Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stravaganza: City of Masks - Mary Hoffman

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Indiebound Summary:
During the day, Lucien battles cancer in his modern, normal life. But at night, he becomes a Stravagante, a time-traveler of sorts who finds himself in Belleza, a city parallel to old Venice. Befriended by a local girl and protected by an older Stravagante, Lucien uncovers a plot to murder the city's beloved ruler, the Duchessa. But to save the Duchessa and the city Lucien risks losing his only chance to return home to his family and his real life.

This book has been on my radar for quite some time. I checked it out of the library before, but I always had to return it before I got around to reading it. So, I finally decided to stop checking out so many books and put this on top of the to read in 2011 list.

City of Masks jumps between 21st-century London and 16th-century Belleza. In modern London, Lucien is diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. When Lucien finds a old notebook, he is suddenly transported to Belleza in his sleep. There, he is unburden of the disease and the picture of perfect health. As he explores the wonders of Belleza, he learns that he is a Stravangante - a person who can travel between both worlds. But, there is a faction that would use that power for personal gain and Lucien is about to get caught in the middle of it all.

Mary Hoffman built a fascinating Belleza with descriptions of the lagoons, cathedrals and cityscape that brings the city to life. It is simply great armchair travel. I had a great time trying to find the parallels to Venice. In Belleza, they have the Bridge of Sorrow instead of the Bridge of Sighs. Talia's capital is Remora because Remus instead of Romulus founded the state. And much more.

Lucien and Arianna are likable characters. Arianna especially with her views of equal rights for women. Some of the plot points are predictable, but the characters and adventures make it a fun read. I would recommend this to younger readers, probably between the ages of 9 - 15. And for those who like a series, this is the first of five (at the moment).

Book Source: borrowed from library

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wondrous Words (8)

Source: (we♥it)

"She loved with so much the more passion as she loved with ignorance. She did not know whether it were good or evil, beneficent or dangerous, necessary or accidental, eternal or transitory, permitted or prohibited: she loved."
- Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan

Publisher: Hyperion

Goodreads Summary:
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?

Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

I was really surprised when I heard about this book a couple of weeks prior to release day. As a bookseller, I cannot believe this escape my notice. I did hear rumors floating around about a new series that features more Camp Half-Blood, but I thought it was just whimsical whisperings due to people's love of the Percy Jackson series. But I am glad that Riordan revisits Camp Half-Blood and the characters from his previous series - Percy Jackson, Thalia, Annabeth.

The Lost Hero focuses on three new characters - Jason, Piper and Leo and the story switches off from each of their voices. While these three are the focal persons of the story, Annabeth and other loved characters from the Percy Jackson series appear as secondary characters. Since the story is set a few months after the end of The Last Olympian, I would heavily recommend reading the Percy Jackson series before starting this one. I was initially disappointed that it wasn't a focus on the much loved characters in his past series, but as the story went on, I started liking and rooting for these characters.

I'm not going to go into detail about the story much because I don't want this to be one of those reviews that blow some of the adventures. I went into this with no prior readings of reviews and stuff, except for the jacket description and it was a joy imagining their adventures and quests with no expectation about when is this going to happen or when does this character appear. And I want other readers to have the same experience. So I'm just going to say, when I started reading I slipped seamlessly back into the world Riordan created and had a blast being a viewer to their daring pilgrimage.

Book Source: borrowed from work

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Once Upon a Time V Challenge

Date: March 21 to June 20

Goal: I'll be doing Quest the First. This means I will "read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres".

Why I'm Participating: I'll seen this challenge since I started reading book blogs years ago and I always wanted to participate, but didn't have a blog to do so. Now I have a blog so there's nothing stopping me. And did I mention, I am a complete sucker for anything to do with "once upon a time".

Potential Books:
Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
Chime by Franny Billingsley
Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
The Stepsister's Scheme by Jim C. Hines (reread)
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Gawain and Lady Green by Anne Eliot Crompton

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Top 10 Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week topic is Top 10 Bookish Pet Peeves - the bookish things that drives you absolutely crazy/bonkers. Here's my list.
  • Marginalia in Library Books. I am all for it when it comes to personal books, but not for books used by the public.
  • People that go to bookstores, write down books they want and then order them online. Support brick and mortar bookstores, otherwise they'll cease to exist.
  • Dogearing. I like bookmarks. I collect bookmarks. No need to bend pages.
  • When I lend a book out and I never get it back or it comes back beat up. I like my books to come back in the condition I lent it out in.
  • Being told what I should read and what I shouldn't. I read what I want, when I want it.
  • When someone ruins a reading experience by telling you the ending. I had a friend who told me the ending of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before I finished it. Needless to say, I couldn't finish the book because the ending was spoiled.
  • Overdone trends. When a particular book becomes super popular and everyone and their mom comes out with a book with similar subjects. *cough*vampires/werewolves*cough*
  • Covers with face models. I don't like being told what characters look like. I like imagining them in my head. The only exception is if the cover model actually matches the character description.
  • Series that run too long. End it already!
  • Historical books with modern dialogue.

So what's your biggest book peeve?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wondrous Words (7)

Source: (we♥it)

"I had jumped off the edge, and then, at the very last moment, something reached out and caught me midair. That something is what I define as love. It is the one thing that can stop a man from falling, powerful enough to negate the laws of gravity."
- Paul Auster, Moon Palace

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hunger - Jackie Morse Kessler

Publisher: Graphia

Indiebound Summary:
Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home—her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power—and the courage to fight her own inner demons?

