Tag Archives: drama

Fantasy Adventure with Beauty, Intelligence, and Depth

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (Book three in the Graceling series)

Review based on an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

Let me start off by saying if you’re not familiar with Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series, go here first to read our review of the first book, Graceling, in this companion book trilogy. It’s a great fantasy adventure with an active, feisty female protagonist, and both Ruby and I loved it (and all consequent books!). If you have read Graceling and it’s companion Fire, carry on.

Bitterblue is, obviously, the long-awaited third book in Cashore’s fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms. While Graceling focuses on Katsa (a young woman with a killing grace) and Fire goes over the mountains and into the past to show us the Dells and a human monster named Fire, Bitterblue focuses on the young queen of the same name. (Never fear, Katsa and Po fans: they, along with other familiar faces, are woven throughout the pages and in Bitterblue’s life.)

It has been eight years since Bitterblue’s father, the mind-controlling graceling King Leck, was killed, and she has been growing up under the title of Queen of Monsea. Surrounded by old advisors who would like to pardon all crimes under Leck’s horrific reign and pretend those decades never happened, she finds herself under a mountain of paperwork, governing a land she does not feel she knows. At first Bitterblue trusts her advisers’ judgment, but her growing frustration and a sense of ignorance about the reality of her father, his reign, and the people and society of Monsea makes her realize that she has much to learn. In a moment of exasperation, Bitterblue sneaks out of the castle one night in servant’s clothes and finds herself in a crumbling city full of thieves–some friendly, some dangerous–and finally realizes that the “truths” she is being told in her castle are not real. Through her budding relationship with two thieves and printers, Bitterblue slowly learns about her kingdom through her disguise and starts to uncover the fog that Leck left on his subjects, as well as the deceit and misinformation making its way to her palace. As her own mind wakes up to the realities of her kingdom–both beautiful and tragic–and she starts a secret project to uncover who Leck really was and how she can bring her people back to the light. Bitterblue is more of a mental adventure than its predecessors, but it still holds the key ingredients that have made all of Cashore’s books a success, including romance, adventure, suspense and intrigue, and difficult, sometimes philosophical questions about self and others. I loved Bitterblue, and my only (minor) regret is that I didn’t re-read the companion novels before diving in. Continue reading Fantasy Adventure with Beauty, Intelligence, and Depth

Surviving Stormy Seas & Family Alike

The Great Wide Sea by M. H. Herlong

When their mom is killed in a car accident, fifteen-year-old Ben Byron and his younger brothers Dylan and Gerry are devastated, struggling to put the pieces of their family back together even as their own father becomes distant. Unable to cope with the pain of memory, their father packs them off to Florida where he buys a 30-foot sailboat and insists that the family–broken as it is–sail around the Bahamas for one year. Ben is beyond angry at the loss of first his mother and now his familiar everyday life. Not only must he take care of Dylan and Gerry as his dad remains emotionally absent, but now he must follow the “captain’s” orders, maintaining the boat day in and day out in the middle of nowhere. Things are shaky at best between Ben and his father, and in these close quarters, tension and frustration flare. When the three brothers discover their father missing one morning in the middle of the ocean, they work together to try to find him until a storm carries them off course, shipwrecking them on a small, deserted island with little for food our resources. It becomes up to Ben and his brothers to survive the elements while piecing together their lives and relationships with one another, all the while hoping for a rescue.

The Great Wide Sea is a book of survival and force of will, but it is also a book of emotional frailty and relationships, focusing on a fractured family of boys and men, a husband who has lost his wife and children who have lost their mother and, for a time, any connection to their father. Herlong creates a compelling narrative on multiple levels in this coming-of-age story about resilience, love, and hope.

Continue reading Surviving Stormy Seas & Family Alike

Prophesy, Magic, & Fantasy Adventure

The Naming: The First Book of Pellinor by Alison Croggon (Pellinor series)

In The Naming, Alison Croggon weaves an intricate, magical world full of compelling and complicated characters that fans of Tolkien’s high fantasy will appreciate.

