Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Abandon by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot
Abandon #1
Published 2011 by Point

Bite-Sized Review
Despite a few storytelling flaws, Abandon was a highly enjoyable book with a rather rambling narrator.

King-Sized Review
Pierce was a normal high school girl: a little distracted, maybe not the best student, but normal. Then she died.

Now she's moved to her mom's hometown, trying to start a new life, trying to fit in. The only problem is him. He keeps showing up, sometimes to save her, sometimes to annoy her. Pierce just wants him to leave her alone until she realizes there's someone out there who never wanted her to come back, and most definitely wants to send her back to the Underworld.

Abandon is loosely based on the myth of Persephone, which, for whatever reason, is currently a popular one to retell. However, it's not much like The Goddess Test, the other Persephone-based book I've read, and personally, I prefer Abandon: it has more action, a more appealing romance, and a less morose MC.

While there is plenty of action in Abandon, most of the story is the product of Pierce's internal monologuing. Fortunately her thoughts were much less irritating than some other YA characters I could name, though she did have something of an angst issue and a tendency to blame her problems on her death and revival and/or other people, which was a little wearying after a while. But otherwise, her perspective on her new home was often funny, and the slow revelation of her history was suspenseful without being overdone.

The romance between John and Pierce wasn't spectacular, but it could have been worse. There was a bit of an element of insta-love, but they spent enough time angry at each other that it all managed to balance out in the end mostly. John could have used a little more of a story, particularly one in his own words; the hearsay about his past was interesting, but it's clear there's more to the tale. (And if there's not, there should be.) But hallelujah! No love triangle!

Abandon is, unfortunately, by no means a self-contained story. The ending would have done better for a chapter than a book, and it was frustrating to have so many things unresolved on all levels of the plot. However, I enjoyed Abandon, and will be looking forward to the next book.

Quality: Acceptable
Enjoyability: Good

Abandon is similar to:
The Goddess Test by Aimée Carter
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road
Melina Marchetta
Published 2008 by Harper Teen

Bite-Sized Review
Jellicoe Road is emotional, beautiful, and touching. Everything about it feels real enough that you could imagine these characters existed in reality, somewhere just down the road, around the bend. For that alone, I most definitely recommend it.

King-Sized Review
After being abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road, Taylor was never really close to anyone. Now the leader of the school in the annual battle between the students of the school, the town's youths, and the visiting cadets, Taylor juggles war games and the personal issues brought forth by her guardian Hannah's sudden disappearance. As she unravels stories from the past, Taylor begins to learn about her own present.

I'm always a little surprised when I find myself loving contemporary novels that have nothing to do with magic or saving the world. But I've found that Melina Marchetta is a wonderfully reliable source of such books, capturing her readers' attention with strong characters and enthralling writing. Fortunately, Jellicoe Road, like the other Marchetta books I've read, is more about a person and her family than romance, making it a much better YA contemporary than most.

As I’m coming to expect in anything written by Melina Marchetta, the characters in Jellicoe Road are vivid, and the narrator, Taylor Markham, even more so. The first-person present narrative, which I don’t normally appreciate, lends an immediacy here that works very well for the emotion of the story. Taylor's lonely, confused character is clearer in how she thinks than what she thinks, and Marchetta does an excellent job showing the former as well as the latter.

Before you read this book, you should probably know that the first quarter or so is confusing. It will all make sense in the end, but until you get further into the story, all the references to territorial wars and cadets and tactics and the secret meetings are a bit bewildering. This may be a flaw or a strength. Yes, it's irritating, but at the same time it is once again a reflection of how Taylor thinks and her nature, which is much more central to the book than the territory wars, comes across most clearly in these pages.

However, later in the book is when everything really begins to click. Marchetta skillfully weaves the mystery of the past into the narrative of the present, and when all the answers are finally revealed, they feel natural, like they should have been obvious all along. The romantic elements are realistic and sweet without being overwhelming. This book has the best kind of ending, one that leaves hope in its wake, but says the story isn't quite finished yet.

Quality: Excellent
Enjoyability: Excellent

Jellicoe Road is similar to:
If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms
N.K. Jemisin
The Inheritance Trilogy #2
Published 2010 by Orbit

Bite-Sized Review
The Broken Kingdoms is even better than the first book, with more exciting events and characters and the wonderful voice of Oree as the narrator. A great read for anyone interested in more personal, emotional epic fantasy.

King-Sized Review
Ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which are still unknown to most of the population, a dead man appears in Oree’s yard. Although he never speaks, she gives him a place in her house while she goes out to the market daily to sell her statues and carvings – unique for being the work of a blind woman. But all this is normal for Oree, until someone starts murdering godlings.

