Monday, November 7, 2011

The Magicians

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Stars: 4
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short: Through Quentin, chase your childhood dream of magical fulfillment in this profound, nitty-gritty grown-up fantasy.

Back-of-the-Book: “Intellectually precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater escapes the boredom of his daily life by reading and re-reading a series of beloved fantasy novels set in an enchanted land called Fillory. Like everybody else, he assumes that magic isn’t real — until he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in Upstate New York.

After stumbling through a Brooklyn alley in winter, Quentin finds himself on the grounds of the idyllic Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy in late summer. There, after passing a gruesomely difficult entrance examination, he begins a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery, while also discovering the joys of college: friendship, love, sex and booze. But something is missing. Even though Quentin learns to cast spells and transform into animals, and gains power he never dreamed of, magic doesn’t bring him the happiness and adventure he thought it would.

After graduation, he and his friends embark on an aimless, hedonistic life in Manattan, struggling with the existential crises that plague pampered and idle young sorcerers. Until they make a stunning discovery that propels them on a remarkable jouney, one that promises to finally fulfill Quentin’s yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than Quentin could have imagined. His childhood dream is a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.”

I Say:
I had high hopes for this book. Halfway through, I resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t gonna be what I anticipated. A hundred pages later, I realized it might be more. I expected “Magicians” to be predictable, fantastical and full of dark, romantic secrets.

It is none of the above. It’s “Harry Potter” meets “The Chronicles of Narnia” slapped with a big ol’ reality check. If magic were real, this is what it would be like. None of this wand action, none of this simple spells you can just spout off.

The Magicians is one of a kind. It’s bold. It’s uncomfortable. It’s mildly depressing. It’s brutally realistic. It’s the nitty-grittiest fantasy book I’ve ever read. I was completely blown away, shocked. Grossman takes the universal search for happiness and tells it like it is.

“Magicians” isn’t the story of Quentin Coldwater. It’s the story of each and every person who has wished for magic to be real. If you’re like me, you’ve, at some point, promised every greater being there is that if magic could JUST BE REAL, you’d be happy.

With “Magicians,” I vicariously achieved that wish and followed it all the freaking way to the end. And that pot of gold isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I Liked:
- Moral
- Pacing {takes place over years}

I Didn’t Like:
- Language

Audience: DEFINITELY not a kids’ book. Honestly, it’s rated R. The language is terrible, there’s a TON of sexual material, and frankly, if you haven’t lived at least a little while, it will bore you to tears.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fall of a Kingdom

Title: Fall of a Kingdom {The Farsala Trilogy}
Author: Hilari Bell
Stars: 4.5
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short: This Arabian-style story of war goes deeper than just battle strategy as you explore character, morality, and what really separates you from your enemy.
Back-of-the-Book: “Stories are told of a hero who will come to Farsala’s aid when the need is greatest. But for thousands of years the prosperous land of Farsala has felt no such need, as it has enjoyed the peace that comes from being both feared and respected.

“Now a new enemy approaches Farsala’s boarders, one that neither fears nor respects its name and legend. But the rulers of Farsala still believe that they can beat any opponent.

“Three young people are less sure of Farsala’s invincibility. Jiaan, Soraya and Kavi see Time’s Wheel turning, with Farsala headed towards the Flames of Destruction. What they cannot see is how inextricably their lives are linked to Farsala’s fate—until it’s too late.”

I Say: Judging by the back of the book, I expected the story to be a pretty generic tale of politics, “unlikely” friends and magic riddled with odd superstition.

I was wrong.

“Fall of a Kingdom” is the beginning of possibly the most beautifully crafted story I have ever read. Hilari Bell presents an organized but natural plot woven with characters that immediately settle into your soul. She manages the perfect balance between personal conflict and war, being brilliant at both character development and battle strategy.

As a writer I aspire to be just like her: skilled at both incredible characters and realistic situations. I don’t mean to be sexist, but Hilari Bell describes war and constructs believable tactics amazingly well for a girl. Maybe it’s just her secret area of interest, but I can only HOPE to be able to do what she does.

“Fall of a Kingdom” is thought-provoking, engaging, inspiring, unique, believable, and—of course—impeccably well-written.

I also love Kavi. Like, a lot.

