Book Review and Contest Announcement – The Unearthly Series

    

“I’ve learned that a storm isn’t always just bad weather, and a fire can be the start of something. I’ve found out that there are a lot more shades of gray in this world than I ever knew about. I’ve learned that sometimes, when you´re afraid but you keep on moving forward, that’s the biggest kind of courage there is. And finally, I’ve learned that life isn’t really about failure and success. It’s about being present, in the moment when big things happen, when everything changes, including myself.” ~ Clara

(Excerpt from the Unearthly series by Cynthia Hand)

Being 16 and navigating through high school is hard enough, but can you imagine learning that you’re only “part human” and that you are put on this earth to complete a mission or a “purpose”?  Such is the premise of the Unearthly series of books by Cynthia Hand.

Clara Gardiner thinks she’s a typical teenager until the day her mother reveals to her that she’s part angel, complete with wings that can be summoned on command and the ability to fly.  Furthermore, she’s been put on this earth to fulfill a purpose which will be sent to her in the form of visions or dreams, and her one goal in life – the reason she was born – is to fulfill that purpose.

Shortly after her 16th birthday, Clara’s visions begin.  In a recurring daydream, Clara is transported to a forest fire where she sees in the distance a boy she feels destined to save.  The visions continue until she and her mother are able to conclude that her purpose is connected to this boy and  the forest fire, and the family uproots and leaves everything they’ve known to begin the quest to fulfill Clara’s purpose.

What happens, however, when Clara gets thrown a curve ball and the purpose she feels meant to fulfill seems less important than the direction that her own free-will wants her to go?  Will she follow her purpose, or will she choose a different path?  And what happens if she doesn’t fulfill her purpose?

Cynthia Hand has created wonderful page-turners in her first two books in the Unearthly Series, Unearthly and Hallowed.  In Unearthly, we’re introduced to Clara and her family, and Clara’s friends in her new school.  Strangely, this new town where her family has moved to seems to be a hotspot for “angel-bloods” – those who are part human and part angel.  For the first time, Clara can freely discuss with her close friends her visions and challenges, and she quickly learns that her new friends and their own purposes are deeply intertwined with her own.

Unearthly and Hallowed are an outstanding beginning to a new series of books target toward young adult readers, but the storyline is interesting and mature enough to appeal to even adult readers.  And, they’re this week’s FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY!  This week, we are giving away gently-used copies of BOTH BOOKS to one lucky winner.  Simply complete the entry form below and click “submit” to enter.

This contest begins today and will end on midnight on Friday, June 15th.  The contest winner will be announced on Monday, June 18th.  Please remember that this contest is open only to Rochester-area residents, and you must be able to pick up your winning copies within 10 business days of winning notification.  Please note that no copies will be mailed.

For more information about this series of books, visit the author’s website at http://www.cynthiahandbooks.com.

CONTEST ENTRY FORM

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Book Review – BitterBlue

BitterBlue
A Review by Helen McIver

Kristin Cashore’s first two YA novels,  Graceling and Fire, were wonderful books and I was eagerly anticipating this third novel in the series. Although reviewers say you don’t need to read the first two to love this book, I highly recommend doing so as there is good character development and interesting plot interactions. The cast remains exceptional.

This is the story of BitterBlue, whose mother was killed trying to save her from her evil, sociopath father. He in turn was killed by Katsa in Graceling to save the Kingdom. BitterBlue takes place in Monsea, one of the Seven Kingdoms, with magic and nonstop action. In these books a few people have extreme skills known as “Graces” that develop as they mature. Some of the more interesting ones are assassin, herbalist, fearlessness, mind reading, and telling lies which are perceived as true.

At the end of the previous book, Graceling, BitterBlue becomes Queen at the age of 10. As BitterBlue opens, she has matured to the age of 18 and is becoming unsettled in her rule. She has begun to question her advisors and rebel at the mounds of paperwork (we can relate!); and she is intent on unraveling and uncovering her father’s horrific legacy.

BitterBlue is a strong female heroine: curious and extremely intelligent, though extremely sheltered (and at times seeming far younger than 18). In her restlessness she sneaks outside the castle and discovers an entirely different world.

