Book Review: The Forever Song

safehTitle: The Forever Song
Author: Julie Kagawa
Genres: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available April 15

Summary: VENGEANCE WILL BE HERS

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster?

With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.

MONSTER

Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions—her creator, Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost—the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, triumph is short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone. (Via Amazon)

Review:
One wouldn’t think a book whose primary theme is family would be about killer vampires, but one would be wrong because with “The Forever Song,” Julie Kagawa finishes her epic Blood of Eden trilogy with a novel focused on family. If you read “The Eternity Cure,” you know that Allie, Jackal and Kanin make a good team, but in this novel, you get to experience them interact as a “family”.  And OMG is it hilarious! Allie and Jackal are the typical big brother and kid sister who love to hate each other, with Jackal getting some good zings in. And poor Kanin is the exhausted parent on the family road trip who puts up with the kid’s shenanigans until a certain point and then threatens “Do you want me to pull over” to calm everyone down. I loved the fact that despite being ferocious killers, Kagawa really humanizes the three with this familial , especially Jackal and Kanin, so by the end, the three of them are really a picture of a functional family.

Of course The Forever Song, being a novel with vampires and dealing with a crazy vampire such as Sarren, has “happy” times are equally punctuated by events that just hurt. I can’t go into detail without giving spoilers, but I can say there were a few moments in the novel where my heart broke. There were also a few times where I thought, “Should I really be eating while I’m reading this?” Kagawa does not insult her readers by holding back on descriptions of violence and I respect that quality of hers. The world that Allie lives in is desolate and dangerous with the struggle to survive in a land filled with raiders, psychotic vampires and rabids.

Lastly, one theme I really enjoyed throughout this book, and the series, is the concept of being human. Kagawa truly explores this concept by having Allie deal with the loss of Zeke, her link to humanity, and her struggle to maintain the monster she knows lurks beneath the surface. The questions that Allie ponders, and is challenged by Jackal, and encouraged by Kanin, really give a balance to the deep philosophical questions most of us would have if we were facing the end of our known world.

I’m sad that the Blood of Eden trilogy has come to an end because I greatly enjoyed the world that Kagawa created and being inside Allie’s head for a short time. While the novel ends in such a way that the story is finished, there is room for more. Ms. Kagawa, I’m not quite ready to leave Allie behind; is there a chance we’ll ever visit her again? Please?

Recommendation: You better go buy this book on April 15!

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Review: The Shadow Hero

heroTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second
Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 176
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: July 15, 2014, but digital issues are being released monthly until then.

Summary: In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore. Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

Review: After reading an interview with the creators of The Shadow Hero, I couldn’t wait to get it into my hands. Fortunately, it turned up on Netgalley so I only waited two months. The Shadow Hero was worth every bit of that time though.

Yang and Liew have taken a super hero from the past and built a backstory for him that combined Chinese American culture, a tiny taste of the supernatural, and a rather colorful mother. She is not the most nurturing person, but she had other strengths. She certainly provided comic relief. I have seen women keep money, keys or other random things down their shirts, but this was my first experience with storage of pork buns in that particular location. We get to know her early in the story because Yang starts the backstory way back – before the boy who would become The Green Turtle is even born.

What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end. I have not been a reader of many superhero comics. That just never was my genre of choice, but Yang and Liew are winning me over. This comic was extremely entertaining.

Like Yang’s previous work, there are some potentially offensive racial slurs, but they make sense for the time and place. The mother is also quite  exaggerated, but she grew on me in spite of her obsession and dangerous single-mindedness.

As for the illustrations, Liew wowed me. I am relatively new to the comic/graphic novel scene, but it seemed that Liew used a color palette pointing to an earlier time. That would make sense with this resurrection of a superhero from the 1940s, but it could just be his style. There were many shades of brown and most colors appeared a bit muted especially in the beginning when they were setting the stage. It made me feel like I had stepped back into time. The artwork was also fantastic. The reason I didn’t read a lot of comics in the past was that pictures slow me down. I am a plot fan and want to know what happens next. Right now. I zip through the words and tend to ignore illustrations. These pictures required me to take my time and pay attention, but I didn’t mind in the least. Liew added so much life and personality to each of the characters and the surroundings were rich in detail. To see for yourself, there is an excerpt available here. Gene Luen Yang also provides some background on the creation of the book here which includes the text, rough sketches, and final images of the first few pages. Sonny Liew also gives some background information on his blog.