I Liked:
- Arabian-esque setting
- Well-developed characters
- Thought-provoking moral and political struggles
- Tight plotline

I Didn’t Like:
- You all should know by now that I am one critical chica, but the only thing I can say I didn’t like about the trilogy is that it had to end. The Farsala books are some of the few that I feel I NEED to read periodically just because I miss the characters.

Audience: Nothing in “Fall of a Kingdom” is really inappropriate, although there’s some extremely mild language and occasional sexual insinuations. However, while this book is extremely well-done and I love it, if it’s not your thing, it’s just not. Don’t expect to love it if your idea of reading is “Gossip Girl,” or even “The Mortal Instruments,” which are great. “Fall of a Kingdom” is geared toward readers who like this sort of ancient kingdom setting.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

City of Bones

Title: The City of Bones {The Mortal Instruments Trilogy}
Author: Cassandra Clare
Stars: 4.5
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short: In this dark, modern fantasy, Clare brings together love, excitement, magic, sarcasm and even some fascinating Biblical aspects.
Back-of-the-Book: “When Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in NYC, she hardly expects to witness a murder. Much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with odd markings. This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons—and keeping the odd werewolves and vampires in line. It’s also her first meeting with gorgeous, golden-haired Jace. Within 24 hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in an ordinary mundane like Clary? And how did she get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…”

I Say: Bleck; the back of the book is so misleadingly generic. The Mortal Instruments trilogy is in my top three all-time favorites, and you guys KNOW how picky I am.

Basically, the story is about demon hunters, who are descendents of the antediluvian {look it up} Nephilim. They get their power from Marks {semi-permanent Shadowhunter tattoos}, which are like the Mark that protected Cain in the Bible. However, although there are Biblical aspects sprinkled in, the books are by no means “Christian.”

In this expertly-crafted trilogy, Cassandra Clare weaves together humor, adventure, love, magic, and did I mention HUMOR? Clare is a GENIUS with humor. I laughed out loud more often than when reading any other series.

Her characters are—for the most part—great, especially Jace, the dark hero, and Simon, the sarcastic best friend. Their lines and personalities are all their own; they’re one-of-a-kind and wonderful.

I do have problems with Clary, the main character, and Isabelle, another featured individual because of my issues with overly badass girls.

I really love the unpredictability of this series. I’m good at seeing what’s coming, but never in a million years did I see the twists and turns Clare put in.

I Liked:
- The hilarity
- The unpredictability
- The lack of loose ends {I hate it when things don’t add up.}
- It realistically references the Bible a ton, which adds a whole new dimension to the story.
I Didn’t Like:
- Sometimes it feels a bit disorganized, but Clare always brings it back in, so rest assured.
- NOTE: While I think Clare should have stopped after completing this trilogy, she’s writing a second trilogy about the same characters. So far, I do not like it. So my review here goes for the original three books, not the new set of Mortal Instruments.

Audience: There’s sensuality, and one character is gay, so if that bothers you…heads up. Clare keeps it interesting while keeping it balanced nicely between PG and PG-13 XD

I think everyone should read The Mortal Instruments. Chances are you’ll love it, and if you don’t, at least you’ll know what hit you when the epic movie comes out.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Top Ten Best Book Characters

This was an unbelievably difficult list to make. My original list contained 23 fabulous, complex, well-written, un-cuttable characters. But I was determined to get it down to 10. There had to be some way to determine the BEST 10. So I had to establish a couple of qualifications:

1) The character must be a teen.
{So minus Dustfinger and Scout, the list is now down to 21.}
2) The character cannot come from an already-recognized masterpiece (e.g. Lord of the Rings).
{After crossing out Aragorn and Frodo {Lord of the Rings}, and Hamlet {Hamlet} there are only 18 to pick from.}
3) No villains—I’ll make a separate Top Ten list for them.

Then I had to decide on the criteria. What exactly makes for a good character?

1) Complexity - Dimension, secrets, backstory, mystery, intrigue...
2) Realism - Yeah, right, like anyone is really like THAT.
3) Likeability - Hey, if you don't even LIKE them, how good can they be?
4) Uniqueness - Ixnay on the icheclay.
5) Voice - Are they funny? Is their dialogue clever? Does it reflect their character?

So I got to work, doing what I do best: overanalyzing. I rated every character on the criteria on a scale of 1-20 and lopped off the 8 lowest scores. Bella Swan {Twilight}, Johnny Tremain {Johnny Tremain}, Murtagh {Eragon}, Stargirl {Stargirl}, Jian {The Farsala Trilogy}, Valentina {Her Fearful Symmetry}, Soraya {The Farsala Trilogy}, and Jace {The Mortal Instruments Trilogy} were gone.

