Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review Backlog! Fablehaven 1&2 by Brandon Mull, The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Scarlett by Marissa Meyer, Saint Maizie by Jami Attenberg and From a High Tower by Mercedes Lackey

Great article on the obsession that is bibliophilia! I know the feeling well!
"You just went in the bookstore for one book--you swear, just one!,"
Bustle noted in showcasing "13 thoughts everyone has while trying to
narrow down her pile at a bookstore"

"If you belong to the tribe of the book-obsessed, you know this scene
all too well, and that's only how it begins," Bustle wrote. "By the time
you start making your way to the register, you've got a Volkswagen-sized
loot of books that you've got to dwindle down to an amount that will
still let you make rent this month. The dwindling process is an
emotional struggle for the book-lover, because let's be real, you need
every single one of the books you picked up. You just do!"

I have been neglecting my reviewing process for a bit while I mourn for Cinema Books, but now I have to plunge in and review the 6 books in my backlog, before the stack gets any bigger!

I picked up Fablehaven and Fablehaven Rise of the Evening Star at a garage sale, and to be honest, I didn't expect them to amount to much, because the covers were fairly cartoonish.  What a pleasure and surprise it was, then, to discover that these fantasy YA novels were actually quite fun and readable. I did notice, however, that the prose and plots seem pointed more towards pre-teens or tweens than average YA books, which are generally marketed to teens 16 and over. While they're not boring, the books are easily sussed out, and the character of the younger brother, who does exactly the opposite of what he is told (and causes harm and problems and nearly kills everyone in his family in the process) is more annoying than winning, not just because he's a horrible kid, but also because he never really seems to get punished or feel the consequences of his actions. And he continues to make the same mistakes, over and over, while his sister has to find him and clean up his messy situations. Here's the blurbs:
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.
Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken — Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good — powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.
At the end of the school year, Kendra and her brother Seth find themselves racing back to Fablehaven, a refuge for mythical and magical creatures. Grandpa Sorenson, the caretaker, invites three specialists — a potion master, a magical relics collector, and a mystical creature trapper — to help protect the property from the Society of the Evening Star, an ancient organization determined to infiltrate the preserve and steal a hidden artifact of great power. Time is running out. The Evening Star is storming the gates. If the artifact falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the downfall of other preserves and possibly the world. Will Kendra learn to use her fairy gifts in time? Will Seth stay out of trouble?
Just to be clear, Kendra, the older teenager, is the one who actually ends up saving the day, usually after her stupid brother Seth has wreaked havoc and caused everyone to be in mortal danger.  For some bizarre reason, everyone forgives him for all the terrible things he does, and they even call him "brave" when really, he's not brave as much as rash and selfish, wanting to go on adventures and see "cool stuff" when he's been told, over and over, that he will only cause more problems than he's worth. He even notices that he can't seem to do anything right, and instead of agreeing with him and making it a lesson that he could learn from, Kendra tries to twist things around to save his fragile male ego, which is nauseating. Which is why I will not be reading any more of the Fablehaven series. I don't think I could take yet another book of that pain in the tuchas Seth. So, though I'd give a B+ and a B to the first two books, I would only recommend this series to those with patience for horrible little brats who don't listen or learn from their mistakes.

 I picked up the Princess Academy by Shannon Hale from the library because I'd read her previous well wrought fairy tale, The Goose Girl, and I enjoyed it tremendously. A Newberry Honors Book, Princess Academy is a beautifully written fairy tale and coming of age story about a group of mountain girls who are sent to an academy to learn manners and letters before being presented to the local prince/heir as possible brides. Here's the blurb:
Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king's priests have divined her village the home of the future princess. In a year's time, the prince will choose his bride from among the village girls.
The king's ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess. Soon Miri finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires. Winning the contest could give her everything she ever wanted-but it would mean leaving her home and family behind.
Packaged with a fresh cover, this timelessly charming, award-winning story from best-selling author Shannon Hale is sure to enchant a whole new generation of readers.
There are two more books in this series, but though I loved the first book, again I find that it reads as something for the tweens, not the YA audience of older teenagers and adults. The prose is lovely, however, and the plot not at all as simplistic as you'd think going in.  I would recommend it to tween girls from 10-12, or even 13, but much beyond that I doubt it would hold an older teenager's interest. B+

