Retro Friday: Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I read Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin along with good friends Janice and Holly. We all finished reading the book a couple of weeks ago but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews of it until now. I’m going to link to their Retro Friday reviews as soon as they’re up. I always enjoy doing readalongs because it’s fun to discuss details about the book with friends who are reading it at the same time. Although we haven’t been lucky with some of our other readalong choices before, we all enjoyed reading this one. Thanks again to Michelle for passing along her copy.

Here’s the summary from Karen Siplin’s website:

Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin book coverAfter one too many run-ins with irate A-List celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her luxury BMW motorcycle from California to New York, she didn’t count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by motorcycle thief. After the brutal attack, which sees both her motorcycle and camera equipment stolen, she finds herself left with only her helmet, a few clothes, and a bag of money she swiped from her attacker. Disillusioned and hurt, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons. Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who is as much of an outsider as she feels.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel with a paparazza as a main character. I found it fascinating that Jimi loves her job, not because of the money, but because of the thrill that she gets out of the chase. She’s like a private investigator – hiding in Dumpsters or up in trees just to get the perfect shot. Paparazzi are not always portrayed as nice people, you know? So it’s good to get a different kind of perspective, it felt like Jimi justified her reasons for doing what she does throughout the course of the book. When she gets tired of it all, she plans a cross-country trip on her motorcycle on the way to visit her brother. She wanted to see how beautiful the countryside in America is but doesn’t expect to get robbed along the way. I was surprised by how big an issue racism is in this novel. Granted, most of it is set in rural America but I had no idea that it was still a problem. I even checked the publication date – 2008 – which is fairly recent. I have a feeling I’ll remember this book if I ever get the idea that it would be nice to go on a road trip to explore rural America (hint: probably not a good idea when you’re a minority).

While Caleb isn’t exactly warm and welcoming, he’s a lot friendlier than other people in his town and I liked that about him. Felt like he was seeing Jimi for who she really is, instead of just looking at the color of her skin. I liked how both of them warily circled each other in spite of their attraction. It took time for them to get to know each other before they acted on what they were feeling. Both Caleb and Jimi have problems and neither was looking for a relationship when they first met each other. These two have a quiet kind of love story, focusing on how they’re both getting over the difficulties in their lives and how they’re reluctantly falling for each other. One of the scenes that stood out to me was when Jimi discovered that Caleb loves motorcycles just as much as she does and they go for a motorcycle ride on Whiskey Road. Note to self: ride a motorcycle someday. Whiskey Road is an under-the-radar novel that I’ll recommend to readers who like slow burn, complicated romances. I think I got the original recommendation for this from Angie and I don’t think I would have found out about it if not for her review. Feel free to recommend other titles that you think have the same feel as this one.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog
Angieville

Retro Friday: The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greece. It seems like such a lovely place, rich in culture and I would love to try authentic Greek food. I have no idea when I’ll be able to go though so I have to content myself with reading books with Greek settings. The Moonspinners is set in Crete and is the second Mary Stewart romantic suspense novel that I’ve read. I’m slowly enjoying going through her entire backlist.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Nicola Ferris, on leave from her job as a secretary in Athens, has been looking forward to a quiet week’s holiday in Crete, enjoying the wild flowers and the company of her cousin Frances.

But before she even reaches her destination Nicola stumbles on evidence of a murderous crime involving a young Englishman and a group of people tied together by blood and the bonds of greed. For the first time in her life Nicola meets a man and a situation she cannot deal with…

I love that Mary Stewart’s books have different settings. I may not be able to afford a trip to Crete, but I can afford to read a book about it. The Moonspinners has such an atmospheric setting and it was one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading it. I liked seeing Crete through Nicola’s eyes because even if she’s lived and worked in Athens for a year, she’s still a foreigner. The little town she stayed in is a quaint and quiet little place, on the brink of being discovered by tourists. She described Greeks as warm and welcoming, fascinated by newcomers and eager to please. The descriptions reminded me a bit of the Philippines – beautiful beaches, pleasant weather and people known for their hospitality. It sounds like a tourist’s dream place, right? It would have been if Nicola didn’t land right smack in the middle of a mystery. Being a nice person, she volunteers to help out even if those involved don’t want to endanger her.

