Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Matched by Ally Condie

My teaser:
"Marking time until our visit is over.  Marking time until his life is over.  Although, if you think about it, I am marking time for my own life, too.  Every minute you spend with someone gives them a part of your life and takes part of theirs."

- page 65 of Matched (ARC) by Ally Condie

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share a few 'teaser' sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away!  You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier

Title:  Heart's Blood
Author:  Juliet Marillier
Publisher:  Tor 
Genre: Fantasy
Hardcover:  402 pages
ISBN: 0451462939
Summary from Goodreads: 
Anluan has been crippled since childhood, part of a curse that has besieged his family and his home of Whistling Tor. But when the young scribe Caitrin is retained to sort through family documents, she brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows.

But to truly free Anluan’s burdened soul, Caitrin must unravel the web of sorcery woven by his ancestors before it claims his life—and their love…

  • Overall rating: 8/10
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository | Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads Shelfari | Library Thing | Visual Bookshelf

Juliet Marillier's Heart's Blood is a romantic fantasy inspired by Beauty and the Beast and set around Whistling Tor, a mysteriously haunted fortress in 12th century Ireland.  Caitrin, a young scribe whose father recently passed away leaving her at the mercy of abusive relatives, finds her way to the eerie Whistling Tor in search of work.  What she discovers there is a physically-impaired chieftain who is plagued by a dark curse and has withdrawn from his responsibilities to his people.  Part ghost story, part love story, Heart's Blood is a tale of courage and hope.  

What I Liked:
-     I have always loved Beauty and the Beast-inspired stories, and this one has several of the key elements that I adore about that fairytale - an intelligent heroine, a cursed man, magical mirrors, a precious garden with a priceless flower, and a whole host of characters bound by an enchantment.
-     The haunted hill, the forbidding castle, and the mysterious residents of Whistling Tor all add to the wonderfully dark and spooky atmosphere of this book.  I am a fan of Juliet Marillier's Sevenwaters series, and Heart's Blood reminded me once again of how skilled she is at bringing her settings to life.  It is very easy to immerse yourself in her version of the 12th century Irish landscape, to feel the threat of Norman invasion, and to find yourself caught up in the whisperings about sorcery and a mysterious curse.  In such a setting, the fantasy elements feel perfectly natural.
-      I liked the balance within the romantic coupling.  This story is about a heroine and a hero who encourage each other to help themselves and to face their own challenges with courage.  The hero must learn to accept his physical deformity without being incapacitated by it, and the heroine is haunted by an abusive past that left her crippled by fear and grief.  Rather than sweeping in and saving each other, they each inspire one another to be brave enough and hopeful enough to conquer their own demons.
-     The secondary characters are interesting and memorable.
-     Magnus, the galloglaigh hired by Anluan's father, is now one of my favorite Marillier characters.  Love him!
-     I also liked that this is a Beauty and the Beast story in which the 'beast' doesn't undergo some grand physical transformation.  Instead, the transformation centers around the fact that he must learn to see himself as an exceptional man who is worthy of love and capable of becoming the chieftain his people need, despite his disabilities and his family's tragic and discouraging past.

What I Wished:
-     This book is more than just a mystery novel about a curse on the inhabitants of Whistling Tor, but I still wish that the mystery element of the story had been much more difficult to solve.  Caitrin was generally an intelligent and observant character, but it took WAY too long for her to figure out a key aspect of the mystery that seemed extremely obvious from the very beginning of the book.  Seeing all the characters overlook or ignore so many clues throughout the story was frustrating to the point that I actually set the book aside for a couple of days.  But I enjoyed the setting, the secondary characters, and the romance so much that my desire to see how it all turned out overpowered my annoyance regarding the mystery.