The Broken Kingdoms was faster-paced and more exciting than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Shadow is much more vivid and alive than the Arameri upper city, Sky, that was the setting of the previous book, and it most definitely showed in the writing. The Broken Kingdoms had no long stretches where nothing happened or slow introductions to the political system, which made it much more action-packed than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

Aside from a few really awkward transitions (which did make a little bit of sense at the end but still bothered me), Oree’s voice was completely compelling. The perspective of a blind woman was unusual, and her magic was truly fascinating, particularly because it was a secret she didn't entirely understand herself. The magic system in The Inheritance Trilogy doesn't have the carefully planned structure of that of The Wheel of Time or The Kingkiller Chronicle, but that adds a bit of mystery to the story, and there is no deus ex machina to ruin the beauty of the uncertainty.

The Inheritance Trilogy is different from your average epic fantasy in that, while its events have a huge impact on its world, the story has a much more personal feel and limited locations. There are no great quests or really much traveling at all. What changes Yeine and Oree make seem to happen almost by accident, as a byproduct of what they're actually trying to do, but in the end they always make a clear choice. This sort of style makes for an extremely absorbing read, and I'm really looking forward to the last book.

Quality: Good
Enjoyability: Excellent

The Broken Kingdoms is similar to:
Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey
Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Series Spotlight #8: Vampire Academy

I love this blog and sharing my opinions on books with people. I've really enjoyed getting recommendations from others, and I hope a few people have found good books on here too. But as much as I love the books I've been reading, there are many books I read before starting the blog that I want to share too! That's why I decided to start the Sunday Series Spotlight and tell everyone about my old favorites.

You're welcome to share your own favorite –just grab the button and leave a link in the comments.

This week's spotlight is on Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Vladimir’s Academy isn’t just any boarding school—it’s a hidden place where vampires are educated in the ways of magic and half-human teens train to protect them. Rose Hathaway is a Dhampir, a bodyguard for her best friend Lissa, a Moroi Vampire Princess. They’ve been on the run, but now they’re being dragged back to St. Vladimir’s—the very place where they’re most in danger...

Rose and Lissa become enmeshed in forbidden romance, the Academy’s ruthless social scene, and unspeakable nighttime rituals. But they must be careful lest the Strigoi—the world’s fiercest and most dangerous vampires—make Lissa one of them forever...

Vampire Academy was the first YA series I read after Twilight, and I was so relieved to find something with actual characters and plot. VA is exciting, touching, romantic, and action-packed. While it's certainly clear that the characters are in high school for most of the series, it isn't as angst-ridden as a lot of the YA books I've read more recently. Richelle Mead writes books that are always fun to read, and I can't wait to see what happens to the VA secondary characters next in The Golden Lily.

Have you read VA? Do you plan to? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In My Mailbox #6

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren, and it's an opportunity to show off all the books we've gotten!

I do my IMMs every other Saturday. Here are the books I've gotten the past two weeks. I've put myself on a book buying ban for the foreseeable future, so these were all at least technically free.

From the winning and wonderful Wendy
Wages of Sin by Jenna Maclaine
Grave Sins by Jenna Maclaine
Bound by Sin by Jenna Maclaine
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Thank you Wendy! You're so awesome!

From NetGalley
Goddess Interrupted by Aimée Carter
Dark Magic by James Swain
White Witch by Trish Milburn
The Moonstone Series by Marilee Brothers

Thanks to Harlequin Teen, Tor, and Bell Bridge for these books!

Free downloads from Smashwords/Amazon
The Other Slipper by Kenechi Udogu
Pride's Run by Cat Kalen

From the library
Reaper by Rachel Vincent
My Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent
If I Die by Rachel Vincent
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

What's in your mailbox?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law
Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn #4
Published 2011 by Tor

Bite-Sized Review
The Alloy of Law was fun to read and a fascinating look at the future of the Mistborn world. I definitely recommend if for fans of intricate magic systems and/or fantasy-mystery.

King-Sized Review
The Alloy of Law takes place three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy. While that seemed a bit short for the amount of technological advancement their society experienced, the setting, sort of an Old West reflection, was new and interesting. Fantasy books tend to be set either in ancient history or Middle Ages equivalents or in some re-imagining of the modern world. If The Alloy of Law's setting were in our history, technologically I'd put it at somewhere around the early twentieth century, mainly because of the advent of trains and electric lights, which is unusual and allows for some interesting mixes of technology and Allomancy and Ferurchemy, the metal-based magics of the Mistborn world.