I’m not a big fan of suspense or mystery novels but there’s something about Mary Stewart’s writing that draws me in. I’m never sure of the characters in the novel. I feel like I’m always nervous and worried for her main character, some of her scenes can really make my heart pound. And I’m never sure of the other characters in the novel – who is at fault, who is innocent and if they are hiding anything. I also like how Mary Stewart blends romance and suspense in her novels. Although I did feel like the romance in The Moonspinners was underdeveloped. I would have liked more scenes and conversations between Nicola and her man, I felt like they didn’t have enough time together. I liked the romance much more in Nine Coaches Waiting. Still, The Moonspinners is an oldie but goodie, I believe all of Mary Stewart’s novels are like that. I can’t wait to read the other Mary Stewart novels set in Greece: My Brother Michael and This Rough Magic. I have a feeling I’d enjoy reading those as well. Also, I’ve heard that there’s an old Disney movie based on The Moonspinners, I need to find a copy of that too.

Other reviews:
At Home With A Good Book and the Cat
Kate’s Bookcase

Retro Friday: Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart is one of the titles that Angie suggested when I asked her for recommendations similar to Eva Ibbotson’s novels. I’ve never read a Mary Stewart novel before so I decided I should give her books a try, they seem intriguing. I called the local bookstore and was thrilled to discover that the branch near my house had a copy. This book probably spent the shortest time on my wishlist – bought a copy on the same day I found out about it. Holly mentioned that she’s also interested in reading Nine Coaches Waiting so we decided to do a read-along. As always, it was a lot of fun reading a good book with a friend, even if we can only discuss our thoughts through online means. I think one of the perks of having read-alongs is you get to talk about spoilery details and things that you can’t mention in a review.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When lovely Linda Martin first arrives at Château Valmy as an English governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, the opulence and history surrounding her seems like a wondrous, ecstatic dream. But a palpable terror is crouching in the shadows. Philippe’s uncle, Leon de Valmy, is the epitome of charm, yet dynamic and arrogant — his paralysis little hindrance as he moves noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic man who drives himself and his car with equally reckless abandon, seems able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul is an enigma — though irresistibly attracted to him, she senses some dark twist in his nature. When an accident deep in the woods nearly kills Linda’s innocent charge, she begins to wonder if someone has deadly plans for the young count.

Linda is a very lonely young woman. Brought up as an orphan in England, she dreams of going back to her beloved France and jumps at the chance to work as a governess in a chateau located in the French alps. I thought the writing in Nine Coaches Waiting was beautiful and I was charmed by the atmospheric setting. Here’s a passage that I really liked:

“I’d live with loneliness a long time. That was something which was always there… one learns to keep it at bay, there are times when one even enjoys it – but there are also times when a desperate self-sufficiency doesn’t quite suffice, and then the search for the anodyne begins… the radio, the dog, the shampoo, the stockings-to-wash, the tin soldier…”

Linda forgot to include books, which are the best anodyne (had to look up the meaning of that word) for loneliness. It’s not surprising that she bonds with her charge, Philippe, who is also an orphan. Young Philippe may be a count but it sure doesn’t make his life easier. His Uncle Leon and Aunt Heloise may be interesting individuals but they aren’t exactly warm people – I was glad that he slowly became friends with Linda so that there was at least one adult who cared about him. When Raoul de Valmy enters the picture, the novel takes on a Jane Eyre and Cinderella feel. What’s even more delightful is that Linda was aware of it and kept making references to both stories. There’s a slow build-up at the start of the novel, plenty of time to enjoy the writing and get to know the characters. While the mystery wasn’t that surprising, the last few chapters had my heart pounding. I was scared for both Linda and Philippe and I wasn’t sure about a certain character’s innocence. There are enough twists and turns in novel to keep readers guessing. I breezed through the latter section of the book and was more than satisfied with how things ended although I wanted more of the romance. Don’t get me wrong, I think the romance was developed well but I just wanted more scenes between the heroine and her hero.

