacrifice of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the references to religion most closely match Christianity. And when Eustace cannot take off his (SPOILER ALERT!) dragon skin, and Aslan must do it for him, the idea closely matches the Christian view that we cannot earn our salvation or help ourselves. We need a savior.

Overall, I am pleased with the movie, and I highly recommend it, if you'll be going to the theater this Christmas season. Only three stars (still, not bad) for plot changes, but five stars for brilliant acting, beautiful setting, and thematic integrity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The concept of Delirium, a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver, intrigued me. Love is a disease, literally. It's called amor deliria nervosa, and there's a cure. The catch: you can't get cured until your 18th birthday. So, Lena is waiting anxiously, expectantly for the day when she can put her family's tainted past behind her and be normal like everyone else over 18.

Lena has 95 days to go on runs with her beautiful friend Hana, to prepare for and pass her evaluations so that she can be matched to a husband, and to ignore that her favorite color is gray when the safe answer is blue. She has 95 days not to fall in love and not to see the truth behind a society of glazed eyes and mindless obedience.

Sounds like a cool premise, right? I hoped.

The problem is that this concept has been done before, and actually, it's been done well. Too well. For anyone who's read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, Delirium feels like a cheap remake. It's too bad because the idea and the characters are interesting on their own. But as I read Delirium, I felt like I was reading an outline of Uglies. All the elements were there: girl wants to reach birthday to have life-altering surgery, girl has friend who's more daring and pushes her to rethink her views, girl meets guy, girl becomes braver than friend, girl tries to buck the system. The plot of Delirium closely matches that of Uglies, except that I found Uglies to be more believable and entertaining with higher stakes and more danger.

In Uglies, people are made beautiful when they turn 16, but the surgery they undergo also makes them blindly obedient and naive. In Delirium, the issue is not beauty but love. I find it much more likely that a society would idolize beauty rather than demonize love, especially looking at our society and the direction it's been going in the last half century. Societies are like pendulums, though, and I could be convinced of a futuristic society like that in Delirium. But I identified with Uglies more, and I think most teens would as well. The funny thing is, Uglies is more fantastical with more technological advances and science fiction than Delirium. But I still found the concept of Uglies to be more believable, and perhaps the extra flares of Uglies are what sets it apart from Delirium.

There is some language in the book but nothing else inappropriate. I was not at all happy to see the F-word, but it occurred on only one page and wasn't used lightheartedly. Still, this is young adult literature, and it didn't need to be there.

Three and a half stars for concept and plot. Two stars for it's-been-done...and-better.

This book will be released soon in February of 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spy Glass

First of all, the Glass series is not young adult fiction, like I'd originally thought. It doesn't even claim to be, but Maria V. Snyder's Study series is. As this takes place in the same world, I assumed it would be young adult too. But the main character is a little older than Yelena from the Study series was, and the content is a little older as well.

The rest of this review contains SPOILERS.

Spy Glass is the third in the Glass trilogy. I've reviewed Storm Glass and Sea Glass. This third book is, perhaps, the most adult of all of them. Though in Snyder's world, consummation of a relationship outside of marriage is no biggy, she is not graphic, which I appreciate. Yet, in this book, Opal Cowan is torn between two men (one different from the two men she liked in the first book) and sleeping with both. Way to confuse the issue! And one of them happens to be someone who tortured her in the past. Though I buy the relationship, and not just as typical Stockholm Syndrome, I know many readers will not like that. I understand why the author did it, to an extent, and it even works for me, but if this were real life, I would be totally against it. But it's fantasy, and while it remains firmly in the world of fantasy, I can enjoy it. Still, this was probably not the wisest end to a trilogy, and I know some readers will be upset.

Maria V. Snyder's world of magic is sensational. Her characters are always getting into deep trouble, and it's just fun to read because something new is always around the corner. With this book, you'll definitely enjoy the ride, even if the book itself leaves you dissatisfied. Readers are forewarned.

Another element that may be disturbing to readers involves a cult. Opal is forced to do things, including removing clothing (happens a couple times outside of the cult, as well, come to think of it), but the author rescues her character before the worst can happen.

My last beef with the novel involves the title and the back cover copy of my advanced reader edition. Since the finalized novel may have a better back cover copy, I won't complain too much. But if it implies Opal spies through glass with magic, that's completely untrue. Most of the spying on others' lives is figurative in the book. Opal does learn how to be a spy, but it does not involve magic or glass.

Valek, the magic-immune assassin from the Study series, comes back to play a major part in this novel, which was fun. The change in Opal from the first book is also fun, though at times, the change is not always for the better. I enjoyed Opal's training and independence in this book, and I wouldn't throw it completely out for its flaws. Another big change in this book from the two previous is that Opal is without her magic and immune to magic, just like Valek. It doesn't hinder the enjoyment of Opal's character at all. Rather, it enhances it. Valek and Opal's interesting working relationship (completely platonic, since Valek is the lover of Yelena from the Study series), is one big positive for this book.

Five stars for captivating sensationalism. Three stars for plot. Two stars for morality.

Tangled, in Movie Theaters

The family went to see Tangled on Thanksgiving. Let me just say...Best. Princess. Movie. I've seen in a long time. I liked it way better than The Princess and the Frog. This is one I want to own.

Tangled is a Disney animation, created under the same genius who does Pixar films. No surprise, then, that it was wonderful. The princess is Rapunzel, kidnapped as a baby because of her magical hair and living in a tower with her supposed mother. She wants to explore parts of the world, especially the lights that appear in the sky on her birthday, but it's too dangerous and "Momma knows best," according to a very catchy song worthy of old Disney films. Into this scenario come a swaggering thief, a horse bent on justice, two thugs looking for revenge, and a chameleon conscience, not to mention a lot of hair.

The hair is almost a character of its own, a big part of Rapunzel but not who she is. Near-human animals are very Disney-like, but this movie does well to keep them from talking. They do everything but talk. It works, and it's hilarious.

The songs (though there aren't as many as in classic Disney animation), the slapstick comedy, the dialog, the emotion, and of course the romance make this a fairytale worth watching over and over again. I hope Rapunzel gets inducted into the Disney Princess Hall of Fame. She deserves it.