Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cover Crazy: Bitterblue

Cover Crazy is a weekly meme hosted by The Book Worms on Mondays. The idea is to showcase a beautiful book cover each week.

This week, I'm crazy about...
Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore

I'm a little late with Cover Crazy this week, but I wanted to talk a bit about the cover for the upcoming release Bitterblue, and I had a lot to say. As the release date has crept ever closer, I've realized how much more wonderful this cover is than it first seems - even as great as the first glance may be.

It matches the first two covers in the trilogy really well both in style and content. Each cover shows part of the face of the protagonist together with their weapon of choice. The cover of Bitterblue shows Bitterblue herself, almost hidden in the background. The most visible part of her face is her eye, looking through the key ring almost as if spying through a hole in the wall.

It's clear that keys are important symbolically and perhaps literally as well in Bitterblue. In addition, the keys double as weapons, which again has multiple meanings. The keys themselves may be used as weapons; or perhaps the information that the keys reveal are powerful and dangerous. Another meaning one may derive from the weaponlike keys is that one must use force or arms to unlock the secrets the keys protect. And finally, the keys (and the access, and the information) are Bitterblue's weapon of choice.

I also love the way the cover shows a mix of delicacy and strength. The flowers, Bitterblue's face, and the author's name are all delicate, unobtrusive, and slightly feminine; the keyring and the tops of the keys seem to be a nod to Bitterblue's royal status; and the weaponlike ends of the keys and the boldly placed title are references to the character's strength.

Want to know more about Bitterblue?
Summary (from Goodreads):
Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle—disguised and alone—to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

What do you think of the cover for Bitterblue?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

What are you crazy about this week?

Friday, March 16, 2012

DNF Review: Elemental: The First

by Alexandra May
Age Recommendation: Young Adult
Paperback, 280 pages
Published July 22nd 2011 by Pauma Publishing
Series: Primord Series, Book 1

Summary (from Goodreads):
Just who is Halíka Dacomé?

To Rose Frost, moving house every six months is normal. Another new town here, another new school there, her ability to adapt is as easy as breathing. But everything changes when her parents go overseas and Rose moves in with her grandmother. She enjoys meeting new friends and catching up with old ones from her childhood holidays — except now she must hide a precious secret from everyone, a gift from birth that defies modern day science.

Her dreams become riddled with a warrior woman called Halíka Dacomé, but are they visions or messages from the future? She starts her own investigation but encounters more questions than answers. Living right on the edge of Warminster in Wiltshire doesn’t help with its folklore and myths about strange lights in the sky and ghost stories of the Salisbury Plain.

Not only that, her troubles really take hold one night when the mysterious Aiden Deverill with his alluring smile, his gorgeous dark looks and hypnotising blue eyes, saves her from a freak fire. Or did he?

For Rose, her new life is beginning but she soon realises that despite assurances people are not always what they seem. What she always believed to be a happy family and a friendly town soon turns on its head when she discovers that her family secret, Aiden Deverill and the truth behind Halíka Dacomé is at the heart of the whole conspiracy.

N.B. I only got through 15 pages of Elemental: The First. I cannot speak about the entire book, only the section I read.

I must begin with a disclaimer: I rarely, rarely DNF books. Nearly always, I struggle through to the end of a book even if I am not enjoying it. In this case, however, I don't think I can get any further.

I am in a bit of a reading slump right now, and this was not the book to get me out of it. I have been putting off reading Elemental: The First since September and I don't think I can postpone it any more. I will just have to say that this is not the book for me.

The beginning reads much like a creative writing project. There is an overuse of adjectives and an overuse of similes, and even the first line is a little bit awkward: “The cavernous room was windowless.” Somehow that line seems strange, like the words don’t quite fit together. Much of the first few pages felt similar.

What really got to me, however, was the minor mistakes in grammar and punctuation. I stopped on page 15 because I couldn't take any more misused commas (there are 4 examples on pages 14 and 15) or incorrect verb/subject agreement (such as on page 15). The mistakes are, admittedly, all very minor, but  I am the type of person who gets distracted  and even frustrated by a misplaced comma (and who would notice a misplaced comma), so it was difficult for me to immerse myself in the text.

The plot, however, even from the few pages I read is very intriguing - and I'm sure I haven't even gotten to the interesting part yet. If the writing had been a little bit more polished and the copyediting more thorough, I think I would have really enjoyed the story.

Overall Thoughts: I'd love to come back to Elemental: The First at some other time, but right now, every page is a struggle, and I need to read something else.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Series Review: The Books of Bayern

When I decided to reread the Books of Bayern, I wasn't planning to write reviews for them, but I realized, as I always do when reading Shannon Hale books, that I had forgotten just how amazing they are.

The Books of Bayern are true works of art. They make me sigh, they make me laugh, and if I was one who cried when reading, they'd make me cry.

The Goose Girl
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published November 3rd 2003 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Summary (from Goodreads):
Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny. Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.

The series begins with The Goose Girl, a retelling of the Grimm Brothers tale. Hale introduces the reader to Bayern in a story as lovely as its beautiful and whimsical cover.