Nine Coaches Waiting is the first book that I finished this year and if all of the books that I read in 2012 are just as good, I would be one happy reader. Recommended for fans of Gothic mysteries and romantic suspense. I enjoyed reading Nine Coaches Waiting so much that I knew it wouldn’t be the last Mary Stewart book that I’ll read. I’m looking at My Brother Michael or The Moon-Spinners for my next Mary Stewart read because both books are set in Greece and I’ve always wanted to go there. Feel free to recommend your favorite Mary Stewart, would love to check them out!

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Angieville
She Reads Novels
At Home With A Good Book and the Cat
Everyday Reading

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve noticed that I’ve posted at least one Retro Friday review per month this year but I still don’t have one for December. I don’t want to break the streak so here I am, squeezing one last review before the year is out. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn, the first book in the Lady Julia series, seems like the perfect choice for this. I used to read mysteries back in high school because I just borrowed anything that I could from friends. I think I was never really into it because I thought some of the aspects of mystery novels, such as murder, are creepy and I’m a scaredy-cat. I was looking for a cozy read this December and I’ve heard such good things about the Lady Julia Grey series that I decided to pick it up. Also, the second book in the series is set during Christmastime so it’s the perfect read for this time of the year.

Here’s the summary from Deanna Raybourn’s website:

“Let the wicked be ashamed. Let them be silent in the grave.”

These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward’s death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward’s demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

This book has a winner of a start. Here are the first few lines:

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

Those lines immediately make you curious as a reader and you can’t help but be drawn into the story. I was determined to find out who this Nicholas Brisbane was and why Lady Julia’s husband was twitching on the floor. December is such a busy time of the year so I read this book in bits and pieces. I remember there was one time when I read this in a coffee shop while waiting and some of the scenes had me smiling (another moment of crazy person smiling to herself while reading on her Kindle). I was frustrated that I didn’t have enough time to read the past few weeks because I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know both Julia and Nicholas Brisbane in this first novel. Smart and sassy Julia, who slowly starts to come out of her shell after her husband passes away. And the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane – tall, dark, brooding and with an unusual past. These two are forced to work together to solve the mystery surrounding the death of Julia’s husband.

There are so many delightful aspects of this novel that just worked for me: the wild and unconventional March family, the banter and hint of romance between Julia and Brisbane, the plot that unexpectedly twists and turns. This is a novel (or series) that makes you invest in the characters. I loved Julia’s relationship with her father and I also loved that the Earl is such a liberal and open-minded person for someone living in the Victorian era. I also liked seeing how Julia relates to her sister Portia and her youngest brother Valerius. I have a feeling each book in the series will feature a different March sibling because Julia HAS nine siblings and I’m looking forward to that. I did guess who the murderer was but was completely blindsided by the reasons behind it. I gobbled this up as soon as I had free time on my hands and it made me happy that I finished it and started the second book just in time for Christmas. Silent in the Grave is a good start to a promising series. I’m glad that Deanna Raybourn has a backlist that I can look forward to. Yes to more Julia and Brisbane being partners in solving crime.

So that’s my last Retro Friday post for the year, which was mostly inspired by Angie’s lovely review of Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier (one of my favorite novels). I told her that I should up my game next year and should aim for at least two Retro Friday books per month. Old titles are awesome, you know? And I’m always interested in recommending under-the-radar books. Anyway, hope the rest of you are enjoying the year-end festivities! 🙂

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog
Good Books and Good Wine
Tempting Persephone

Retro Friday: The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

I’ve had my copy of The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope since 2007 and I only got to read it recently. I don’t know why I kept putting it off but I’m glad I finally picked it up. I’ve heard such good things about it and I believe I got the original recommendation for this from Sounis. I’ve been meaning to put up a Retro Friday post for a while and since this is an oldie but goodie, it seemed perfect for the meme.

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

In 1558, while exiled by Queen Mary Tudor to a remote castle known as Perilous Gard, young Kate Sutton becomes involved in a series of mysterious events that lead her to an underground world peopled by Fairy Folk — whose customs are even older than the Druids’ and include human sacrifice.