The story begins when Wax, a lawkeeper in the wild Roughs, must return to the city of Elendel to accept his place in the nobility. He almost succeeds in putting aside his past, and is even tentatively betrothed, when he finds himself involved in trying to stop the schemings of an unusually skilled robber band. With the help of his old friend Wayne, a con artist and kleptomaniac, and his fiancée's relative Marasi, a student of criminology, Wax must find the thieves before they can succeed in their plans.

For most of the book, I thought the plot was a bit simplistic. (There's only one thing going on? Cue gasps.) It's different from your average high fantasy in that it has a smaller scope, more like urban fantasy than epic fantasy, and while it was entertaining, I kind of wanted it to be more. And then I got to the last thirty pages or so and realized that I actually had only the smallest idea of what was really happening. I have concluded that Brandon Sanderson is a brilliant writer. There had better be more from these characters or I will be tripping over loose ends everywhere I turn.

Wayne was easily my favorite character. The way he could simply "steal" another person's accent and mode of speech was fascinating, and Wayne himself was just full of wit, particularly when mocking Wax. The lawman-turned-lord had a strong sense of duty that was occasionally slightly tiresome, but when he returned to his old ways, I was hooked. Once Wax started hunting down the Vanishers, he became a much more intriguing and likable character. Also entertaining was his complicated interest in Marasi, who was a sympathetic mix of intelligence, determination, and uncertainty.

There were mostly just tantalizing hints and tidbits of what legend made the characters of the Mistborn trilogy. The bit of a cliffhanger at the end made closing the book painful – why wasn't there more? I think I've wanted more stories from every series Sanderson has written, and The Alloy of Law was certainly no exception.

Quality: Excellent
Enjoyability: Excellent

The Alloy of Law is similar to:
Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stars of Mythic Fantasy

The "Stars of..." series is a feature I'm doing here at Epic (Chocolate) Fantasy to highlight the best books in different areas of the fantasy genre. Say you want a book about shapeshifters or wizards or mythology, or maybe you want to read some political or heroic fantasy. Stop by here every Thursday for the foreseeable future, and I'll have recommendations for you! Click on the book covers for links to the first book in the series and on the series name for a list of the books in it on Goodreads.

If you think there's something I missed in this category, feel free to leave your own suggestions in the comments! I haven't read everything out there, obviously, and I'd love some recommendations myself.

Series are alphabetical by author.

Stars of Mythic Fantasy

A mythic fantasy is a traditional fantasy where gods and goddesses feature heavily in the plot, particularly in regards to their role in society or their treatment of humans. Most of the time, the deities are invented by the author, though occasionally you'll find gods and goddesses from ancient cultures in alternate universes. It's not the same as mythological fantasy, which I'll do next week, so you won't see any contemporary fantasy on this list. It's a pretty short list this week, but these are all favorites of mine, and I highly recommend them!

Marion Zimmer Bradley

This Trojan War retelling features Kassandra, daughter of Priam. It's really quite interesting, and I managed to accidentally learn quite a bit from it, which was helpful when reading The Odyssey for school. The Firebrand is a great read, especially if you're interested in ancient Greek stories.

Trudi Canavan
3 books, completed

When Auraya is chosen to become a member of the White, the five high priests and priestess, she doesn't expect the ascension to come with so many questions. Trudi Canavan is a great storyteller, and Age of the Five builds a fascinating world where nothing is as it seems. I loved the story here, and the world is brilliant.

David Eddings
The Belgariad
5 books, completed

The Belgariad is completely ridiculous, and as such is terribly fun to read. I'm not entirely certain it's a self-aware sort of absurdity, but it doesn't really matter. It has all the horribly stereotypical elements of a heroic fantasy/Bildungsroman – no really, every single one – but somehow it's all so fun that I read it again and again. The story revolves around humans fixing the gods' mistakes, sort of.


Althalus has to save the world from an evil god and his sorcerer minion, with the help of a cat. If you've read one Eddings book, you've pretty much read them all, but that doesn't stop them from being fun time-wasters. They're the candy of the epic fantasy world. The Redemption of Althalus is light, funny, and predictable, making it an entertaining read for a lazy day.

Jennifer Fallon
The Demon Child Trilogy
3 books, completed

Plotting, plotting, everywhere. The Demon Child trilogy features warring gods, supposedly extinct mythical races, and lots of divine interference. These books have great characters, a highly intriguing plot, lots of maneuvering on a massive scale, and a rich and fascinating world, among other positives. I've reread the series and the prequel trilogy many times, and enjoy them every time. R'shiel, Brak, and Dace are some of my favorite characters.