Maerad is nearly sixteen-years old, an orphan and a slave in the detestable holdings of Gilman’s Cot. Known for her “witch” powers, she manages to keep others at a distance while finding solace in her one escape, her music. Maerad knows true escape is impossible, so when a strange man named Cadvan appears in the stables one day and tells her he can save her–and that she is special–Maerad’s world is turned upside down.

Cadvan is a mystic bard, one from the schools of magic all across the continent. As they escape both Gilman’s Cot and the dangers Cadvan himself is running from, he begins to teach Maerad about her own “gift”, for she too has the power, a remarkably strong and unusual talent for one as untrained as herself. As they journey through wilderness, towns, and the schools of the bards, danger follows, and Cadvan begins to suspect that his meeting with Maerad was not mere coincidence. Together they explore a prophesy of the “Foretold One” who is to save the world from the Nameless One, a bard taken in to the dark forces of magic and politics who, though long thought dead, is returning to power. Is Maerad the prophesied bard, or is Cadvan mistaken? Each adventure reveals new twists to the plot and new elements of magic, and Maerad seeks to come to terms with her new identity and abilities she never knew existed. Politics, battles, intrigue, and beautifully woven scenes make this book a page turner. Maerad is an absorbing character, both determined and unsure, and she grows with her knowledge and powers throughout the story. Continue reading Prophesy, Magic, & Fantasy Adventure

A Modern-day Persephone

Abandon by Meg Cabot (Abandon Trilogy)

“He was a death deity. I was a senior in high school. This was never going to work.”

Life in a new high school can be hard, especially after you’ve died. Luckily for Pierce, she was resuscitated, but not before she makes it to the Underworld and unwittingly catches the eye of John Hayden, a dark and broodingly handsome guy who just happens to be the death lord in charge of the traveling souls of the deceased.

In a modern-day twist on the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades, Cabot has created a dark and interesting drama between a girl who is not quite the same since she drowned and a death deity who is unwilling to let her go, even in life. As Pierce finds herself in unwittingly dangerous situations, John follows her and protects her (often rather destructively), much to Pierce’s chagrin. Unsettled by his presence every time he’s near, she’s both afraid and captivated, unsure how to escape him for good and somewhat unwilling to do so. Avoiding John becomes especially difficult when Pierce and her divorced mom move to the equivalent of the Florida Keys to make a fresh start, which just happens to be a direct portal to the underworld. Oops. Continue reading A Modern-day Persephone

So Little Time in a Dystopian World

Wither by Lauren DeStefano (Book One in the Chemical Garden Trilogy)

Several generations ago, the human race was genetically perfected: genes were cleared of tendencies to cancer, viruses, disease. But something went horribly wrong, and all subsequent generations have stunted lifelines, girls living until age twenty and boys living until age twenty-five. The short lifelines of all those who aren’t “first generation” means a stagnation of humanity, and the divide between rich and poor grows ever deeper as the remaining dystopian world is filled with orphans, crime, and fear. Some search for a cure to this terrible genetic curse. Others despair that one cannot be found.

Sixteen-year-old Rhine and her twin brother, Rowan, are children of first generation parents who died in a terrorist attack at the genetics lab where they worked to find a cure. Left alone, Rhine and her brother maintain their home and find what work they can. And then, one day, Rhine is stolen away by Gatherers, men who make a living kidnapping and selling young women as wives to wealthy men, a means of forced procreation.