Kate is a lady’s maid to Lady Elizabeth, sister to the Queen Mary. She is exiled to a remote castle called Perilous Gard when her beautiful but clueless sister, Alicia, writes a letter that doesn’t sit well with the Queen. Poor Kate, it’s not even her fault why she ends up in Perilous Gard. But I guess that it’s a good thing because instead of being bored like she expected, she becomes tangled in the doings of the Fairy Folk in the area. I’ve read a couple of fairy novels this year but The Perilous Gard is different from anything else that I’ve read. For one thing, it’s more historical fiction than fantasy unlike other novels that have fairies in them. In that sense, I felt that the portrayal of the Fairy Folk in the novel was realistic. This is also a Tam Lin retelling and that made things more interesting. It’s funny because the ballad of Tam Lin is actually mentioned in the book. The Perilous Gard is a lovely story and is a classic for fans of fairy stories. I think this was the book that I was reading around Halloween and it was perfect because it’s a bit dark and eerie. Be sure to pick this up if you’re into fairy reads because it’s a welcome break from the more modern fairies in urban fantasy novels nowadays.

Kate Sutton is a heroine that I really liked – she’s not as pretty as her sister Alicia but she’s a lot more intelligent. She’s sarcastic, witty and I enjoyed reading the banter between her and Christopher Heron, the younger brother of the owner of the castle. I know a couple of my bookish friends are fans of the romance between these two but for some reason, I didn’t feel that Christopher Heron was swoon-worthy. I thought that there was more friendship than romance between these two. So that probably says something about the development of the love story – it’s a slow burn kind that forms after countless conversations and the characters have gotten to know each other really well. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t more into it. Maybe I would have loved it more if I read the book when I was younger. My lukewarm reaction to the romance didn’t prevent me from enjoying the book as a whole. Like I said, I recommend this for fans of fairy stories or retellings of Tam Lin.

I was pleasantly surprised by the illustrations included in the novel. As always, I love including pictures of illustrations in my reviews so here are some of them:

I’m so glad I got to publish a Retro Friday post this week! I’ve been trying to write this for the past couple of weeks but I haven’t gotten around to it. Anyway, hope you all have a great weekend and let me know if you’ve read this book and what you thought of it. And if you have any other recommendations for Tam Lin retellings that I should know about.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Spines and Soles
dreaming out loud
things mean a lot

Retro Friday: The Thirteenth House by Sharon Shinn

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

The Thirteenth House is the second book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. Reading order: Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate. Should the books be read in order? Yes. Also, don’t read any of the synopses of the latter books if you haven’t read the earlier ones. Don’t even read the summary for this book because it contains spoilers. I made the mistake of doing that and I think I would have had a better reading experience if I had no idea of what was going to happen. Mystic and Rider focused on two of the six companions in the Twelve Houses series, Senneth and Tayse. The Thirteenth House is all about the serramarra Kirra and there’s a bit about Donnal too because he’s always beside Kirra.

The novel starts with an adventure for Kirra, Donnal, Justin and Cammon. They’ve been requested by the king to rescue an important figure in the realm. Kirra is her usual fun-loving self although she manages to pull off being serious in the face of danger. I really liked Kirra’s character and I was looking forward to reading more about her. She’s such a vibrant character, so full of life. I did enjoy the fact that the other characters were present in this one, makes me feel like the characters are old friends. We get to know more about them as the whole gang tags along with Senneth as she accompanies the princess to tour the realm. Like I said, I liked Kirra’s personality but I didn’t think she made wise decisions in matters of the heart. I couldn’t root for her romance and was actually wondering how Sharon Shinn would pull off the ending. I was satisfied with the book as a whole. I still haven’t fallen in love with the series at this point but I like it well enough to continue with the rest of the books. I would have liked to have more of Donnal in Kirra’s story since he doesn’t get to have his own book. I feel like we don’t get to know enough about him.

In the first book, readers saw the Twelve Houses world through the stealthy travels of the companions. In this book, readers are given a glimpse of the nobility, the fine houses that they live in and the political intrigue that’s tied with their way of life. The plot hinting at possible war continues with the added complication of members of the Thirteenth House, the lesser nobles of the Houses. This is the kind of series that makes you want to read the books one right after the other to grasp the overall story arc. Also, when you’ve invested in the characters, you just want to stick with them until you reach the end of their story. I’m actually in the middle of the third book, which is about Justin, but I’ve been put it on hold to read some other things. I hope to get back to it soon. Recommended for epic fantasy fans who enjoy reading series.

