Friday, August 31, 2012

Series Review: Stravaganza

by Mary Hoffman
Series: Stravaganza #1
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 9th 2004 by Bloomsbury (first published 2002)
Age Recommendation: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads):
In modern-day London, Lucien Mulholland undergoes chemotherapy treatments, but when he falls asleep clutching a mysterious book his father has given him, he is transported - or "stravagated" - to an enchanting 16th-century Venice-like city called Bellezza, in the country Talia. Lucien can return only if he can get hold of the book again. In this colorful other world, rich with court intrigues and magic, he feels vibrantly alive, as opposed to his pain-ridden days back in England; his hair has grown back and he eats with relish. Bellezza is also where, as "Luciano," he meets lovely 15-year-old Arianna and Rodolfo, who created the book that acts as Lucien's "stravagation" talisman. Rodolfo explains that a stravagante is "a wanderer between worlds," and also the history of this magical travel. Now the secret brotherhood dedicated to keeping the two worlds separate is being challenged by a faction with evil intent. Soon "Luciano" is caught up in their power struggle and learns there is a cost when one cannot stravagate properly.

Although the Stravaganza books may not have exceptional writing or amazingly memorable characters, I was perfectly happy reading all six books back to back and certainly plan to continue with the next books when they are published. There are three things that kept me interested in this series: the alternate sixteenth-century Italy, the intricate politics, and the dual narratives.

Much of the story takes place in Talia, an alternate version of Italy in the 1500s. I really liked this aspect of the story because there were enough references to actual Italian history and cities to either learn about the cities if one is unfamiliar or to create a fun game if one is familiar. For example, City of Masks takes place in Bellezza, the equivalent of Venice. Even though I don't know Venice, I could easily envision the places shown in the novel. The third book, however, takes place in Giglia, the alternate Florence, which I am very familiar with. In that case, it was tons of fun to figure out exactly which landmarks were being talked about (e.g. Palazzo di Chimici = Palazzo Medici Riccardi).

In each of the books in the series, the main character is a teen from Barnsbury, a town in present-day England. Each finds a talisman that transports them while they sleep to Talia, returning them to their bodies in England when they wake. This travel is called Stravigation, and those who make the journey are Stravagantes (which gives the series its name).

In the first book, City of Masks, Lucien, the main character and an especially pivotal character for the rest of the series, finds a notebook that transports him to Bellezza. From that point on, each book focuses on another character and another town. The second book, City of Stars, focuses on Georgia, whose talisman, a statue of a winged horse, takes her to Remora (= Siena), home of the Stellata ( = Palio), an annual horse race between different sections of the city. The third volume, City of Flowers, takes place, as I mentioned, in Giglia ( = Florence) and centers around Sky, who travels by way of a glass bottle. The series continues in this way through Padvia ( = Padua), Classe ( = Classe / Ravenna), and Fortezza ( = Lucca).

Usually I would be put off by all these different main characters and locations, but the thing about this series is that despite these differences between books, the story for the most part continues with a single narrative, uninterrupted between books.

Sure, after a few books it gets a little hard to suspend disbelief that the entire giant cast of characters (or most of the main players in any case) happen to travel from city to city and conveniently coincide with the Stravagante's appearance, but that is one of the things you just have to go with as a reader.

In City of Masks, the politics are pretty straightforward. There are a lot of people trying to maneuver and manipulate the situation to get what they want, but there are very clear "good guys" and "bad guys." One of the things I so enjoyed about this series, though, was that with each book, the "bad guys" gained more and more depth, until, in the most recent book, City of Swords, there are only two or three characters whom I would really label "bad." (Sure, greedy, insensitive, misinformed, etc., but not "bad.")

There's also a giant cast of characters that grows with every book. I was fine without the index of characters in the back for the first five books, but by the time I got to the sixth book, I was checking the lists and family tree constantly for the first 50 pages.