Heart's Blood is a love story between a cursed Irish chieftain and a scribe trying to escape the dangers of her past, but it is also a dark fantasy about overcoming grief and despair with courage and hope.  If you enjoy fairytale retellings, historical romance, or historical fantasy, you will want to check out Heart's Blood.  If you would like to learn more about Heart's Blood or Juliet Marillier's other novels, please visit her website, her facebook fan page, or the Writer Unboxed blog to which she contributes.  You can also listen to a podcast interview with Juliet Marillier on The Villa.  I look forward to checking out Juliet's upcoming YA series, the Shadowfell trilogy, which will be published in 2012.

Read the first chapter of Heart's Blood here!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Flower Friday - Graham Thomas + Friday's Fab Five

'Graham Thomas' roses

This week's featured flowers are - 'Graham Thomas' roses!  These pretty yellow roses bloom in large, lovely clusters and smell wonderful.  This is the first time we've featured a flower that is not from our own yard, so I don't have any personal experience with growing this rose, but they happen to be in bloom at our favorite city park right now and I just couldn't resist snapping a couple photos of them while we were at the park this afternoon.  I am excited to learn more about them and am already trying to figure out if we could make space to fit 'Graham Thomas' into our yard.   To learn more about about 'Graham Thomas' roses, check out Dave's Garden's Graham Thomas page, Backyard Gardener's Graham Thomas page, or HelpMeFind's Graham Thomas page.

A few book and blogosphere updates:

1.  Our Stupid Shiny Designs contest ends on Tuesday (8/31), so be sure to stop by and enter if you haven't already!  Click here to enter.  Our Richelle Mead giveaway also ends Tuesday (8/31), so if you would like the chance to win a signed copy of Vampire Academy click here to enter that giveaway.

2.  Julie Kagawa shared an excerpt from The Iron Queen on Harlequin's Blog.  Click here to get a sneak peek of what Meghan and Ash are up to in The Iron Queen.  :-)

3.  Escape from Reality is giving away a copy of Sophie Jordan's Firelight.  The contest ends 8/31.  You can stop by to check out that contest here.
This fun meme is hosted by Froggarita's Bookcase.  Every Friday Froggarita asks five questions so we can all get to know each other better.  The only rule is that you can't use the same answer twice within your five!   Ready to play?  Leave your answers in the comments or leave us a link to your own Friday's Fab Five post. 

1. What is your favorite tree?
Jacaranda!  I absolutely love Jacaranda trees, but they won't survive the winters where we live.  We've tried planting and pampering them several times, but never with any success.  Eventually we settled for keeping a few baby Jacarandas inside (as bonsai-style houseplants).

2. What is your zodiac sign?

3. How long does it take you to do your grocery shopping?
If the kids are with me, at least an hour.  If I am alone, about thirty minutes.

4. How often do you ride a bike?
Not very often.

5. Who is your role model?
My mom.  :-)

Fragment Friday: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

This is our second time participating in Book Chic Club's Fragment Friday meme which involves sharing an excerpt of the book you are currently reading (or a favorite book) with your followers.  My 'fragment' is from the ARC of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1).  You can read my mini-review of Clockwork Angel here.  I am so excited about The Infernal Devices series, and can't wait to see Clockwork Angel in bookstores everywhere on Tuesday, August 31st.  Thanks for checking out our Fragment Friday!  :-)

Buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository Powell's | Amazon | B&N
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari | Library Thing | Visual Bookshelf
Pre-order the audio book:  (read by Jennifer Ehle - who is best known for portraying Elizabeth Bennet opposite Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy):  Amazon

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Title:  Mockingjay
Author:  Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: YA
Hardcover: 390 pages
ISBN: 0439023513
Summary from Goodreads: 
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins’s groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.
Overall rating: 10/10
Add this book to your: Goodreads Shelfari | Library Thing | Visual Bookshelf

Suzanne Collins' Mockingjay is the riveting final book of the Hunger Games trilogy.  To say that this book is absorbing seems like a massive understatement.  I carried this book around with me all day yesterday and simply could not tear my eyes off the pages.  The Hunger Games was intense, Catching Fire was gripping, but Mockingjay felt like being caught in a heartrending emotional firestorm!  The characters are brilliantly drawn, the scope of the action is broader, and the horrors of war take center stage in a remarkably vivid way.  If you enjoyed the first two books in this series or if you have any interest in dystopian novels, books about war, or stories with courageous heroines, Mockingjay should definitely be on your must-read list!