BitterBlue was classified as YA science fiction, but it could equally qualify as adult fiction, romance and political thriller. It is a detailed book of vivid descriptions, though some are horrific and gritty and include details of abuse, corrupt power and betrayal. These are tough issues and difficult questions, but we live in a world with Serbia, Rwanda, Bosnia, North Korea and Iraq. While the characters deal with pain, sorrow, loneliness, depression and heartache, they also experience joy, love and developing friendships.

I sincerely hope the Graceling books continue with these developing characters, especially Bitterblue, Katsa, Po and Sky. My favorite character in this book was Death (pronounced Deeth), the Royal Librarian who is graced with speed reading and possesses a photographic memory for everything he reads.

This book is filled with interesting illustrations which serve to clarify locations.  The romance is perhaps “young and scared,” but it is not the focus of the plot and I, personally, like that her characters don’t fit the “happily ever after” mode.

The first two novels in this series won several awards and were selected for a variety of reading lists, including the ALA Best Book for Young Adults and SLJ Best Book of the Year. I have no doubt this story will follow its predecessors.

To learn more about Kristin Cashore or her series of wonderful books, visit the author’s blog at http://www.kristencashore.blogspot.com or http://www.gracelingrealm.com.

Book Review – The River Between Us

The River Between Us
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

It’s the eve of the American Civil War, and tensions are high in the sleepy town of Grand Tower, Illinois, as the country comes to terms with the fact that the world as they know it is about to change.  Families are preparing to send their husbands and sons off to war, and sometimes to fight against each other or their own neighbors.  Then one day, a beautiful young southern woman and her companion arrive by steamboat in the small town, en route to St. Louis.  They decide to travel no further, and instead request lodging within the town.  With no “appropriate” hotel, they soon find lodging as boarders with the Pruitt family – Tilly, Noah, Cass and their mother.

Who is this young woman and her companion?  Is her companion a slave?  The town is abuzz with the notion that the  young woman, Delphine, and her companion, Calinda, are southern spies sent to Grand Tower to gather information and send it to the enemy.  Much intrigue and mystery surround the arrival of these woman, and discovering the truth behind their many stories is at the heart of this spellbinding story.

Richard Peck has written a riveting young-adult novel about the early days of the American Civil War and the young men and women caught in the crossfire.   Young Noah Pruitt will hear the call to battle and feel compelled to don the blue uniform of the North, leaving behind his mother and sisters, together with their two house guests, to survive on their own.  But can he survive without them?

The River Between Us is the YA selection for Rochester Reads 2012.  It is a novel written for YA readers, but with enough history, suspense and mystery to attract older readers.  It was a truly enjoyable read on every level.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library; however as part of this blog’s FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY, you can win a FREE, gently used, paperback copy of The River Between Us just for having read this review.  Simply enter your name, address, e-mail address and phone number in the entry form below and your name may be chosen at random to receive this free gift.  This contest is open until this Friday, May 18th, at midnight.  Contest winner will be announced on Monday morning, May 21st.

Please note:  This contest is open to Rochester, MN-area residents only.  Winners must be available to pick up your prize at the Friends of the Library Bookstore, located next door to the Rochester Public Library, within 10 days of your winning notification.  Please note that no copies will be mailed.

Good luck!

Contest Entry

Book Review – Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, it’s been with no small amount of embarrassment that I’ve been forced to admit – until recent years – that I’d never read Jane Austen’s classic love story, Pride and Prejudice.  To be completely honest, it didn’t appeal to me.  First, it was written in the 19th century, so I knew I’d have to get past the barrier of the writing style and speech.  Then, to be honest, it just didn’t sound that interesting to me.  Admittedly, I didn’t really know the whole premise of the story, but some guy named “Mr. Darcy” didn’t sound all that romantically appealing.  But, after a series of other books wherein “Mr. Darcy” or “Elizabeth Bennet” were repeatedly referenced, I figured I better just bite the bullet so that I can at least feel a little bit intelligent.  And so I sat down to read an old, dusty copy of Pride and Prejudice that had been in our family since what felt like the beginning of time.

The first few pages were a slow-go.  It took me several pages to get the rhythm of the writing style but, after about ten pages, I was hooked.  I quickly became immersed in the life of the Bennet sisters and felt the pain of their long-suffering father as he tolerated the drama of his hypochondriac wife.