One of the few things that really bothered me about the series was the way that Mary Hoffman broke some of her own rules. In the first and second books, she established that a talisman could only take a person to and from one place. By the fourth book, this became a bit of a problem, so she spent much of the fourth book trying to find a way around this rule, and by the fifth book disregarded it entirely and had Dethridge (the authority on Stravigation) come up with a new discovery of how to travel to various cities with the same talisman, allowing Isabel to travel to nearly every city in Talia. This particular circumstance was my main complaint with the series, since Hoffman ought to stick to the rules she herself created. Once you've established how the world works, you can't just go changing it five books in because it's rather inconvenient.

Overall Thoughts: Other than my one complaint of inconsistency, I quite liked the Stravaganza books. They were nothing amazing but fun and interesting, and exactly what I needed at the time that I read them. If you're in the mood to visit Italy and would enjoy some politics in the mix, try picking these up.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Giveaway: Under the Never Sky

I'm hosting a contest as part of
Enna Isilee's Birthday Bash 2012
Presented by Squeaky Books

From August 22nd until September 22nd Enna Isilee at Squeaky Books is having a HUGE bash to celebrate her birthday! There’s a giveaway nearly EVERY DAY, tons of author interviews, and guest posts from some YA book bloggers. And I get to host a giveaway!

I get to give away a SIGNED copy of Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi! Entering is simple, just fill out the rafflecopter. THIS GIVEAWAY IS OPEN TO US ONLY! You have until September 21st at 11:59pm EST to enter. All winners will be announced on Enna Isilee's birthday (September 22nd) on Enna Isilee's blog (Squeaky Books). And today, Ennalee interviewed Veronica Rossi at Squeaky Books. You should totally go check it out.

Want to know more about Under the Never Sky? Check out my review!

Without further ado, enter to win! Click below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, August 24, 2012

Review: Bewitching

by Alex Flinn
Series: The Kendra Chronicles #2
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by HarperTeen
Age Recommendation: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads):
Bewitching can be a beast. . . .

Once, I put a curse on a beastly and arrogant high school boy. That one turned out all right. Others didn’t.

I go to a new school now—one where no one knows that I should have graduated long ago. I’m not still here because I’m stupid; I just don’t age.

You see, I’m immortal. And I pretty much know everything after hundreds of years—except for when to take my powers and butt out.

I want to help, but things just go awry in ways I could never predict. Like when I tried to free some children from a gingerbread house and ended up being hanged. After I came back from the dead (immortal, remember?), I tried to play matchmaker for a French prince and ended up banished from France forever. And that little mermaid I found in the Titanic lifeboat? I don’t even want to think about it.

Now a girl named Emma needs me. I probably shouldn’t get involved, but her gorgeous stepsister is conniving to the core. I think I have just the thing to fix that girl—and it isn’t an enchanted pumpkin. Although you never know what will happen when I start . . . bewitching.

For the most part, I loved Bewitching, but there were some aspects that felt out of place. For example, the structure of the story is very odd. The book starts with a prologue, Kendra's story, which is more or less a retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Then it moves to the main story, Lisette and Emma, in which Kendra is a secondary charcter. At the end of every part, though, Kendra interjects her own thoughts and speaks directly to the reader about the situation, which inevitable leads her to mention some other story. Then Lisette and Emma's story pauses so that the reader can spend two chapters looking in on some other tale, such as the Princess and the Pea or The Little Mermaid, in which Kendra is also a secondary character. Then, the reader is hauled back to Lisette and Emma. Overall, this format is a little awkward and, although I like these side-stories, I wish they weren't included.

Lisette and Emma's story, the main narrative, is based on Cinderella, but told from the point of view of Cinderella's stepsister, who takes a while to see the truth about her horrible and manipulative stepsister.

Emma was a girl after my own heart. I loved her and totally connected with her, and even though she a bit of a weak character at the beginning, I was rooting for her the whole time. Flinn certainly knew her audience, or else is very similar to her audience, because, as a reader, I am immediately drawn to characters who want nothing more than to curl up with a book.