But WAIT. I love some of those characters more than the ones that technically made the cut!

And I decided that was okay. I could rethink my ratings depending on who I thought should be allowed to stay. I mean, this is my own personal opinion.

I only-a-little-reluctantly allowed Bella, Stargirl and Murtagh to be cut. I also cut Daniel {The Bronze Bow}.

Then I decided that although Art Robbins is GREAT, he wasn’t really part of the same genre as the rest of the characters. He didn’t seem to fit. I let him go.

I admitted to myself that I actually hate Valentina and am not even a huge fan of “Her Fearful Symmetry,” so I cut her too.

I was down to 12.

Next I considered Ponyboy {The Outsiders}. I loved him and everything, but he was from S.E. Hinton’s early work, and you can tell a bit. He’s a little less well-written than some of the others, although he’s great. So I took him off the list.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like letting Johnny Tremain go too, so I did.

My list of the Top Ten Best Book Characters was complete. Some of the scores were ties, so I used my judgment to place them. And here you go: the finished product:

Top Ten Best Book Characters
First Place
Tex from “Tex” by S.E. Hinton
Total score out of 100: 96
Complexity: 18
Realism: 20
Likeability: 18
Uniqueness: 20
Voice: 20

Second Place
Mark from “That Was Then, This is Now” by S.E. Hinton
Total score out of 100: 96
Complexity: 19
Realism: 20
Likeability: 19
Uniqueness: 20
Voice: 18

Third Place
Tessa from “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare
Total score out of 100: 96
Complexity: 19
Realism: 20
Likeability: 19
Uniqueness: 19
Voice: 19

Fourth Place
Will from “The Infernal Devices Trilogy” by Cassandra Clare
Total score out of 100: 95
Complexity: 20
Realism: 18
Likeability: 19
Uniqueness: 20
Voice: 18

Fifth Place
Motorcycle Boy from “Rumble Fish” by S.E. Hinton
Total score out of 100: 95
Complexity: 20
Realism: 18
Likeability: 18
Uniqueness: 20
Voice: 19

Sixth Place
Tom Sawyer from “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
Total score out of 100: 94
Complexity: 15
Realism: 20
Likeability: 20
Uniqueness: 19
Voice: 20

Seventh Place
Harry Potter from the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling
Total score out of 100: 91
Complexity: 19
Realism: 19
Likeability: 17
Uniqueness: 19
Voice: 17

Eighth Place
Jace from “The Mortal Instruments Trilogy” by Cassandra Clare
Total score out of 100: 88
Complexity: 17
Realism: 16
Likeability: 20
Uniqueness: 15
Voice: 20

Ninth Place
Soraya from “The Farsala Trilogy” by Hilari Bell
Total score out of 100: 88
Complexity: 18
Realism: 18
Likeability: 17
Uniqueness: 18
Voice: 17

Tenth Place
Jian from “The Farsala Trilogy” by Hilari Bell
Total score out of 100: 86
Complexity: 17
Realism: 18
Likeability: 17
Uniqueness: 18
Voice: 16

In case it wasn't obvious, I love all of these characters and highly recommend reading the stories that belong to them :)


Monday, March 14, 2011


Well, after two weeks of posting two reviews a week...I'm out of pre-written reviews -__- *sigh* I always do this to myself, I'm such an over-achiever XD

I'm more than halfway done with "Her Fearful Symmetry," so I could have the review up by Thursday. I'll probably wait until Monday, though, so I can also get a head start on another book.

Also, I may go to one review a week instead of two. Even *I* don't read THAT fast XD


Thursday, March 10, 2011


[Note: I've heard rumors that "Incarceron" is soon to be a movie, starring Taylor Lautner. Not sure if it's legit, but I might look into it some more and let you know ;)]

Title: Incarceron
Author: Catherine Fisher
Stars: 3.5
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short: “Incarceron” is a completely original and fascinating tale, however the plot and character development could have been improved.
Back-of-the-Book: “Incarceron is a prison unlike any other: Its inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal forests and dilapidated cities. The prison has been sealed for centuries. Only one man, legend says, has ever escaped.
Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, can’t remember his childhood and believes he came from Outside. He’s going to escape, even though most inmates don’t believe Outside even exists. Then Finn finds a crystal key and through it, a girl named Claudia.
Claudia claims to live Outside—her father’s the Warden of Incarceron and she’s doomed to an arranged marriage. If she helps Finn escape, she’ll need his help in return.
But they don’t realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost more than they know.
Because Incarceron’s alive.”