Ani, the Crown Princess of Kilendree, feels uncomfortable in her position throughout her whole childhood, prefering to spend time with the swans outside the palace than performing her royal duties. Stifled in the palace, she confides only in her lady-in-waiting, Selia. When, against her will, she is sent away to marry the king of neighboring Bayern, Selia leads a revolt, taking Ani's place, and Ani, presumed dead, must run away. She gets a job tending the king of Bayern's geese, and must both learn to fit in there and plan how to take back her rightful place.

There is magic in this story in that people can be born with or learn the languages of animals, people (in order to influence them), and nature, but the magic for me was not animal-, people-, and nature-speaking as much as the journey through this vibrant world and Ani's transformation from the timid and unhappy girl in the beginning, always feeling like she's done something wrong, to the strong, confident woman that even I look up to.

The characters in this story are full and I've grown to love them all. No character is unimportant or out of place. From fiery-spirited Enna to mischievous Razo, or even the unceasingly sweet Finn, I love all of these characters, and am always happy to revisit them when I reread the series.

The romance between Ani and the handsome palace guard, (haha) Geric, develops slowly and naturally. Beginning when she calms down his horse and he mistakes her as a lady and continuing so that the reader is rooting for them every step of the way.

Shannon Hale's writing is lovely, and almost poetic in that each word is in place and creates a picture of this world between a fairy tale and our own.

Minor Spoilers below for The Goose Girl

The other three books in the series, Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born, are all as wonderful as the first. In Enna Burning, Bayern's neighboring country, Tira, attacks. Enna, having newly discovered her own talent at fire speaking, must battle both the Tirans and her own self, twisted out of shape by the fire. Enna is a supporting character in The Goose Girl, but wholly worthy of a book to herself.

In River Secrets, Bayern's Own travels to Tira in order to protect the Bayern ambassador as she begins to repair the ties between the two countries. There is a mystery pervading the bright Tiran capital, and Razo, who stars in this volume, is in a unique position to discover who is responsible. Although not a strong soldier, he is "the best sling Finn ever saw" and always notices small details, so he is able to find out the secrets of the city. Razo is, as ever, delightful, and the new characters introduced to the Bayern cast, such as Dashsa and Radiance, are wonderful. Not to mention that it has the absolute sweetest scene ever – but I won't spoil it for you.

Forest Born takes the story back around to complete the cycle. Focused on Rin, Razo's younger sister, it follows the journey of a girl who must find who she truly is, much in the way that Ani had to find herself in The Goose Girl. At the beginning of Forest Born, Rin calls herself "Mama's shadow" and shifts into the temperament of anyone she was around in order to hide from herself. She leaves the forest for the first time to join Ani (Gack! I keep writing Isi!) in the castle, and joins Ani, Enna, and Dasha on a journey where they meet some unexpected enemies. Rin must then accept who she is in order to save the group.

Overall Thoughts: I'd have to say that of any books, these four have affected me the most. I've read them countless times, and they never lose any of their charm. If they seem at all your type, pick up these books. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Cover Crazy: The Humming Room

Cover Crazy is a weekly meme hosted by The Book Worms on Mondays. The idea is to showcase a beautiful book cover each week.

This week, I'm crazy about...
The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter
Click to enlarge. I found a HUGE and beautiful version.
You will want to see the enlarged version to get all the details.
The cover for The Humming Room is the type of cover that, while beautiful at first glance, becomes more and more so each time one looks at it. The detailed illustration (and I love illustrated covers) is the first thing to catch my eye, and nearly every aspect of the drawing itself both is masterfully created and demands a closer look.

Also, this is the kind of cover that you will want to keep referring back to when you're reading the book. Every detail is true to the text, down to Roo's green eyes, and both the characters and the atmosphere are captured wonderfully. Speaking of atmosphere, I love the way the cover has so much of it. It is at once mysterious and beautiful, with a hint of magic.

The title and the author fit very well in the cover. I especially like how the title font looks like it was inspired by the plants in the illustration. Also, I am very glad the cover designer included "A novel inspired by The Secret Garden" on the top. Before I was able to get my hands on the book, this one line made me very excited, and once I began reading it, it gave me a framework to fit the story into.

Want to know more about The Humming Room?
Summary (from Goodreads):
Hiding is Roo Fanshaw's special skill. Living in a frighteningly unstable family, she often needs to disappear at a moment's notice. When her parents are murdered, it's her special hiding place under the trailer that saves her life.

As it turns out, Roo, much to her surprise, has a wealthy if eccentric uncle, who has agreed to take her into his home on Cough Rock Island. Once a tuberculosis sanitarium for children of the rich, the strange house is teeming with ghost stories and secrets. Roo doesn't believe in ghosts or fairy stories, but what are those eerie noises she keeps hearing? And who is that strange wild boy who lives on the river? People are lying to her, and Roo becomes determined to find the truth.

Despite the best efforts of her uncle's assistants, Roo discovers the house's hidden room--a garden with a tragic secret.

Inspired by The Secret Garden, this tale full of unusual characters and mysterious secrets is a story that only Ellen Potter could write.

What do you think of the cover for The Humming Room?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

What are you crazy about this week?


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