Friday, March 25, 2011

Fantasy Friday: Dragonfly

Dragonfly, by Julia Golding

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Corp
Pages: 390 (hardcover)
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: High

This is another fantasy that I absolutely enjoyed. I remember more and more how much I loved fantasy novels as a kid, and I’m glad to see so many of them around in the YA market now.

From GoodReads:

Princess Taoshira of the Blue Crescent Islands is appalled when she is ordered to marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal. And he's not too pleased, either. She is used to a life of discipline, ritual, and splendor. He is used to hunting and carousing. They hate each other on sight. But both of their countries are under threat from a fearsome warlord, and the only chance of peace is to form an alliance.

When Tashi and Ram are kidnapped, they fear there's no escape--from their kidnappers or from each other. Can they put aside their differences long enough to survive ambush, unarmed combat, brainwashing, and imprisonment? And will the people they meet on their adventure--including a circus strongman, a daring rebel leader, a sinister master of spies, and the best female fighter they have ever seen--help them or betray them to the enemy?

As pure fantasy goes, this hits the spot. I loved it from start to finish. The plot kept the tension going and there were a lot of twists and turns I didn’t see coming. Adventure and danger added to the fantastical, so it wasn’t just your typical quest-type book or even hero-journey.

The characters are great. I loved the blending of cultures and personalities. Taoshira is excellent as a princess who is struggling to fit into her own world. Once she’s thrown into the land of Gerfal, all she has are the customs and rituals she’s been taught. I particularly liked watching the changes and growth she goes through as a character when her religion and faith are tested after she’s kidnapped. The faltering of her faith is natural and it gives her dimension.

Ram is also a great character. His growth and development are complemented by Tashi’s and it was so nice to see the connection between the two of them solidify as Ram learns about himself on their journey. He matures and becomes the leader he needs to be.

This book didn’t get much attention when it came out, but I highly recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy. On the surface it appears to be a fluff piece of fantasy, but the themes of faith, maturity and love push the story to a different level.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Monday, March 14, 2011

Middle Grade Monday: The Shards of Excalibur

The Shards of Excalibur: Song of the Sword, by Edward Willett

Publisher: Lobster Press
Pages: 336 (Paperback)
Reading Level: 12 and up
Enjoyment Level: Medium

This one came from the publisher as an ARC, though I’m just getting the review up now. I’m not terribly late with it, but…

From the publisher:

Ariane Forsythe’s life is in turmoil. Two years ago, her mother disappeared. She bounced from foster home to foster home until her aunt finally took her in. An outsider at her new school, Ariane quickly becomes the target of group of girls that is determined to make her miserable. And to top it all off, she is having frightening premonitions, and they are becoming more intense. The moment water touches her skin, she sees visions of a lake, a lady, and a sword.

Ariane learns that she is heir to the Lady’s power, and soon the stories she thought were legend become a real life nightmare. She and her unexpected companion, Wally Knight, are charged with finding the scattered shards of Excalibur before Merlin can get his hands on them. The infamous magician, known in this world as software tycoon Rex Major, is trying to recover the pieces of Arthur’s sword so he can reforge it and restore his limitless power. Suddenly, Ariane’s life seems to have a purpose and a clear direction – but how can a troubled teen and her brainy sidekick outwit the ancient, ruthless sorcerer?

I’m not particularly fond of Arthurian tales, as a rule. Arthur is done too often and there aren’t that many new ways to look at him – and there’s very little historical data in the first place. I surprised myself by choosing this book from the publisher, but it sounded interesting and I thought I’d give it a shot.

Song of the Sword is not a fast read. The beginning is pretty slow, and I felt like there were more explanations than were necessary. They dragged the pace a little and kept me from really getting into the plot and the characters. I definitely wished for something more interesting going on for the first part. I think it would have been great if the first four to five chapters had been condensed into one.

I did like the main character, Ariane, and her “sidekick” Wally. They were both developed well, and they felt well-rounded. Wally is particularly interesting as the nerdy kid who attaches himself to Ariane. There’s a nice dark side to him that comes out every once in a while, and it added depth to what was happening.

And the story got interesting about halfway through. Once the action actually got started, I was invested, and wanted to know what would happen. The tension turned on and was only interrupted again once by an explanation of something. Then, I was pleasantly surprised when the main character was thwarted again near the end, making the last bits unpredictable.

It was a different enough take on the Arthurian legend that it didn’t feel as tired as some. I don’t know that I would recommend this to reluctant readers, but it might make a good read-aloud story for classrooms.

Until next time, go read something!

~ Vilate

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Teen Fiction Tuesday: Linger

Linger, by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 368
Reading Level: 14 and up

Last March, I wrote a review for Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver. One of my favorite aspects of the book is it's unique layout. The cover is blue-gray ink on a white background, with blue-gray lettering on the inside. The next in the series, Linger, is similarly made. Instead of a blue-gray color-scheme, Linger has green lettering and a green cover, which is much more appropriate for the warmer weather featured in the story.

Okay, enough about the cover! Here's the synopsis from Goodreads:

In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, Grace and Sam found each other. Now, in Linger, they must fight to be together. For Grace, this means defying her parents and keeping a very dangerous secret about her own well-being. For Sam, this means grappling with his werewolf past…and figuring out a way to survive into the future. Add into the mix a new wolf named Cole, whose own past has the potential to destroy the whole pack. And Isabelle, who already lost her brother to the wolves… and is nonetheless drawn to Cole.

What I enjoyed about Linger is that it kept all the good parts about Shiver and improved upon what I would consider weaknesses. The plot was interesting with new surprises, including the introduction of two new viewpoints. While readers met Isabelle and Cole (briefly) in Shiver, their viewpoints were not expressed. I found their voices refreshing and clearly distinguished from Sam and Grace. The character development of all four teens was well-balanced throughout the story.

In Shiver, I found the pace to be a little off. For my taste, it was too slow in the middle. However, I did not have this experience with Linger. The addition of the new voices helped keep the story flowing. Also, I did not enjoy Grace's viewpoint as much in the first book. With the second story, I realize the reason I don't like Grace's viewpoint is that I could not connect with her. I still had this same feeling in Linger, but the multiple voices distracted me from this issue.

Overall, I think Linger is a great story for anyone who enjoys YA romance and fantasy. I can't wait to read the third installment, Forever, to be released July 12, 2011.

Happy Reading!