Other reviews:
Songs and Stories
Rosario’s Reading Journal
The Melander Bookshelf

Retro Friday: Mystic and Rider by Sharon Shinn

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Mystic and Rider is the first book in the Twelve Houses series by Sharon Shinn. I enjoyed reading the Samaria series by the same author and Archangel is one of my favorite books. I think I’ve read more contemporary titles than fantasy this year so I find myself wanting to read more of the latter. I decided it would be a good idea to give this series a try.

Here’s the summary from Sharon Shinn’s website:

The fire mystic Senneth crosses the country of Gillengaria on a mission for the king, trying to discover if noble marlords from the Twelve Houses are planning an uprising. She is accompanied by the soldiers Justin and Tayse, two King’s Riders who are unswervingly loyal to the crown. Also on the journey are the shape-changers Kirra and Donnal, and a young mystic named Cammon who can practically read minds. It’s soon clear that not only are marlords planning a rebellion, but that they are being aided by Daughters of the Pale Mother, a fanatical religious sect that hates mystics. While Senneth can clearly take care of herself, Tayse finds himself unable to stop watching her — determined both to protect her and to uncover her secrets.

And an interesting tidbit from the author: The thing that most people seemed to find disappointing about the Samaria books was that they didn’t follow the same people through successive storylines, so from the outset I planned the Twelve Houses books as a series about six main characters. I gave Senneth my own headaches just so I could share the pain.

I like the idea that the entire series features one group of characters. I’ve actually finished reading the first two books but I’ll review the second one after this. Just like the Samaria books, each of the Twelve Houses books features a romantic couple. I guess it’s pretty obvious from the title Mystic and Rider who those two are. Senneth is a mystic, a person with magical abilities, and she can control fire while Tayse is a King’s Rider, a member of the elite guard dedicated to serving the crown. It’s easy to like both Senneth and Tayse – the former for being a strong female protagonist who has a mysterious past and the latter for his loyalty and willingness to serve and follow his king’s commands. I actually guessed Senneth’s heritage way before it was revealed but I didn’t mind knowing it early.

I liked that the point of view changes from Senneth to Tayse and back again because we get to see how both characters think. I also like that this series deals with the same set of characters. I felt like this first book was an introduction to the six companions – Senneth, Tayse, Justin, Kirra, Donnal and Cammon. I obviously liked the first book well enough to start the second one right away. While I felt that the romance in Mystic and Rider was more quiet and restrained than I’d like, I understood that it reflected the personalities of the two individuals involved. Like a friend on Goodreads mentioned, Senneth and Tayse become the mother and father figure of the group because they’re several years older than the other characters. They’re both older, wiser and more subdued than the rest of the group.

The same goes for the worldbuilding, I felt that this book introduces readers to the world of Gillengaria, where the nobles (and the ruling class) come from Twelve Houses. The companions travel all over the country to gather information for the king. The readers get to know more about the nobles and a possible uprising because of the growing distrust against mystics. Because the books were meant to be read in order, the plot will make you want to read one book right after the other to get more information not just about the characters but about the fate of the kingdom. While I wasn’t blown away by the first book, I think the Twelve Houses series looks promising and I recommend it for fans of epic fantasy looking for a solid series to read.

Other reviews:
Dear Author
ArtSeblis
Songs and Stories
Cookies, Books and Bikes

Retro Friday: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I can’t believe I’ve never featured Kristin Cashore’s books here on the blog. She only has two books out, Graceling and Fire, but she’s already on my list of auto-buy authors because both books are awesome. I think I never reviewed her books because I felt that they got enough attention from the blogosphere. But I’m determined to write reviews for all the books included in my list of favorites so here we go.

Here’s the summary from Kristin Cashore’s website:

Graceling is the story of Katsa, who has been able to kill people with her bare hands since she was eight. Katsa lives in the seven kingdoms, where very occasionally, a person is born with an extreme skill called a Grace. Gracelings are feared and exploited in the seven kingdoms, and none moreso than Katsa, who’s expected to do the dirty work of torture and punishment for her uncle, King Randa. But then she meets a mysterious stranger named Po, who is also a Graced fighter and the first person ever to challenge her in a fight. The two form a bond, and each discovers truths they never imagined about themselves, each other, and a terrible danger that is spreading slowly through the seven kingdoms.