I was a little frustrated that it took Emma so long to realize the truth about Lisette. It was so very heavily hinted at so many times that it began to get ridiculous that she couldn't come to the right conclusion. She was so overly trusting and forgiving. These are generally traits I like in a character, but not in Emma. It was just too much. And then, to top it all off, she was kind of a wimp about it. I know she's not confrontational, but she has no backbone whatsoever - she won't even stand up to her mom, who is trying to help her.

And Warner, the boy who has a crush on Emma? So. Perfect. Reading the chapters about Emma and Warner was like seeing all my fantasies splayed out on the page. He's not everyone's perfect love interest - he's shy, and a little geeky - but he was perfect for Emma, and reading about it was wonderful for me.

(The above paragraph I actually wrote before I finished the book, so... even though there's a big twist at the end, I wanted to keep it in. I still like Warner, even though Emma doesn't.)

The other stories were nice, but they didn't stand out to me, and while I was reading them, I was impatient to get back to Emma. I liked them both, but they would have worked better in a book of short stories than as side stories in this book.

Kendra's story at the beginning I barely got through. I was not interested in the story, in Kendra, in any of it. I couldn't get invested in the characters or the situation. I understand it was necessary to give the backstory of where Kendra came from, but it was not interesting to me. Luckily, it was pretty short, and as soon as I got to the main story, I was able to fully dive in.

Louis's story was a little better, but still was not my favorite. I liked the clever adaptation of the Princess and the Pea story, but overall I cared more about getting back to Lisette and Emma than about the story itself. For one thing, the voice of the story seemed no different from Emma's, except that there weren't constant references to TV shows, clothing brands, and types of cars. I liked how it ultimately turned out, though.

Doria's story was by far my favorite side-story of the three. A retelling of The Little Mermaid in the setting of the Titanic, it was not only clever but was quite well executed. It was just the right length, it was interesting, and it ended in just the right way.

Overall Thoughts:
Looking back on it, my review seems pretty mixed. For the most part, my final impressions were positive, mostly because of the great main characters and the clever twisting of the fairy tales, one of Flinn's strength throughout her many works. The side-stories were less interesting to me, but I'd love to read a book of Kendra's adventures if the short stories were more even, rather than having a few short stories in the middle of a longer one.

P.S. I can't stand the cover at the beginning of this review, which is the cover on my copy. The girl looks so bored, and everything about her pose, her hair, her makeup is not quite right. It also looks like a stock paranormal romance. My strong dislike of the cover was one of the things that kept me from reading Bewitching for such a long time.  I like this cover that I found much better, although it seems there was some snafu and HarperCollins decided against the image.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Austen in August Read-Along: Part 2 of 3

This year I am participating in the Austen in August event 
hosted by Misty at The Book Rat

Today I am posting my thoughts on the middle of Persuasion, chapters 8 - 18.

Now that we've gotten to know most of them a bit, discuss the side characters: who is your favorite? least favorite? Were there things Austen did with these side characters that you absolutely loved or hated?
Mary is by far my favorite side character; I find her hilarious in all her shallowness. She is just so ridiculous. The narrator's voice for her is also just perfect. The chapter where Anne switches between Mary complaining about everyone else and everyone else complaining about her was one of my favorites so far. I also really enjoy hearing about Captain Bennick. Although I know Anne is going to end up with Wentworth, I wouldn't be unhappy to see more of Bennick. 

As Anne and Wentworth are thrown together more and more, how do you feel about the fact that they never address their shared history? Do you find either to be irrational or unjust in not being open with the other and broaching the topic? Do you find Anne too self-sacrificing?
I haven't noticed it much, but now that I am thinking back, it does seem a little odd that they would not mention the past at all. I had just assumed that because they were almost always in a group, it would not have been appropriate to broach the topic. I consider it understandable that they wouldn't talk about what had happened. I could certainly put myself in those shoes. And yes, I think Anne is far too self-sacrificing. Stop being a doormat, Anne!