What I Liked:
-     Katniss is still reluctant to see her public image used to promote other people's agendas, but even as she is being manipulated and used, she manages to blaze her own path and make her own decisions.  She is still a practical survivor at her core, but she is also a young girl who is tormented by nightmares, wracked by guilt, and plagued by grief.  Her insecurities, fears, and sense of guilt are more apparent than ever, but I love that she consistently leads her life with an impressive amount of compassion and courage, even when bombarded by one harrowing challenge after another.
-     I expected Mockingjay to have a lot to say about freedom, justice, and personal and political responsibility, but I was surprised and emotionally captivated by this book's incisive portrayal of the horrors of war.  Absolutely haunting!  Suzanne Collins does not glorify or sugarcoat the bloody atrocities of war.
-     The potent effect of media on society and the idea that the people who control the media, control the populace are used more effectively than ever in Mockingjay.  In the previous two books, we saw the Capitol controlling every broadcast across all of Panem.  This time we get to see two opposing sides airing their own propaganda messages, and the effect is powerful.
-     Seeing compassion highlighted as one of Katniss' greatest strengths is one of my favorite themes within this series.  In Mockingjay, Katniss gains a much broader view of the whole of Panem, so we get to see her compassionate impulses put into action across a war-torn country.
-     The characters in this series learn, adapt, struggle, and sometimes crack under the stress and trauma of their situations.  A few of the experiences they encounter do irreparable damage, and every bit of that is achingly painful to endure (as it should be).  This series has never shied away from showing characters pushed to their limits (and beyond), and Mockingjay takes that to a whole new level.
-     Not only does Katniss learn more about the world in this book, but her understanding of herself and of her own power also grow by leaps and bounds.
-     There are so many poignant moments in this book, moments of heartbreak, despair, fury, and tenderness.  Mockingjay brought me to tears more than once, but alongside the pain and grief that several of the characters in this book must endure, there is an underlying thread of hope and perseverance, and I loved that.

What I Wished:
-     I wanted Peeta to have more time on the page.  I know this is a fairly selfish desire brought on by the fact that I love his character and can never really get enough of him.  There were certainly valid reasons for his lack of page-time, but that didn't stop me from wishing we got to see more of him in this final book.
-     Since this series follows Katniss in first-person, present tense, when her perspective narrows or is overwhelmed by her own situation, our view of her world also shrinks dramatically.  I'm finding it difficult to phrase this clearly without revealing spoilers, but basically I occasionally wanted to see more of what was happening all over Panem and not just focus on Katniss' corner of the world.

Mockingjay provides an emotionally powerful conclusion to one of the best YA series I've ever read.  It reveals a wider view of Panem than the first two books since Katniss' knowledge of (and effect on) life in all thirteen districts has grown considerably over the course of the series.  The war-time action is brutal, realistic, and often inexcusable in a way that makes a very strong statement.  Don't expect a light and fluffy read out of this book, but do expect to be absolutely riveted to the pages.  If you would like to learn more about Mockingay or Suzanne Collins' other books, visit her website, Scholastic's Hunger Games website, or stop by this page to see if Suzanne will be making an appearance near your hometown on her Mockingjay tour.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mockingjay on my mind ...

I am counting down the final few minutes until my local bookstore opens so I can go pick up my pre-ordered copy of Mockingjay, and I haven't been able to get Katniss and Peeta out of my head since we finished re-reading The Hunger Games & Catching Fire a few days ago.  Last night, as I was listening to music and trying not to imagine all the horrors that could be awaiting the people of Panem in Mockingjay, I suddenly noticed how much the lyrics of one of my favorite songs remind me of Katniss and Peeta.  The song is "Suppose" by Secondhand Serenade (John Joseph Vesely).  It brings to mind their star-crossed lover charade for the Capitol and how it was not entirely an act (particularly on Peeta's part).  It also reminds me of the cold nights they endured together and how they somehow made it through.  It makes me think of the way they both found relief from their nightmares in each other's arms.  And there is a sadness and desperation to this song that fits well with their separation and Katniss' breakdown at the end of Catching Fire.

