Julie Kagawa: The Iron King

Title: The Iron King
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Even with all the great press this book got, I almost passed on it as I’m just not crazy about the fey. I’m really glad I didn’t, as this is one of my favorite books of the year so far.

The Iron King tells the story of Meghan Chase, an awkward and lonely teenager whose biggest hopes are that the cute boy at school will notice her and that her mom and step-dad won’t forget her 16th birthday. Little does she know that everything in her life is about to change. When her 4 year old brother is kidnapped, Meghan learns the truth – that her brother has been taken by fairies, her best friend is fey and her father is a fairy king. Meghan must face a heritage she never knew she had and travel into the perilous fairy realm if she ever hopes to see her brother again.

This is very much a true fairy story, with all the standard fairy fare, such as the Seelie and Unseelie courts, pixies (or, as in the book, piskies), and the entire fairy cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, second only to Twelfth Night.) There are trolls and goblins and talking cats, and new fey for the internet age. I haven’t read a lot of fairy books, so I’m not sure how standard the summer and winter courts are, but I really enjoyed the descriptions of the contrasting fairy realms.

The beginning of the book felt a bit rocky, as it seemed odd to me that Meghan never saw anything strange even though her brother kept trying to show her the monsters he was seeing. Then her sight came right before she turned 16, and her brother was taken at the same time. The events felt a little rushed together. It also felt awkward that after so many years of keeping the fey world a secret from Meghan, Puck was willing to tell Meghan everything, just because she asked him a few questions. That said, I often find the beginning of books where the lead character does not know that supernatural beings exist feel a bit contrived. The beginning isn’t bad, per se, it just wasn’t as strong as I would have liked.

The fast pace continues into the fairy world, with Meghan having to learn quickly how to survive in a place where all the rules are different. Then the story slows, and there are a few sections in Part 1 and 2 of the book that meandered a bit. Meghan’s not really looking for Ethan and not learning much about the fey or herself. I found these sections frustrating and didn’t see how they added much to the tale. The main plot really picks up about 100 pages in, and from there it moves forward at a steady pace. While in the beginning I felt like the book wasn’t holding me, the last 180 pages wouldn’t let me go. I loved meeting the iron fey. Though the idea behind them isn’t new, I really enjoyed the way Kagawa handled it. I expected the book to become preachy, but it didn’t. Instead, the story built to a riveting climax and left me wanting more.

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Jackson Pearce: Sisters Red

Title: Sisters Red
Author: Jackson Pearce
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Publisher: Little, Brown

The premise of this book piqued my interest right away – a meaty werewolf story based on Little Red Riding Hood, only Grandma dies and Little Red Riding Hood grows up to be a werewolf slayer. The book starts out with the very definite promise of sadness, with Scarlett, the older of two sisters, having to defend younger sister Rosie from the wolf that killed their grandmother. Flash forward 7 years, and Scarlett, covered in scars and with only one eye, has devoted her life to hunting and killing Fenris, soulless men that transform into wolves to feed on young girls. Scarlett and Rosie are on their own, both having dropped out of school to train and hunt the Fenris. Scarlett’s best friend and hunting partner, woodsman Silas Reynolds, has just returned from San Francisco. Rosie and Silas are the only people in Scarlett’s life, and she drives them to hunt through guilt and their love for her. Silas, however, sees more in Rosie than a hunter, and Rosie starts to realize that while she owes her life to her sister, maybe that doesn’t mean she has to hunt beside her forever.

Pearce delivers two complex and passionate women in Scarlett and Rosie. Rosie and Scarlett each narrate alternating chapters, but in many ways this is Scarlett’s story as she has the most emotional growth ahead of her. Scarlett is physically strong and mentally determined, yet emotionally she’s a mess. She needs Rosie and Silas to hunt with her, to support her. Her strength of purpose isn’t enough to make up for her insecurities about her scars and her regrets about what life could have been for her, and she can’t see that she’s taking away Rosie’s choices just as the Fenris took hers.

It was with Rosie that Pearce really pulled me in. Rosie doesn’t have the physical scars from the wolf attack, but she has all the emotional scars. I wanted Rosie to have everything she could out of life. It made me root for Rosie, and for Scarlett.

Sisters Red is very much a book about sisters, but I also really enjoyed the development of the relationship between Rosie and Silas. Pearce gives all the hints and clues and allows the reader to anticipate the future and to ride along with Rosie as she experiences her first love. Unfortunately I didn’t feel as positive about the main plot. There were points in the story where the book felt stagnant and the characters seemed to be thinking and saying the same things over and over. Fortunately the sluggishness doesn’t last long as the main plot picks up quickly once the lovers are outed.

When Rosie and Silas started to fall in love, I was sure that the book would end in tragedy, with one of the main characters making the ultimate sacrifice for the other two. Pearce deftly pulls out an ending that I didn’t expect. Quite a few of the steps on the way to that ending seemed predictable, and some of the characters’ feats pushed on the borders of what I would consider believable, but by the climax of the book I was so wrapped up in the action that all was forgiven. All in, Sisters Red is an enjoyable read, and a reminder that sisterly love knows no bounds.