Is there ever a time you dislike Capt. Wentworth? Were you put off by his treatment of Anne?
Hmmm... not really. Should I be?

Discuss the incidents at Lyme; consider Louisa's fall from the cob and Wentworth's subsequent praise of Anne, the appearance of Mr Elliot and his reaction to Anne (and Wentworth's reaction to him), etc.
This part of the book seems to be where most of the action begins. In Lyme especially, the redaer begins to see the intricate politics of the whole situation, how everyone is working around everyone else to get what they want. Also, Anne and the reader both finally get some insight into Wentworth's character. He's finally becoming the hero we've been waiting for. 

Discuss Anne's arrival in Bath, considering the continued presence of Mr Elliot, Anne's reaction to her family and the way she begins to distance herself from them and stand up for herself more than she has been known to do.
Thank goodness that Anne begins to have some growth here. Being the reasonable sister is all very well and good, but now that she is getting some backbone, she is a much more interesting character. At this point in the story, I am absolutely riveted. Even though I know how the story will end, I can't wait to see how it all plays out. 

Are you participating in Austen in August?
Have you read Persuasion? Tell me what you think!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cover Crazy: Renegade

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...
Renegade, by J.A. Souders

At first glance, the cover for Renegade seems like just another pretty-girl-in-a-dress cover, but there's actually so much more to it. I love the juxtaposition of the flawlessly positioned girl and the tranquility of the garden with the rusted background  and what seems to be cracks down the window in the back, as well as the subtle touch that the rose has stabbed the girl's hand, and there is blood dripping down her fingers onto her dress.

It took me a little while to realize, but this seems like an illustrated cover. As always, illustrated covers get automatic points of awesome, but I really like this particular illustration style with this cover. I love how it looks almost real, but upon close inspection, you realize that it couldn't possibly be a photograph, just as Evelyn thinks she is certain of the reality in her world, but once she looks closer, it is proven to be something else entirely.

Want to know more about Renegade?
Summary (from Goodreads):
Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

What do you think of this cover? 
Do you agree or disagree with my analysis?

What are you crazy about this week?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Face-Off: Writing on the Wall

Friday Face-Off is a weekly feature hosted by Misty at The Book Rat

This week's FFO compares two covers with a similar concept but very different execution: Someone Else's Life, by Katie Dale, and Unraveling Isobel, by Eileen Cook. I personally prefer the cover for Unraveling Isobel, since I love how the paint loops around the model's arms. I like the composition of Someone Else's Life, but the eye-catching contrast between the model's read dress and the light blue walls is matched by the purple of Unraveling Isobel.

But now it's your turn to choose...
Which cover did it better?

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

On last week's FFO: Well, actually, there weren't any comments at all on last week's FFO, which compared the covers of The Vespertine and The UK version of The Goddess Test. Since the week before only got one comment, this doesn't seem to be a very popular feature, and as it is kind of dependent on reader input, so I think this will be my last FFO for a little while unless I get some comments on this week's or last week's FFO post (by the way, I still welcome any comments on older FFO posts, and will edit the newer ones if results change). I really like this feature, so please comment if you want it to continue! If not, you may see it return later in the year, but this is it for now.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Austen in August Read-Along: Part 1 of 3

This year I am participating in the Austen in August event 
hosted by Misty at The Book Rat

Austen in August starts today, so today I am posting my thoughts on the first third of Persuasion.

Quick getting to know you Questions:
Was Persuasion the first Austen book you read?
Yes! I have always meant to pick up Austen's works but have been daunted by their "classic" status, until now.

Is this the first time you've read Persuasion?
Yes. I am actually listening to it as an audiobook, because it is easier for me to immerse myself in the language and not get bogged down by the old-fashioned writing style.

How many other Austen books have you read?
None so far.