So do any songs remind you of this series?  Which ones?

Do you have a time and place set aside to read Mockingjay?  Will you be staying offline to avoid spoilers until you've finished it?  I will be going into radio silence mode for the remainder of the day.  Happy reading!  :-)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Question: Does art make you want to read?

The moment I set eyes on Phoenix Lu's gorgeous portrait of Cindy Pon's characters (Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye), I was completely mesmerized by it.  It led me to think about how much lovely artwork can enhance my experience with a book and how it can make me want to read a highly-anticipated novel even more.  

Do you find yourself adding books to your wishlist because of gorgeous character art or stunning cover art?

I was already excited to read Cindy Pon's Fury of the Phoenix because I enjoyed Silver Phoenix (click here to read my review), the first book in her Kingdom of Xia series.  But seeing this portrait on Cindy's blog made me want to read it even more because I now have this captivating image of her characters in my mind.  

So today I want to share a few examples of beautiful artwork that helped put books on my wishlist, and I would love it if you would share links to some of your favorite character art or cover illustrations in the comments!  :-)  
A couple examples of character art that caught my eye:

Yue Wang's artwork featuring Ellie and Will from Courtney Allison Moulton's upcoming book  Angelfire.  A beautiful boy, a lovely girl, and two deadly blades?  I will definitely be reading this book!  You can learn more about Angelfire and find this eye-catching wallpaper on Courtney's website.   

Jason Chan's cover illustration for Ellen Potter's The Kneebone Boy.  If you've been following our blog for a few months, you probably already know that I am a huge fan of Jason Chan's artwork.  His covers for Lisa Mantchev's Eyes Like Stars & Perchance to Dream are among my all-time favorite book covers, and his cover illustration for The Kneebone Boy is equally striking.  Did you notice the boy sitting in the tree?  How about the cat's fifth leg?  Read Ellen's post about her reaction to seeing the cover art for the first time.

To learn more about each of these books, please visit the authors' websites:  
Cindy Pon | Courtney Allison Moulton | Ellen Potter

To see more of these artists' work, please visit their websites:  
Phoenix Lu | Yue Wang | Jason Chan

Friday, August 20, 2010

Flower Friday - Platycodon

Platycodon "Mariesii"

This week's featured flower is - Platycodon!  This perennial has pretty bluish-purple flowers that are also known as Balloon Flowers or Chinese Bellflowers.  They look like tiny hot air balloons that pop open to reveal lovely star-shaped flowers.  They grow on long thin stems that reach about 24" tall and bloom throughout the late summer and into the early fall.  They require very little attention, are pest-free, and bloom well year after year, but they do not spread very quickly.  If you would like to learn more about Platycodon, check out Dave's Garden's Platycodon age, Wikipedia's Platycodon page, Perennial Resource's Platycodon page, or About.com's Platycodon gardening page.

A few book and blogosphere updates:
1.  Eve's Fan Garden is hosting a chat with Holly Black, the author of White Cat,  at 9 pm EST on Thursday (8/26).  You can stop by and find out how to join that chat here.

I hope to join in because I absolutely loved White Cat and can't wait to read Red Glove!  You can check out our review of White Cat here.  :)

2.  Want to read the first few chapters of Kiersten White's Paranormalcy or Sophie Jordan's Firelight?  HarperTEEN is featuring both books in their Browse Inside BETA right now.  You can read the first 70 pages of Paranormalcy here and the first 67 pages of Firelight here.

Celebrate realistic YA with The Contemps!3.  Have you heard about the Contemps yet?  If you are a fan of contemporary YA, you'll want to check out their lovely new website and sign up for their challenge.  Twenty-one awesome authors are participating, including Elizabeth Scott, Lisa Schroeder, Jo Knowles, Lindsey Leavitt, and Sarah Ockler.