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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review - Quintana of Charyn

Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves.

Since finishing Quintana 4 days ago, I've been trying to think of a way to explain why this book resonates with me so well. Little did I know that Marchetta explains it herself in the back of the first book in the series, Finnikin of the Rock. She writes:
"I was told often that I couldn't write fantasy unless I had read all the greats and knew the conventions well, but I think the first step to writing good fantasy is knowing this world we live in well. I wanted to look closely at that world-- where loss of faith, loss of homeland and identity, displacement of spirit, and breakdown of community are common-- because these are the scenes in today's media that affect me the most."

Her words are spot on. The story told in the Lumatere chronicles feels so familiar and real because to a certain extent it is real. We only need to turn on the news to see it. But this story also has something which I think gets lost in real life. Hope. And heroism. Combining those two elements -- a real world reflection and heroic "feel good" fantasy elements-- are what make this series stand out for me.

Plotwise: With the second book in the series, it seemed as though some of the subplots were getting in the way of the main story. Not the case here. In the third book, Quintana, queen of Charyn, is in hiding and pregnant with Charyn's prophesized "little prince". Bestiano, the man after the crown, will execute her if he finds her. Meanwhile, Froi is also desperate to find Quintana. Worried for her safety, he's trying to find an army who will fight for her and bring her back to her homeland, knowing that even if he succeeds, he'll never be allowed to raise his son himself. Marchetta moves back and forth between Quintana's story and Froi's story with ease. But in addition, several subplots weave amongst these two points of view. Queen Isaboe can't let go of her hatred for the Charyn empire, and Lucien is embroiled in a complex love story as well. Somehow Marchetta manages to tie both subplots into the main plot so that by the end everything comes together. Seen as a whole, I'd say there wasn't much to the story that was unexpected. It followed a well laid and satisfying path. Individual scenes however were unique. There were definite moments when the reader is thinking, how is Froi (or insert name) going to get out of this one? The expectation is always there that he/she will, but seeing how they do it was always exciting.

Characters: By the third book we're well acquainted with most of them, but I think one of Marchetta's talents is that she lets us see "new" sides to these characters that we don't expect, like in the case of Queen Isaboe. It's hard to see Isaboe treating Quintana so unsympathetically -- we love both our heroines! But Marchetta makes a great effort to help us understand why, and then even more spectacularly, she lets Isaboe's character grow in such a way that she becomes a hero all over again (as said above, it was expected, but how it was done was truly masterful). Other characters are explored with more depth as well. With Froi, we see more of his tender side. With Finnikin, we see more of his insecurity. With Lucien, we see his stubbornness but also his willingness to admit he made a mistake. With all of them, we see a passion for life and love and kinship that endears them to us. Fifty pages into the book, I sat back and just thought, wow, to have such passion for the world, for country, for my kinsmen, for family, what would that be like? Not that I'm a cold and unfeeling person, but in modern society with friendships that come and go, a busy work life that doesn't leave much time for family, and moving around to other countries with relative ease, it's easy to feel disconnected. Marchetta's characters reminded me of how things ought to be, and how I want them to be.

Dialogue: I can't convey enough how the dialogue and humor in this story affected me. Reading along, I smiled to myself. I grinned. I even laughed out loud from time to time. My romantic bone was tickled and I sighed with contentment. So, so many good lines are present in this book, one only needs to open to any of the five hundred pages to find one. In many respects it reminded me of the movie Robin Hood in the way that the story combined high adventure with slapstick humor (in a medieval sort way of course). This series NEEDS to be made into a movie. 

Overall verdict: 10 out of 5 stars.  Even when I love a series, it is rare that I will finish the last book and eagerly grab for the first one again so that I can read it all over. With Quintana, I did. I actually finished Finnikin of the Rock two days ago and plan to move back through Froi in another week. And then, I think I'll do one more read of Quintana. There are a lot of characters in this series, and I admit that I lost track of who all of them were. A thorough read-through of the whole series is warranted. Then, maybe I'll have gotten enough. Maybe I'll be satisfied until some Hollywood movie producer gets off his butt and starts casting. Or... maybe I won't.