Will you read more of them/reread them?
Yes, definitely. I am only a few chapters into Persuasion so far, and I am already looking forward to the next Austen read-along.

BEGINNING (chapters 1-7)
What are your initial impressions of the story? Do you like the set-up for the world and the conflicts?
Well, I've never read any of Austen's works before, so I didn't really know what to expect. I loved the narrator's voice right away, as it was both easy to listen to and fit the story very well. So far I've been finding it very enjoyable and, unexpectedly, I can't seem to put it down. 

Did you find any of it hard to understand or relate to?
Sometimes I get a bit lost, in which case I usually rewind a minute or two until I find my footing again. For the first few chapters, I also read the Sparknotes directly after finishing the chapter just to recap and to make sure I had all the names and facts straight.

What are your impressions of the characters so far? Especially in regards to Anne, who is considered quite a bit different from other Austen heroines (besides being the oldest, she's had love and let it go, and now has had years to reflect on that).
I had some trouble in the beginning figuring out who was who, but that soon cleared itself up for the most part. 

Do you think Anne was right to have yielded to the pressure of those close to her - to have been "persuaded" - not to accept Wentworth's first proposal?
I don't think I know the characters well enough to say at this point. I would like to return to this question after I finish the book. At any rate, it certainly makes for an interesting set-up.

What do you make of Anne's family (and extended family, including Lady Russell), and her place among them? How do the people in Anne's life treat her, and what was your reaction to that?
Anne deserves better treatment than she receives, but everyone else in her family is so self-absorbed, it's easy to see why she is forgotten. It took me a while to realize that she was the main character, as little attention is paid to her in the initial chapter or two. I hope that at the end of the story she is able to find her place both in her family and with Wentworth. I'd say she has some growing to do before then, though. At the beginning, she is, although sweet, a bit too wishy-washy.

Discuss Anne's first few meetings with Wentworth, or Wentworth's entry into the story in general.
I am just at this part as I am writing this post (about 3/4 into chapter 7). Wentworth is still quite a mysterious character, and I can't wait to see what happens between him and Anne (although I have a pretty good idea).

Are you participating in Austen in August?
Have you read Persuasion? Tell me what you think!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday Face-Off: The Goddess Test vs. The Vespertine

Friday Face-Off is a weekly feature hosted by Misty at The Book Rat

For this week's edition of Friday Face-Off, two titles that use the same stock image are going head to head: The Vespertine, by Saundra Mitchell, and the UK cover of The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter.

The choice between these two titles is not quite as clear-cut as last week's FFO, since the two covers use the same image. Personally, though, I'd go with the cover for The Vespertine. Although I do like that red dress, the brown seems the more natural color for the dress, and I love the immediacy that cutting off the extra space at the top gives to the image. To me, the girl in The Vespertine cover seems to be in much more danger than the girl in The Goddess Test. Also, the colors in the Goddess Test cover seem to fade away past the hem of the girl's dress. Granted, it's a lower quality image, but I still like the crispness that the Vespertine cover gives even to the ground at her feet. 

And now it is your turn to choose...
Which cover did it better?

On last week's FFO: The cover for A Beautiful Dark won against Baci Immortali for its graceful line and lack of photoshopped elements, with all of one vote (not counting my own). So... yep. Thanks, Misty, for your vote!

Leave your thoughts for this week's FFO in the comments!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mini-Review: All These Things I've Done

by Gabrielle Zevin
Series: Birthright #1
Hardcover, 354 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Age Recommendation: Young Adult

Summary (from Goodreads):
In 2083, chocolate and coffee are illegal, paper is hard to find, water is carefully rationed, and New York City is rife with crime and poverty. And yet, for Anya Balanchine, the sixteen-year-old daughter of the city's most notorious (and dead) crime boss, life is fairly routine. It consists of going to school, taking care of her siblings and her dying grandmother, trying to avoid falling in love with the new assistant D.A.'s son, and avoiding her loser ex-boyfriend. That is until her ex is accidently poisoned by the chocolate her family manufactures and the police think she's to blame. Suddenly, Anya finds herself thrust unwillingly into the spotlight--at school, in the news, and most importantly, within her mafia family.