Meyer/Kim: Twilight the Graphic Novel, Volume 1

Being a huge fan of Twilight the book and not being a huge fan of Twilight the movie, I had mixed feelings when I heard that a graphic novel was in the works. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, especially when the supplemental materials to the original “good thing” aren’t nearly as good. Instead of ruling out the graphic novel as a simple money maker in the Twilight franchise, I decided I’d wait until the book was in stores to see for myself. I’m glad I did.

Twilight the Graphic Novel, Volume 1 is a hardbound book with an absolutely stunning cover depicting Bella in the now-infamous meadow, and the cover image is just the beginning. Young Kim’s art brings the characters alive, and they are the characters as Stephenie Meyer has written them, not caricatures of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. The drawings are done primarily in black and white, with subtle washes of color on some images and fuller color to call attention to dream images and significant events. While I very much enjoyed the selective use of color, I did feel like some of the drawings felt unfinished. I believe this was a deliberate technique to call attention to certain images and to decrease attention on others, but I would have preferred to see more than the guidelines for eyes on some of the characters, and more than faceless heads on others. Overall, though, the book is beautifully drawn, and pulled me thoroughly into the Twilight universe, the drabness of Forks and the discovery of a first love.

The only major disruption in the book was the frequent placing of speech bubbles over the characters’ faces. I found this terribly distracting and somewhat insulting to Young Kim’s art. Often there was space on the page to place the speech that would not overlap a face, making the placement that much more frustrating. Hopefully the publishers will resolve this issue in Volume 2. I also wondered while reading the book it I would have understood it or enjoyed it as much if I had not read the original novel, as it felt like a lot of the story was left up to interpretation. That might just be me, though, as I often wonder the same thing when watching movie adaptations of books I’ve enjoyed.

Stephenie Meyer states in the introduction of the graphic novel that working on this version of the story brought her back to her first experiences with Edward and Bella, writing, “The art made it fresh again.” I couldn’t agree more. Kim’s beautiful images brought back everything I felt when I first read Twilight and made me excited for the release of Volume 2. Even though I know the rest of the story I can’t wait to see the images that Kim crafts for it. I highly recommend this adaptation to anyone who loved Twilight; hopefully it will make it all new again for you too.

Mathias Malzieu: The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

This is the book trailer for The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu. I’ve seen links to book trailers before, and never thought much about them. I prefer to read the inside flap or reviews from other readers to decide if I want to read a book, and I don’t want to have preconceived images of the characters in my mind. This trailer caught my eye as it’s done completely in stop-motion, and it’s absolutely beautiful.

The song in the video, “Tais-toi mon coeur”, is performed by Mathias Malzieu’s own band, Dionysos, and also features French singer Olivia Ruiz. Malzieu is also working on an animated feature film of the book. I’m hoping he’ll go the stop-motion route for that too. If the trailer is any indication, it will be a film worth seeing. In the meantime, though, I’ll be picking up a copy of the book.

There is a version of the trailer with subtitles available also, but the images are not as crisp. You can find it here.

Review: Barnes and Noble Nook eReader

Nook!

My house is full of books. There are bookshelves full of them in my living room, my bedroom and my office, and I always have a running list of books that I want to read that I haven’t had time yet to add to the home collection. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve run out of space for more, and since I can’t imagine parting with any more of my current stash, I needed to find a solution. I’d heard about the kindle, but there was just something unappealing about the large white surface and the keyboard. It seemed, so… clinical. I like the size of my books. I like the smell of a new book, the feel of the pages, and the sound the pages make when I turn them. I like books. How could an electronic device give me that same feeling?

Last fall, as my book ownership was reaching the limit of my apartment and my husband’s tolerance, and I was sneaking books into the house and hiding them so it would appear they’d been there all along, Barnes and Noble announced that they were coming out with an ereader, a competitor to the kindle.  I’d already decided that I wasn’t interested in the kindle, but the new ereader, named nook, had a different look and feel.  It was smaller than the kindle in length and width, sized about the same as a thin trade paperback.  Instead of a keyboard, which seemed silly to me on a “book”, there was a small touchscreen that would show images of the covers of the books in my collection.  And it was from Barnes and Noble, my national book haven, the place that I could go, no matter where I was in the US, and feel at home.  It was as if the book gods where sending me help in my time of need.  How could I not at least give it a chance?

Not being one to rush in lightly, I waited until the sample nook arrived in-store to make a decision.  Excitedly I arrived at my local B&N and bee-lined my way to the giant “NOOK” sign in the middle of the store.  I couldn’t believe how small and sharp-looking the nook was, but I also couldn’t believe all the issues the salesperson was having with the display device.  It seemed to take forever to turn the pages and to navigate the menu.  I asked if the contrast on the e-ink screen was adjustable, and the staff went back and forth, unable to give me an answer.  I left frustrated, deciding to wait until some of the issues were resolved before I made my decision.

A few weeks later, on December 26th, I was back in Barnes and Noble, taking another look.  I’d heard that there’d been a software fix, and sure enough, the page turning and navigation were much faster.  I placed my order, and anxiously awaited my nook, scheduled to ship on February 2.  In the meantime, I read the nook forums an a lot of online reviews, and I started to worry.  The reviews were bad, and the nook owners had a lot of complaints – issues registering, freeze-ups, losing their pages, parts of the book being cut off, sideloading issues, etc.  I started to think I should just get a kindle.  But I waited it out, wanting to see for myself if my nook would have issues.

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