Graceling was published back in 2008, a few years before I started the blog and I remember I got the recommendation for it from Sounis. I was so excited to read it but it wasn’t initially available in local bookstores so I asked a friend to get a copy for me from the States and I’m glad she said yes. Graceling became one of my favorite discoveries that year. Gracelings are humans who have a highly specialized skilled called a Grace. Graces come in all forms – it can be as simple as being Graced as a cook to as unusual as Katsa’s Grace of fighting. All Gracelings have mismatched eyes – Katsa has one green eye and one blue. That’s the only way they know a child is a Graceling, through his or her eyes and they never know what the Grace is until it manifests itself in some way. Katsa discovers her Grace when she accidentally kills a man when she was just a young girl.

Katsa is the kind of YA fantasy heroine that I enjoy reading about. Strong female protagonists for the win! Katsa’s physically strong, she could probably kill using just her pinky, but she’s also an emotionally complex character. She reminds me of characters in books by Robin McKinley, Sherwood Smith and Tamora Pierce. If you’re a fan of those three authors and you’ve never read this book then I highly suggest that you get a copy as soon as you can. Katsa’s uncle, King Randa, takes advantage of her fighting skills by employing her as his own personal thug. At the start of the book, Katsa really believes that she’s nothing more than a thug even though she hates doing her uncle’s dirty work. She doesn’t believe she’s capable of building relationships so she keeps people at arm’s length. As she learns more about herself and her Grace, Katsa also starts to trust other people. I was totally on board the romance as well, I didn’t think it was instant love and I liked that they were friends first before they were romantically involved.

I remember that Graceling was pretty hyped the year that it came out. I had high expectations after all the trouble that I went through to get a copy and I wasn’t disappointed. Graceling has everything that I look for in my YA fantasy reads: a unique world that I can get lost in, a court setting with political intrigue, characters who change and develop throughout the course of the book and relationships that take time to form. Writing this review has reminded me that I should read more epic fantasy, I think I’ve been reading more contemporary novels this year. Fire is also an amazing book but in a different way and I’m planning to write a review for that as well. I seriously cannot wait for Bitterblue to be published, I’m going to pre-order that as soon as there’s a release date.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
Angieville
By Singing Light
One More Page
Good Books and Good Wine

Retro Friday: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

It’s no longer Friday here in Manila but what the heck, it’s still Friday in other parts of the world. I thought it would be fitting to feature Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for Retro Friday since it’s a contemporary YA book that comes highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, who hosts this weekly meme. Aside from Angie’s review, the title and the premise made me curious and I didn’t hesitate in buying a copy when I discovered that it’s available in local bookstores.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When Sarah Byrnes was three years old, her condition became synonymous with her surname. Her face and hands were badly burned in a mysterious accident, and her father refused to allow reconstructive surgery. She developed a suit of cold, stainless steel armor to defend herself against the taunts of a world insensitive to her pain. You enter into Sarah Byrnes’s world on her terms, or you don’t enter.

Enter Eric Calhoune – Moby to his friends. Eric passed through his early years on a steady diet of Oreos and Twinkies and root beer floats, and he sports the girth to prove it. Because of their “terminal uglies,” he and Sarah Byrnes have become true masters in the art of underhanded revenge directed at anyone who dares to offend their sensibilities.

When Eric turns out for the high school swimming team, he begins to shed layers of extra poundage. Fearing the loss of the one friendship he treasures, he gorges to “stay fat for Sarah Byrnes,” who discovers his motive and threatens to beat him more senseless than she thinks he already is. Then the truth of Sarah Byrnes’s horrific past finally catches up with her.

Oh boy, was this book full of issues or what. I think all of the usual teenage problems today were featured in Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. It’s the kind of book that you can give to any teenager and say, “Here, read this. Learn from it.” Don’t let that dubious cover fool you, the inside is so much better than the outside. This book has been out for a while and I don’t know why they haven’t come out with a better cover for it. Eric and his friend Sarah Byrnes (she insists on people using her full name) are very smart and intriguing characters.