Final note: Special thanks to Erika Denn and Candlewick Press for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of this book!! :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review - No Ordinary Hero

The world is set to explode in three months.

The source: a lonely girl with an extreme superpower fueled by the negative emotions inside her.

The solution: send fourteen year old superhero-in-training Kale Zenith to be her friend and give her a reason to smile.

The problem? The girl trusts no one.

With the fate of the world in Kale’s hands, quitting is not an option. Perseverance is key to knocking down the many walls around her, and soon he gets to know Lindsay as more than just the girl who will destroy the planet.

But there’s trouble back home. A secret plot is brewing inside his superhero League, and it’s up to Kale to expose the traitor. But that takes time away from Lindsay when she needs him most. Can he save her and the world before it’s too late?

If you're a fan of superheroes like the X-men, Spider, Iron Men (and judging by how huge these types of shows are in the box office then I think many of you probably are) then you'll love No Ordinary Hero, particularly because Kale is no ordinary hero. What the summary fails to mention (and what we discover in the first few chapters) is that Kale really doesn't have super powers like his father and friends, and that's exactly why they need him to save the world. Neat twist, huh? The emotions that such a kid would encounter in this situation are spot on. Kale wants so badly to succeed, to show everyone that he can save them. At the same time, he's just a kid. An ORDINARY kid. No pressure there, right? He's scared and he makes some mistakes, but he learns from them and his character grows. I loved Kale, and I enjoyed all of the supporting characters too. Some of them have powers that we've seen before in DC comics, but Stone manages to give these characters unique personalities -- teen personalities -- so that they come alive and we find ourselves wishing we had friends like that.

I did think the plot went a little astray with the troubles that were brewing in the background. It seemed like they became the main focus of the book, and the story would have been a bit tighter if Stone had kept the problem with Lindsey in the forefront. At the same time, I think the subplot kept my attention and made me want to keep reading. It's just that I was often thinking to myself, but what about Lindsey? When do we get back to her (and some cute kissy scenes). :) That said, it all came together in the end, and  I really loved the last few chapters, in particular a scene with the main character's mom.

Overall, this was a fun read that I think would appeal particularly to boys (age 9 and up), though it's also fun for adults. Can't wait for the sequel!

Books of March (a little late)

OYYYYY!!!!! So I think this is my shortest list ever. Just two books. I would love to be able to say that I got a lot of writing done this month, but I can't really say that either! What's going on, you ask? Well, I've been doing a lot of therapy for the soul, writing down my thoughts and trying to deconstruct them (cognitive behavior therapy, in case you're wondering) and then I'm exercising more, and making lists to organize my life better. It's all rather time consuming, as you can see because I'm writing this six days late! Oh, and I did do a couple of amazing beta reads for friends this month, so there's that. I'm hoping to get back on the ball with my reading and writing soon, and start posting more. In the meantime, here's my list for this month.

1. We Were Here by Matt de la Pena**  This is an amazing book, and I'm surprised that I hadn't heard of this author until a friend pointed him out. His writing is very raw and very real. Most of characters are Latino. I cried in the middle. I cried in the end. I snickered sometimes and felt the most awful flush of embarrassment for the main character. Oh, and then there's Lenny. I mean, Rondell. I mean Lenny. You remember Lenny, right? The character from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men? Matt de la Pena's version of this character is Rondell, a huge black kid with a baby afro who becomes the main character's best friend. Sometimes you really wonder if the guy should be locked up. Yet, you don't want him to be because that would just be...sad. Five stars for this one, I particularly recommend it if you're looking for contemporary books with minority characters.

2. The Kill Order by James Dashner. This is the prequel to the Maze Runner series, which I really loved. This one was... meh?? It explains all about the sun flares and why the virus was released in the first place, which I think was probably already mentioned in book 3, only this one goes into more detail. The characters we've come to know in the other books are barely in this one, and the terrifying techno-monsters that really made book 1 and 2 come alive aren't there at all. Basically, it's an apocalyptic thriller about how a virus takes over the world, with the type of crazy stuff that you would expect to see in such a story. They encounter people, there's fighting, they barely escape, they encounter more people, wash, rinse repeat until the end. I can't really give this one a recommendation because it was so stinking cliche. You're better off stopping at book 3.



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