Pride and Prejudice is really what every good novel should be.  It’s humor intertwined with drama, a bit of suspense, a little bit of sorrow and a whole lot of fun.  Take for example, the egotistical, self-important Mr. Collins.  He’s the distant cousin to Mr. Bennet and the next in line to inherit the Bennet properties.  He has money – which is something the Bennet sisters will be without once their father passes – so “out of the kindness of his heart” he proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet.  From this proposal ensues one of the most amusing misunderstandings in this book.  Mr. Collins simply cannot believe that Ms. Bennet would turn him down and so simply chooses to ignore her repeated replies of “no” to his proposal.  All young women must marry; Elizabeth Bennnet will be poor and presumably destitute upon the passing of her father, so why wouldn’t she want to marry Mr. Collins?  For the answer to that, you’ll need to read the book.

Jane Austen

Next you have the youngest Bennet sisters, Kitty and Lydia, whose behavior is so absurd for the time period that you can’t help but feel empathy for the two older sisters who must endure the embarrassment of their unrestrained behavior.  Rather than correct their behavior and rein them in, their mother dotes on them and their father just chuckles at their antics.

Then of course there’s the oldest sister:  sweet, simple Jane.  She’s in love with Mr. Bingley, and this is an obvious match made in heaven since they’re both bitten so strongly by the love bug that there can be no other match for either…though you will wonder for a while whether that match will ever solidify.

And finally – and most importantly – you have Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.  I have no idea what Mr. Darcy’s first name is.  I’m not sure the author ever gives it; or, if she does, it’s just not important.  He’s Mr. Darcy.  A seemingly arrogant and snobbish gentleman and the best friend to Mr. Bingley.  Clearly from the beginning, the reader knows there’s some type of chemistry between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, but how they go from the platform of contempt and dislike of each other is a roller coaster ride involving a whole lot of pride and more than a little bit of prejudice.  Hence the title, Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice is a truly great read and one that would appeal to both young and mature adults.  Surprisingly to me, it is at the top of my list of favorite books of all time.  And to think that I was reluctant to read it!

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy - BBC Version

Since reading this book, I’ve had the opportunity to see both movie adaptations; the Kiera Knightly version, as well as the incredibly well-done BBC version.  For those who wish to see a screen version as part of the experience, I strongly recommend the BBC version starring Colin Firth.  It is the truest book to movie adaptation I’ve ever seen and is well worth the time to watch.  It brings the book to life and does so without changing the heart of the story even a fraction.  Check it out!

YouTube Video:  Mr. Collins Proposes Marriage

Book Review – Rebecca

Rebecca
A Review by Helen McIver

Jonathan Yardley’s publication of Second Reading, Notable and Neglected Books Revisited, inspired me to revisit a few classics and old favorites. There are 60+ book reviews in this collection which had me seek out a few authors I had passed over – I had never heard of Paper Tigers by Stanley Woodward, nor The Fathers by Allen Tate. But when I discovered that most of one of my book groups had never read Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier, 1938), I checked out the Book Group in a Bag at the Library and we started reading.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again,”

I didn’t remember it being so melodraumatic and, reading it now, I was far more impatient with the unnamed non-Rebecca wife. But this is a classic gothic novel, and much of our book discussion centered on that history. Gothic novels have haunted castles or mansions, windswept moors, usually obsessed handsome dark brooding men with defenseless young women, a few family secrets and an atmospheric romantic suspense plot. They are often adored by readers (and bestsellers!) and even more often deplored by reviewers.

Some of the best gothic novels are Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! I would also include works by 19th century writers Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker and Elizabeth Gaskill.

The physical descriptions of the various settings in this book are vivid and richly detailed. I absolutely love books and/or movies where the house is just as much a character as the people in the book! And I enjoyed learning that the house actually exists, and the success of her book enabled her to renovate the ruin and make it her home for a number of years.  Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Egypt where her husband was stationed, and may also be filled with the longing and nostalgia for home.