The Tide Lords
4 books, completed

What happens to an immortal who wants to die? That's the basic question the Tide Lords series explores, a question that happens to encompass kingdoms and even an entire world. It particularly fascinating because I wasn't sure, even at the end, whose side I was on (though I was sure whose side I wasn't on, which would have helped if there were only two sides).

N.K. Jemisin
The Inheritance Trilogy
3 books, completed

A very long time ago, there was a war between gods. This war left most of them chained in the hands of the human Arameri, who used their own powers and those of the gods to rule the world. Until Yeine came to Sky. There's so much to say about these books that I'm not sure where to start. Their history is just amazing, and they're quite different from most epic fantasy, with more personal stories with grand scope. They're really quite fantastic.

Guy Gavriel Kay
3 books, completed

The Fionavar Tapestry was the first series by Guy Gavriel Kay that I read, and I absolutely loved it. It's sort of like The Chronicles of Narnia for grown-ups, but so much more vivid and profound. I love Kay's lyrical writing style, and the world he built here is beautiful, filled with myth and legend, heroes and monsters. The Fionavar Tapestry is an amazing story that I've read over and over again.

Have you read any of these? Have any more suggestions? Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Rescue

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted weekly by the lovely ladies at The Broke and The Bookish.

This week's topic is supposed to be "Top Ten Books I'd Quickly Save If My House Were Going to Be Abducted by Aliens," but I think if my house were going to be abducted by aliens (can a house be abducted?), I'd stay there and meet them, as long as they weren't bent on humanity's destruction or something. Aliens! That's exciting! What kind of reader would I be if I didn't want to see how that story turned out?

So instead of abducted by aliens, I'm going with "get flooded" for this one, since I grew up in Florida and we get a lot of hurricanes. (Option 2 would have been "fall into a sinkhole.") And is it cheating if I say I'd take my Kindle?

10. Furies of Calderon and Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

These are the first two books of the Codex Alera series, one of my favorites and lots of fun. I absolutely adore this world and it's characters. I have the rest of the books on my Kindle, but I need the first two!

9. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I have an entire shelf dedicated to Harry Potter. I have the first book in German and Spanish as well as English, not to mention all the extra little books that have come out. I also have some books about the mythology in HP and a whole collection of newspaper clippings about the series. Yes, I spent most of my childhood obsessed with these books.

8. Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

These books are seriously amazing. There's intrigue and betrayal and love and byzantine plotting. And also chariot races. Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite writers, and these books are some of his best work.

7. Medalon, Treason Keep, and Harshini by Jennifer Fallon

Another old favorite, the Second Sons trilogy is exciting and fun and one I've read many, many times.  I love all Jennifer Fallon's books, but I think these are my favorites. The plot is brilliantly complex and the characters are entirely believable.

6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley

This is one of those books that I somehow manage to mention at least once a week because I love it so much. I've read it so many times that it's in danger of falling apart. Next to the cover you can see my copy between two other, much less worn Robin McKinley books. This is because Sunshine is my #1 comfort read, which is a little weird since there is so much blood, but there are also cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake, so that's pretty comforting.

5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

If pressed to name a single favorite book, this is the one I'd pick. It's beautiful and brilliant and the last 50 pages make me cry every single time. (And there have been quite a few times. Definitely at least four.) I love, love, love the characters and their friendships. This is such an amazing novel.


All of the above books would make me sad to lose, but I could replace them without much difficulty. They're readily available in bookstores, and honestly I'd probably just get ebooks if I lost them for some reason. The next four, however, would be a lot more devastating to lose, because this is my autographed collection:

4. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

About a week after Clockwork Prince was released, I managed to go to a signing with Cassandra Clare and Michelle Hodkin, which was fun, if over-blessed with excited tweens. Fortunately I managed to grab a seat with the over-20 crowd and had a great time. I also happen to think Clockwork Prince is the best Cassie Clare book thus far, and I'd be really disappointed to lose it.

3. The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Before I went to the Cassie Clare/Michelle Hodkin event, I had only vaguely heard of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, but I figured, why waste a chance to get the book signed? I'm so glad I did it; The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer is absolutely enthralling and I love it.

2. Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

I didn't personally go to this signing, but my friend Jen of At Random was awesome enough to send me a personalized copy of Touch of Power. Sadly, I haven't managed to read it yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it!

1. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I really, really love all Maggie Stiefvater's books, and if you've read her blog at all, you know it's hilarious. Well, she is even more hilarious in person. I was thrilled when she came to the bookstore right near me when The Scorpio Races was released, and she was awesome. Also, I love the book.

What books would you rescue? Leave a link in the comments!