Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Monday, January 21, 2013

False Prince & Runaway King: Must-Read Young Adult Political Fantasy

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the people, Conner, a nobleman of the court hatches a risky and dangerous scheme- to install an impersonator of the long-lost prince on the throne, and use him as a puppet to control the kingdom. Four orphans are recruited to "audition" for the role, including Sage- a defiant young orphan and thief, who bears a striking resemblance to the lost prince. Sage knows that Conner's motives are dubious, but he also knows that if his life almost certainly depends on being chosen for the role.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layers of deceit and treachery unfold, culminating in a revelation that is bigger and more dangerous than all the lies together.

The Runaway King, the second book in the Ascendance trilogy picks up where book one leaves off, taking readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder.

For months I'd been hearing about Jennifer Nielsen's The False Prince as something I had to read, and I was not disappointed! Years ago I was enthralled by Megan Whalen Turner`s The Queen`s Thief series, and this trilogy greatly reminded me of these fabulous books.

From the very beginning you know that Sage is different from the other chosen boys, but you just can`t quite put your finger on what. He`s a thief- and smart one. He seldom gets caught, but can talk his way out of trouble (mostly) when he does, he`s witty, nimble, and is not nearly as malleable as Conner expects him to be. While the other boys mostly fall in line with Conner`s plans, Sage will not be manipulated or controlled.

For the careful reader, there are clues- and if you follow them, you`ll understand exactly what makes Sage so different, and why he can be so confident that he will be king. I picked up on the clues pretty quickly and figured out the twist early on, but it didn`t detract from my enjoyment of the book at all.

The author does a fantastic job world-building, and the political tensions and intrigue is completely believable. You also can`t help but adore Sage, and root for him to become king. In a situation where he could have been cut-throat and done anything necessary to win, he demonstrates compassion and justness-qualities you wouldn't expect to see in an orphan and a thief.

The story moves along at a breakneck pace, and even suspecting where it was going, I was compelled to keep reading just to find out how everything would resolve itself. Calling a book clever is not something I do very often, but the plotting in False Prince is extremely clever and intelligently done, and kids will love the twists and turns.

In book 2, and I won't say much about this plot for fear of giving away spoilers, the story continues. The new king is in place, and adjusting to his role, the bad guy (or at least the known bad guy) has been taken care of, and now the politics of the kingdom and the full weight of the returned king take the focus. The book retains the quality and consistency of book one, and I found it to be equally exciting as the first. In fact, I probably liked the second book a bit better, (which is rare) just because it was so much more intense. I was very fortunate to have an ARC of the second book on hand to read it immediately after reading the first, and now I can't wait for the third book!

In an age where everybody talks about getting boys- and particularly those in 7th or 8th grade reading- Jennifer Nielsen has created a masterful pair of books full of action, adventure and danger that will keep them on the edge of their seats, and never wanting to leave this world and these phenomenal characters.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nix Minus One & Counting Back From 9: Compelling YA In Verse

It happens sometimes that I inadvertently pick similar books to read, and as I was reading Nix Minus One and Counting Back From 9, it became apparent that I'd done it again. I decided to read both of these books largely because of my affinity for these authors, and neither one disappointed. Books in verse can be extraordinarily challenging to execute well, but both of these authors rose above the challenge to create emotionally resonant and compelling novels.

Nix Minus One, releasing from Pajama Press this February, is told from the point of view of Nix- a fifteen-year-old boy who although he has recently shed some of the fat that earned him the nickname "Fatty Humbolt", still struggles to make friends and to emerge from his elementary school handle.  At home, he finds refuge in woodworking and constructing intricate boxes and furniture in his father's workshop. He also spends his time trying to avoid arguments with his polar opposite sister Roxy, who seems to radiate energy. His relationship with Roxy is explosive, but Nix would still do anything for her- especially if it meant saving her from the guy he knows is trouble. When he's not in the workshop, Nix spends his time walking and caring for Twig- a neighbour's neglected dog. When Twig is endangered and Roxie gets into some real trouble, Nix is forced out of his comfort zone and into action in order to save those he loves.

Nix's story is one of transformation. Nix is an introvert. He finds relationships difficult, and is more at home expressing himself through the things he makes. A connection he does form his to his neighbour's neglected (and possibly abused) dog, whom he arranges to start walking every day. With Twig, Nix can do what he can't do for his sister Roxy. Nix knows that Roxy's relationship is toxic, but she won't listen to him. The more out of control she becomes, the more desperate he becomes to protect Twig.

What I loved most about this book is the the way that Nix evolves.In the same way that Twig transforms from a sad and frightened animal, Nix transforms from a sad and timid boy into the knight-slaying dragon he wishes he could be. Nix finds strength he didn't know he possessed- the strength to fight for what matters and protect what he loves no matter how difficult or at how high a cost.

Counting Back From 9, (Fitzhenry & Whiteside November 2012also told in verse, is about love, loss, and secrets. Laren Oliver knows that having a romance with a friend's ex-boyfriend is against the rules, but her attraction to Scott is just too strong and she can't stay away. Laren tells herself that if she can just keep the romance a secret, everything will be fine, but she's not the only one with something to hide. In a year-long journey through secrets, lies, exposures and betrayals, Laren must find a way to reconcile who she is with what she's done. And when tragedy strikes, Laren finds herself struggling with a discovery so shocking, it rocks the foundation of her world.

Remember being a teenager and being completely obsessed with the guy/girl you know you shouldn't be with but can't stay away from? This is Laren's problem. Scott is her best friend's ex-boyfriend, (except he wasn't an ex yet when they first got together) and she knows that it's all kinds of wrong. The thing is, she needs to be with him. The attraction between them is so strong (or so she believes), she'd rather keep their relationship a secret than give him up. Of course, a secret never stays secret, and when their relationship gets out, Laren finds herself completely shunned by her circle of friends, and left alone with her feelings of guilt, regret and loss.

While she's dealing with all of this, tragedy strikes. Her father is killed in an accident, and it turns out he had some secrets of his own. Everything she thinks she knows about her family is thrown into turmoil, and Laren is forced to examine some hard truths about her own supposed relationship.

Both of these books were impossible to put down, and left me thinking about them long after I finished reading. They are emotionally engaging and thought-provoking, and the verse format asks readers to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. They deal with loss, and secrets, and figuring out who you are, and are highly accessible and appealing teenage reads.