Daphne du Maurier

In Rebecca, the plot has the unnamed narrator recall her past: As the companion to a rich American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, she is courted (apparently unknowingly) by a wealthy Englishman, Maxim de Winter. After a week of courtship (not even recognizing the proposal), she marries him, and they move to his Cornish mansion, Manderley. There she discovers that his first wife, Rebecca, is still alive in the memories of all the estate inhabitants; but especially its domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers –  one of literature’s great infamous female villains. I was actually horrified that the narrator felt relief that Max didn’t love Rebecca when he reveals that he murdered her! (Remember the Hitchcock film has a different ending!) But because of the film, Rebecca has been in print since 1938.

Additional Reading:
I loved the comment that “If I wanted to go to Manderly again, I would just reread Rebecca.” Still, there are several books that have been approved by the du Maurier estate:

  • Mrs de Winter (1993), by Susan Hill is a sequel originally written in the 1980s
  • The Other Rebecca (1996), by Maureen Freely is a contemporary version.
  • Rebecca’s Tale (2001), by Sally Beauman, is a narrative of four characters affected by Rebecca. (My bookclub’s best comment: “Rebecca left no man untouched.”
  • Daphne by Justin Picardine, is also a fascinating fictional account of DuMaurier.

Rebecca won two Academy Awards: Best Picture and Best Cinematophotography in 1940 with Alfred Hitchcok as director. Olivier played Max, Joan Fontaine, the unnamed Heroine, and Judith Anderson as Mrs Danvers. Rebecca has been adapted for television by both BBC and ITV (then Masterpiece Theatre 1997 with Diana Rigg playing Mrs Danvers).

Author Spotlight and Book Review – Kristin Cashore

Author Spotlight / Book Review
Kristin Cashore
by Helen McIver


Graceling and Fire are two young adult fantasy series by Kristin Cashore, both of which I read one weekend. Graceling won several awards and was shortlisted for so many others that it was on my list to read for some time (2008). I even had the hard cover. Somehow it disappeared under the pile. But then a 99 cent Kindle deal rectified my error; although I still waited until I had read 12 other newly downloaded books. I was absolutely hooked from the second paragraph (why did I wait so long?!). I was utterly grateful the library had the second (Fire, which is actually a prequel of sorts) as an ebook which I instantly downloaded for my planeride home. I impatiently await the third installment, Bitterblue due 1 May 2012.  Could I please have an advance review copy someone?!!

These books have strong female characters in original, innovative, fascinating coming of age stories. And while the characters are 15-17, the books will also appeal to this age group while other readers will be attracted to the vivid story telling, romance and intriguing new world (NB I have been bereft while waiting for the next installment of GRRMartin’s The Song of Fire and Ice, although these are not teen material; Cashore however gives her readers a heady mixture which is well written and will further their readings.) Given the topics of atrocities of war, cruelties of mankind (and nonhuman creatures), independence and sexual freedom, these books are not for preteens. However, there are great discussion points relevant to our times.

Katsa, the main character of Graceling, has the power to kill with her bare hands, and has been a trained assassin since the age of 8. She has, however, spent grueling years learning to control her ‘grace’, and while under command to her king, also begins to develop a moral sense of right and wrong, forming a secret council to create justice.

Fire is half human, half creature (so beautiful that she is in constant danger from man and beast (who would preferentially eat her). The Kingdoms are in the turmoil of war as she wages personal battles and private grief. I found her tale particularly moving.  I am also sure I will be saying “Rocks!” as an exclamation of surprise or delight for some time to come.


Check out the trailer of this book on YouTube

Book Reviews: Short Takes

Short takes –
I have 6 other book reviews coming out in the next few weeks, and there are simply so many interesting books to recommend. SO, here are a few that caught my fancy that you might want to try. All Library books!

I so thoroughly enjoy Alan Bennet’s writing style, whether memoir or fiction. Smut is his recent short story collection (two), while A Life like Other People’s is from his previous book Untold Stories.
Kathy Reichs has started a young adult series, Seizure is the second  (NB I think they need to be read in order, as too much wouldn’t make sense in this second book). I thought the first was quite entertaining and look forward to reading the next installment!
I just don’t know where to place this book – it is by the author of a Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snickett, so I thought this must be fun. It was quite bizarre, being  a series of short stories or essays that are somehow connected. The individual characterisations are priceless, but I am still feeling clueless!