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, which are science fiction/fantasy/fairy tale hybrids that are altogether delightful. Starting with Cinder, which reimagines Cinderella as a cyborg on a dystopian world ravaged by a plague engineered by cruel Lunar people, Scarlet picks up immediately following the end of Cinder and goes further into the conspiracy set up by the evil Lunar queen to control the earth. Scarlet discovers that Lunars have bred super soldiers by making remaking boys with wolf DNA. Here's the blurb:
Cinder is back and trying to break out of prison--even though she'll be the Commonwealth's most wanted fugitive if she does--in this second installment from Marissa Meyer.
Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit's grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother, or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana.
Meyer's prose is elegant and precise, and allows her intricate plots room to breathe and move. While I am certain that these YA novels have their romantic elements purely for the teenage audience, adults can safely read and enjoy them for the nicely wrought world-building and science fiction twists on the old fairy tales they're based on. I'm currently reading "Cress" which is the third book in the series, and I hope to finish it this weekend. Meanwhile, this book gets an A, and I hope that Meyer considers adding more to this series, which is loads of fun to read.

I bought Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg with high hopes, because it sounded like a book that would be right up my alley. Jazz age women trying to find love and happiness while running an old movie theater in NYC? Fascinating.  Unfortunately, the novel goes right through to the depression, and, written in epistolary style, it gets bogged down by a persistent sense of melancholy or, as the French term it, ennui, that only makes the reader pity the characters for their choices that lead to such unfulfilling lives. Here's the blurb:
Meet Mazie Phillips: big-hearted and bawdy, she's the truth-telling proprietress of The Venice, the famed New York City movie theater. It's the Jazz Age, with romance and booze aplenty—even when Prohibition kicks in—and Mazie never turns down a night on the town. But her high spirits mask a childhood rooted in poverty, and her diary, always close at hand, holds her dearest secrets.
When the Great Depression hits, Mazie's life is on the brink of transformation. Addicts and bums roam the Bowery; homelessness is rampant. If Mazie won't help them, then who? When she opens the doors of The Venice to those in need, this ticket taking, fun-time girl becomes the beating heart of the Lower East Side, and in defining one neighborhood helps define the city.
Then, more than ninety years after Mazie began her diary, it's discovered by a documentarian in search of a good story. Who was Mazie Phillips, really? A chorus of voices from the past and present fill in some of the mysterious blanks of her adventurous life.
Inspired by the life of a woman who was profiled in Joseph Mitchell's classic Up in the Old Hotel, SAINT MAZIE is infused with Jami Attenberg's signature wit, bravery, and heart. Mazie's rise to "sainthood"—and her irrepressible spirit—is unforgettable
While I think it is laudable that Mazie helps so many homeless and helpless men during the depression, I didn't really understand why Mazie and her younger sister were so self destructive with their bodies, having sex with married men and men who had venereal disease. We also never learn if the baby that Mazie was pregnant with survived, and if so, what happened to that child. Also, Mazie herself can't seem to catch a break, as even when she donates a ton of money to help abused women and children, she gets no credit for it, and it causes her insane older sister to nearly kill her. No happy endings here, just tawdry sex and sadness. Due to the unique writing style and plot, I'd give this book a B-, and recommend it to those who are interested in NYC during the 20s and 30s.

Book Ten of the Elemental Masters series, From A High Tower is Mercedes Lackey's best fantasy novel yet. Set in Germany, this book tells the tale of a Rapunzel who is a budding air master and who becomes fascinated with America's Wild West through a series of books written by a man who never stepped foot in America, and only imagined what the West was really like. Unlike the Rapunzel of the original fairy tale, Giselle's father traded her to a "witch" for food and lodging for his wife and other 8 children. The witch turns out to be a great mother to Giselle, whose air elementals play with her blond hair to make it grow so fast that she must cut it off every few weeks. Once Giselle joins a wild West show as a sharp shooter ala Anne Oakley,  she meets a Native American air master, a fire master and others who help her navigate forests full of bad spirits, ghosts and a troll that feeds on children like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. In past Elemental Mages books, there's been a romance that weaves in and out of the plot, but in this novel, for some reason Giselle is nearly raped twice and she doesn't seem to have an eye out for romance until nearly the end of the book. While I understand her innocence, Giselle seems almost willfully niaive throughout the book, which gets a bit tedious. The prose is Lackey's usual high quality, high-octane wordsmithing, which functions to guide the plot along greased rails. I'd give this book an A, and recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed any of the other Elemental Masters series. It doesn't disappoint, and is a real page-turner.

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