This slim book about a young girl with an eating disorder is anything but trite. Kessler approaches a been-done topic with an uncommon premise of a girl suffering from anorexic who becomes Famine, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. A big, fat stamp of approval for the unique supernatural spin! The last time I remember anything being done about the Four Horsemen in pop culture was in one of the Charmed episodes. I have yet to see a YA book approach this until now. And this doesn't feature supernatural romance. Rather, Kessler uses the Horsemen as allegories of issues that people face. And for those who like series, Hunger is simply the start of four books.

Obviously, Famine is an analogy to Lisbeth as she struggles with anorexia. When she takes on the scales that represent Famine, she travels the world seeing people that indulge themselves to the point of gluttony as well as the reverse, the impoverished many that have barely anything to eat.

Kessler is an impressive storyteller, as she describes in detail the physical agony of not eating, the mental battle for control and the emotional distress of never being thin/pretty enough. Hunger is obviously about the destructive impact of eating disorders, but what makes this appealing is that Kessler never veers into a preachy tone. She simply tells a story about food issues and lets readers come up with their own conclusions.

And I have to say, as an international relations major, I love the incorporation of global food issues into Lisbeth's personal struggle.

Book Source: ARC borrowed from library group

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wondrous Words (6)

Source: (we♥it)

"The pearls weren’t really white, they were a warm oyster beige, with little knots in between so if they broke, you only lost one. I wished my life could be like that, knotted up so that even if something broke, the whole thing wouldn’t come apart."
- Janet Fitch, White Oleander

Friday, March 4, 2011

Losing Faith - Denise Jaden

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Indiebound Summary:
A terrible secret. A terrible fate.

When Brie's sister, Faith, dies suddenly, Brie's world falls apart. As she goes through the bizarre and devastating process of mourning the sister she never understood and barely even liked, everything in her life seems to spiral farther and farther off course. Her parents are a mess, her friends don’t know how to treat her, and her perfect boyfriend suddenly seems anything but.

As Brie settles into her new normal, she encounters more questions than closure: Certain facts about the way Faith died just don't line up. Brie soon uncovers a dark and twisted secret about Faith’s final night...a secret that puts her own life in danger.

I read this book for The Contemps challenge they are hosting. Overall, Losing Faith is a story about death, the people left behind and how they grieve. The thread that connects most of the character is their loss of a love one and how each person has a unique way of dealing with the pain. Jaden adds a twist to the story with Brie's investigation on the mysterious death of her sister, Faith.

What shines in this story is how Jaden approaches the themes of death, grief and faith. Through the different families, Jaden reveals how the death of a love one can tear apart a family. In Tessa family, her mother left because her father could not move on. Brie's father buries himself in work, while her mom loses faith in religion and closes herself off. Both become overprotective of Brie, yet ignoring Brie's longing for comfort. Alis' father spend long periods of time on the road and his sister finds salvation in religion. Also using the different character, Jaden displays different ideas of faith. How faith can be a balm of the living and how faith can sometimes go too far.

What needs polishing is the mystery element of the story and some of the relationships between characters. Why would Alis tell Brie (who he just met) all about his crazy sister, especially if it might implicate her in Faith's death? Especially since she's all he has since his father never there. It was a little too unrealistic for me. And the mystery plot needed some work. The climax where everything was revealed seemed rushed and forced. I didn't think there was enough of a established foundation to have to cult thing thrown in so late and I don't know if I missed it, but how did someone with Faith's strong testament in her religion get involved in something like that? I just think that the mystery needed some tighter plotting.

Losing Faith was a good distracting read and has its good parts, but there was nothing extraordinary about it. It could have been great with stronger characters, a tighter mystery and a more tied up plot. To sum up, I liked it, but with reservations.

Book Source: borrowed from work

Author Website | Indiebound | Losing Faith

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Scorch Trials - James Dashner


Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Indiebound Summary:
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.

In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety . . . until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim . . . and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?

The Scorch Trials pick up moments after the end of The Maze Runner, where it is revealed that the Maze was an experiment by the group WICKED. In the real world, solar flares have destroyed most of the world and a disease called The Flare turns people into zombie-like creatures. When Teresa goes missing and the group of Gladers are told they have contracted the disease, they must journey across a hot blistering desert to receive the cure.

Once the story starts, it's pretty much non-stop, continuous action. I hoped for some answers about WICKED and the project Thomas was part of, but The Scorch Trials just created most questions that hopefully will be resolved in the final book.

I wasn't feeling this book as much as the first one. I felt like there was too much action, that the book never pauses to let the reader take a breathe. This also lead to more questions being asked, than anything being answered. It is a great move to ensure readers pick up the last book, because nothing gets fully answered in this story. But I felt very disconnected to the characters and the plot because the big WHY puzzle never gets remotely addressed. Because the motivation for the Maze project and now forcing the boys on a dangerous trek because they supposedly have caught the virus wasn't fully there, the plot felt very forced and contrived.

It felt like The Maze Runner all over again with no answers, except set in the real world. While the plot moves, the characters' understanding of the situation never grows.

I will probably pick up the last book to this trilogy, if only to get the answers for this whole mystery. Dashner pulls a risky move and I feel like the end could end up being a completely great series or a really sucky one.

Book Source: ARC borrowed from library group

Author Website | Indiebound | Goodreads
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