All These Things I've Done seemed really promising for the first 100 pages, but it didn't live up to its potential. In the beginning, all of these really interesting problems were set up; the world was fascinating; the characters were compelling; but the story seemed to turn off somewhere onto a side street and meander off into the far less interesting story of Anya falling for Win. Once she fell in love, everything else went down the drain.

What made this all the more disappointing was that I know Gabrielle Zevin can write a fantastic YA without falling into the regular old formula that she uses in All These Things I've Done. And to make it a trilogy with that kind of ending? That's just frustrating.

So, will I be picking up the sequel? Yeah, probably. But I will not be going in with as high expectations as I had for All These Things I've Done. It's such a shame that so much potential was wasted on such a standard YA Dystopian Romance.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Face-Off: A Beautiful Dark vs. Baci Immortali

Friday Face-Off is a weekly feature hosted by Misty at The Book Rat

My very first Friday Face-Off compares the covers of A Beautiful Dark 
by Jocelyn Davies and Baci Immortali (the Italian edition of Lips Touch: 
Three Times), by Laini Taylor. 

I personally think the cover for A Beautiful Dark is the more striking cover; although I really like how the red and black of the bird and the rose stand out on the Baci Immortali cover the girl herself seems to fade into the background. However, I would strongly recommend viewing the larger version of Bacci Immortali. The small details like the black tear tracks down the girl's face and the lace of the dress really transform the image. 

And now it's your turn to choose...
Which cover did it better?

Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cover Reveal: Story's End

Last week, Marissa Burt revealed the cover for her upcoming sophomore novel, Story's End. Although I have not yet read the first book, Storybound, I have wanted a to pick up a copy since I first heard about it. Seeing the cover for this next installment makes me even more excited.

I love the way that this cover is illustrated and formatted. The castle is awesome, and I really like that the drawbridge goes outside of the circle, inviting the reader in. I also really like how this cover keeps the style of Storybound's cover but manages to create an entirely new atmosphere.

Summary (from Goodreads):
Long ago, a King ruled the land of Story....

During his reign, Heroes, Villains, and characters of all kinds lived out Tales filled with daring quests and epic struggles. Then the King disappeared, and over the years nearly everyone forgot that he had ever existed.

Now an evil Enemy has emerged, determined to write a new future for Story. And an ordinary girl from our world named Una Fairchild must find a way to defeat him.

Una and her friends Indy and Peter set off on a quest for answers, facing warlocks, beasts, and enchantments at every turn. But Una soon discovers that the real key lies in her own mysterious ties to Story’s past—and to the long-forgotten King who may be their only hope for survival.

Storybound has been praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “richly imagined world” and by Publishers Weekly as “an appealing fantasy with strong writing and interesting characters.” Story’s End is filled with the same breathtaking action, heartwarming friendship, and timeless appeal. Readers will leap at the chance to return to this captivating fairy-tale world, which is perfect for fans of Inkheart, Gail Carson Levine, and classics like A Wrinkle in Time.

I also can't wait to get a copy of Storybound, which came out earlier year. It sounds so great! I really need to push it up my TBR. Here is the summary:

In the land of Story, children go to school to learn to be characters: a perfect Hero, a trusty Sidekick, even the most dastardly Villain. They take classes on Outdoor Experiential Questing and Backstory, while adults search for full-time character work in stories written just for them.

In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story.

But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself....

With the timeless appeal of books like A Wrinkle in Time and the breathtaking action of Inkheart, Storybound has all the makings of a new classic. Brimming with fantastical creatures, magical adventure, and heart-stopping twists, Storybound will leave readers wishing they too could jump through the pages into this enchanting fairy-tale world.

What do you think of this new cover? Are you excited to read Story's End?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!


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