Scared and bitter, Rhine is sold to Linden, her twenty-one-year-old husband, along with two new sister wives, Cecily–age thirteen–and Jenna–age eighteen. (They are the lucky ones: the rejected girls were shot and left on the side of the road.) While Cecily, who grew up in an orphanage, is giddy to love her new husband and plush, comfortable lifestyle, Jenna and Rhine are miserable and seething, though only Rhine is determined to escape. Her only solace, besides the library, is a servant of the house, Gabriel, and a friendship between them blossoms into something unnamed and forbidden. Continue reading So Little Time in a Dystopian World

A Post-Apocalyptic Read for “Hunger Games” Fans

Enclave by Ann Aguirre

The only life Deuce has ever known is in the enclave, one of many underground villages where those who survived the apocalypse now dwell. Lives are shorter now–a person is lucky to reach twenty years–and if a “Brat” makes it to age fifteen, they undergo a naming ceremony and join their chosen job. Deuce, a newly named huntress, has trained for her position for years and desires to serve her people as best she can, both providing food and protecting her home from the mutant and cannibalistic “Freaks” who lurk in the broken-down tunnels.

Her first day on the job provides a sharp new look at life as her hunting partner, a dark and brooding outsider named Fade (who becomes a romantic interest as the plot thickens), shows her the horrors and violence beyond the enclave. As Deuce learns more about her society–elders kill the innocent to survive, and information that threatens stability is withheld–tension builds until she and Fade are suddenly exiled to Above where it is rumored that survival is impossible. Afraid but stubborn, Deuce and her partner rise to the surface to find a broken and perilous city, though very different from what they had come to expect. A continuing journey takes them across new lands and constantly changing dangers as they search for a place Fade’s father knew, safety in “the north”. Continue reading A Post-Apocalyptic Read for “Hunger Games” Fans

Anne Frank’s World Re-Visited

Annexed by Sharon Dogar

In Amsterdam in the middle of World War II, two Jewish families–the Franks and the Van Pels–hide away in an annex above an office, praying for survival and the downfall of the Nazis. In Annexed, Dogar has created her vision of what it was like in the annex with Anne Frank from Peter van Pels’ point of view. To take a time and character so closely scrutinized by the world and so well documented–by the world-renowned diary of Anne Frank–is a challenge, to say the least, but Dogar has done a good job at not over-sensationalizing the material. She also manages to stay true to what she believes might have gone through the mind of a teenage boy in a time of personal and world-wide crisis. Following Peter from the morning before seclusion to his death (potentially, according to records, in a concentration camp sick bay), readers see the hope and the despair, two sides of many moments he experienced as his memories are shared in the book.

Full of hate and fear, love, shame, sexual longing, wavering faith, and all the “why” questions one could ponder, Peter examines life both inside and outside the walls of the annex and tries to make sense of it all, all the while experiencing the morphing relationships inside the hideout as tensions flow between the families and genders. Why, Peter asks, must I hide instead of fight? Why do we have to be the chosen people? Why does being Jewish have to define everything about me? Will I ever experience life beyond this point? Continue reading Anne Frank’s World Re-Visited

Real-life Drama with a Kick

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

I picked this book while randomly scrounging the teen shelves at the local library, and I’m really glad I did.

In this emotional, whirlwind drama, Mimi is a spunky film student at NYU who has an affair with a married professor. When she breaks it off, he takes a turn for obsession and Mimi runs far, far away to her father’s “house on the snye,” a small, unoccupied cottage in Canada. Her plan: work on a new screen play, ignore all calls from her ex, and get some quality alone time. When she arrives, however, she discovers that she is not alone–already living there is Jay, a music graduate student who just happens to be a half brother Mimi never knew she had, another product of her run-around artist father. Despite the emotional tangle, Mimi decides to stay, and she and Jay build a close bond.

All is not well, though, as Jay has been dealing with harassment at the Snye–break-ins, a snake skin on his pillow, a dead bird placed at his doorstep, new inclusions in his music recordings. Enter player three in this dramatic triangle: Cramer, a local, poor, early twenties guy working overtime to take care of his manic-depressive mother, all the while trying to connect silently with the guy he knows (privately) to be his half-brother, Jay. Continue reading Real-life Drama with a Kick