I thought it was great that Eric’s swim coach, Mrs. Lemry, has a class called Contemporary American Thought and that it encourages students to dig deep inside and discuss the things that really matter in life. Their discussions revolved around religion, the value of life and anything else that seemed relevant to member of the class. Not the usual thing when it comes to contemporary YA books, right? What’s amazing about this class is that it doesn’t matter what the students believe in, there’s no right or wrong opinion, just as long as they share their thoughts. Teenagers can rarely have conversations like those with friends or family, which is a shame since I think that kind of thing is important. It would have been amazing if I had a class like that back in high school, I can say with all honesty that I would’ve loved discussing topics like those. I’m sure that this book would have made an impression on my teenage self if I read it back then.

I love romantic contemporary YA with swoon-worthy characters as much as the next girl. But when it feels like so many of the books that I read follow that formula, it’s refreshing to pick up a book with a different point of view: that of an intelligent teenage boy who has lived his life mostly on the sidelines. There is a bit of romance in the book but it really wasn’t the focus of the story. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is a book that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to male friends and it definitely deserves to get more attention. I haven’t seen reviews of this in the blogosphere so please pick it up if you get the chance, more so if you’re a fan of contemporary YA novels. I was actually surprised when I found a copy locally because I thought it wasn’t readily available because of the lack of reviews.

Retro Friday: Clockwork Heart

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I already posted about how I was able to get a copy of Clockwork Heart but in case you didn’t see it, Janice of Janicu’s Book Blog generously sent me a copy when she found out that I was interested in reading this book.

Here’s the summary from Dru Pagliassotti’s website:

Taya soars over Ondinium on metal wings. She is an icarus — a courier privileged to travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. But even she can’t outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Forlore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on the governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharp-tongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in Ondinium’s lowest sector. Both hide dangerous secrets, in this city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart…

I was confused for the first few pages of Clockwork Heart because it took me a while to be fully immersed in the worldbuilding and to understand the terms that go with it. This steampunk novel is set in a fictional country where there’s a strict caste system. Only the icarii, couriers who can fly using metal wings, can move freely across all castes. It’s funny because I’m afraid of heights but I would love to try flying using those icarus wings. Taya is an icarus who suddenly gets involved in Ondinium’s politics when she rescues the wife and son of one of the country’s most powerful leaders. Taya was an easy character to like, she’s a no-nonsense type of person who strives to be the best that she can be in her job. She loves to travel, which is fitting since she’s an icarus, and longs to be assigned as an envoy in other countries. Another character that I liked right from the start is grouchy, sarcastic Cristof who’s the exact opposite of his handsome and charming brother Alister. Cristof is a member of the highest caste in the country but he chose to turn his back on his prestigious lifestyle. He works as a clockwright instead because he’s fascinated with the inner workings of clocks and other mechanical devices. I think he’s the steampunk equivalent of a nerd and I found him endearing. Cristof’s geeky charm trumps Alister’s suave moves. Another intriguing aspect of the novel is the relationship between these two brothers and how they do what they can for the other person even though they have such different views in life.

There were some parts of the novel that went way over my head like the mechanics of the icarii’s metal wings and the discussions about programming and subroutines. Programs what? But those things didn’t pull me out of the story so I didn’t really mind them. There’s a lot of action, some mystery and political intrigue in Clockwork Heart, which made it such a fun book to read. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that I enjoyed reading this because I’m a fan of political intrigue in fiction. You really don’t have to be into steampunk to like this novel and I have a feeling most fantasy fans would take pleasure in reading Clockwork Heart. I was able to predict one of the plot points and had an “I knew it!” moment but all of the other events were a surprise. It’s only the middle of the year but I have a feeling that this book will make it to my best of 2011 list. I really don’t understand why it’s out of print. I heard that there’s a second book in the works and I’d love to read that as soon as it becomes available. Read this if you get the chance, it deserves to get more attention!

Other reviews:
Janicu’s Book Blog
Angieville
See Michelle Read
The Book Smugglers