I Say: It’s rare to find a book that’s truly original. You can put an original spin on Cinderella; you can write a fantasy with vampires as good guys; you can create futuristic gadgets that MAYBE no one has thought of; but it feels like almost everything—in one way or another—has been done.

Fisher found something that has not been done before. “Incarceron” was so imaginative and original that I felt I was hearing a story for the first time. There was always more to learn, more to understand, because you couldn’t see anything coming any more than the baffled characters could. Fisher surprised me again and again.

However, Fisher fell a bit into the trap of SHOCKING CLIMAX after SHOCKING CLIMAX, almost to the point where the reader was tired of being surprised. Although the book can’t be called too short, it felt like the pacing was off.

Other things that kept me from loving the book: 1) The story is so original that it’s difficult to understand immediately. You spend the first hundred pages trying to figure out how society works, what so-and-so means, and what this-and-that is. Some of this might be intentional, but I found it a little jarring.

2) I didn’t think the character development was completely…developed. The main characters (with the exception of Claudia and maybe Keiro) fell flat. No one had a catch-phrase, an especially unique personality, or a well-developed internal conflict.

Still, those things might improve after a second read. Once I know the story, it might not feel like SHOCKING CLIMAX after SHOCKING CLIMAX. Once I’m familiar with the society, it might not seem as frustrating trying to understand. Then once I don’t have to concentrate so hard on the lingo and plot, I can focus more on the characters themselves. Maybe then they won’t fall flat.

I Liked:
- Original
- Thought-provoking

I Didn’t Like:
- Poor character development
- Lack of tight plot

Audience: “Incarceron” is appropriate for all ages content-wise, but it’s possible younger kids wouldn’t enjoy it because it’s confusing and not always immediately exciting.

I think “Incarceron” is worth the read!


Monday, March 7, 2011

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (hated)

[Note: As far as I can tell, I'm one of very few who hate this book, so you might want to try it out and see if you disagree too! :)]

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Stars: 1
Less-Than-500-Word Review in Short: Mary and her friends wander around trying to find the ocean until the twentieth climax where something finally happens and you care absolutely nothing about it.
Back-of-the-Book: “In Mary’s world, there are simple truths.
The Sisterhood always knows best.
The Guardians will protect and serve.
The Unconsecrated will never relent.
You must always mind the fence that surrounds and protects from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power. And, when the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness.
Now she must choose between her village and her future, between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded by so much death?”

I Say: Ignore the back-of-the-book. It just sets you up for disappointment.

I had great hopes for this book. The first few chapters weren’t even bad. But by the end, I was just glad it was over. “The Forrest of Hands and Teeth” took everything I hate in a book and smashed it together.

The characters were awful. From beginning to end, I couldn’t have cared less about Mary if I had tried. For some reason, all the characters seemed alike (except Mary who was uncommonly dim-witted and obsessed with finding ocean). If by chance they were portrayed differently, it was with thin, hollow, flat, emotionless, shallow words. Not the strong, colorful words that make great stories.

That brings me to something else I hate: lack of good description. I hate flowery paragraphs as much as the next guy, but I’ve got to be able to “see” what’s going on. When I read, I see the story like I’m watching a movie. Whenever I come across a book that I can’t “see,” it’s disorienting. With “Forest,” I just saw words. I could never tell where anyone was or what was going on. It was like being blindfolded.

The plot went up and down and nowhere fast. The story felt based on nothing. Lust is passed off as love. The Sisterhood’s secrets? I was like “Oh…that’s IT??” and the Guardians’ power…I never saw that at all. Things you think are important aren’t, and things that shouldn’t be are.

I Liked:
- Excellent similes

I Didn’t Like:
- Atrocious characterization
- Horrible plot
- No climax (or maybe it was several…)
- Insufficient description
- Mary is maddeningly slow
- Love is portrayed as lust

Audience: There’s some sensuality. Ryan tries to pass it off as real love, but really it’s just Mary lusting after this guy that you never get to know well enough to care about.

Imagine wandering around blindfolded with robots led by a girl who can’t recognize a number when she sees one pursuing a crayon. That’s how reading “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” feels.