Finally, as an added bonus, the hardcopy includes a section at the end that provides facts and rumors about the original comic that was created back in the 1940s. It also includes pages from the original. I have to admit, I enjoyed the updated version significantly more, but I appreciated the history involved.

To hear about this collaboration, watch this video.

Recommendation: Buy it now or at least as soon as it is possible. The first issue is available now digitally and the second issue will be released on March 18th. The digital copies look amazing so I would recommend them as they are released. Otherwise, get the hardcopy in July. I will be singing the praises of The Shadow Hero for quite some time and I hope that this is not the last we see of the Green Turtle.

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Review: For Today I Am a Boy

for today i am a boy

 

Title: For Today I Am a Boy
Author: Kim Fu
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 256
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: January 14th 2014

 

 

 

 

Summary: Peter Huang and his sisters—elegant Adele, shrewd Helen, and Bonnie the bon vivant—grow up in a house of many secrets, then escape the confines of small-town Ontario and spread from Montreal to California to Berlin. Peter’s own journey is obstructed by playground bullies, masochistic lovers, Christian ex-gays, and the ever-present shadow of his Chinese father.
At birth, Peter had been given the Chinese name juan chaun, powerful king. The exalted only son in the middle of three daughters, Peter was the one who would finally embody his immigrant father’s ideal of power and masculinity. But Peter has different dreams: he is certain he is a girl. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ll be honest. I was hooked in by the cover design, which is gorgeous. (It looks even more beautiful in person.) When I read the description, I thought — I’ve got to read this. I read For Today I Am a Boy on a three hour train ride. When I got off the train, I still had the last quarter of the book to go, so I walked about the city in a daze, still reading.

For Today I Am a Boy matches its cover — it’s beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. The story of Peter’s life, from her childhood to her thirties, is told in a series of memories, conversations, and moments all woven together. While far from straightforward and linear, it’s still very easy to fall into the rhythm and flow of the story.

At first glance, For Today I Am a Boy seems to be an issue novel about growing up as a transgender girl, but it’s not quite that. Though Peter yearns to be the girl she knows she is, the pressure and influence of her father forces her to conform to his standards of masculinity, even as her sisters’ flee from their father’s control. This is a story as much about sisterhood and culture as it is about gender identity. Fair warning, the book is incredibly grim for a large part of the book (despite an ambiguously happy ending). Do not read this as a pick-me-up.

I would hesitate to say that For Today I Am a Boy is strictly Young Adult literature, but I wouldn’t call it adult literature either. (What defines YA lit, anyway?) That being said, the categorization is unimportant. For Today I Am a Boy is a beautiful and incredible read that I would absolutely recommend to just about everyone.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Review: The Lost Girl

the lost girlTitle:  The Lost Girl
Author: Sangu Mandanna
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 432
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review copy: the lovely library
Availability: August 28, 2012

Summary: Eva’s life is not her own. She is a creation, an abomination—an echo. She was made by the Weavers as a copy of someone else, expected to replace a girl named Amarra, her “other,” if she ever died. Eva spends every day studying that girl from far away, learning what Amarra does, what she eats, what it’s like to kiss her boyfriend, Ray. So when Amarra is killed in a car crash, Eva should be ready.

But sixteen years of studying never prepared her for this. Now she must abandon everything and everyone she’s ever known—the guardians who raised her, the boy she’s forbidden to love—to move to India and convince the world that Amarra is still alive. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into this a little wary since science-fiction-dystopian isn’t really my thing, but — wow. This is one of those books that you just have to read all in one sitting.

The Lost Girl starts out slow, letting the reader really get to know not only Eva, the echo of her counterpart Amarra in India, but also her patchwork family made up of her adopted mother figure, guardians, teachers, and friends. The narrative voice of Eva is distinct and descriptive. Through her perspective, the other characters gain dimension and life. When Eva is finally torn away from her precious family so that she can fulfill her roll as an echo, the pain she experiences feels genuine. And when she meets her new family, they are just as fully realized as her old one.

The setting of The Lost Girl is both its strength and weakness. The story is set in what feels very much like our world, with the exception of the existence of Weavers and echoes. Weavers who can create life from scratch sounds like something that belongs in the future with all of the accompanying science innovations. Instead, the Weavers and their methods are shrouded in mystery, which renders the story’s premise a tad unbelievable.

At the same time, the setting fits with the tone of the book — the narrow perspective and voice of Eva, a teenage girl who knows little about the outside world. It also renders Eva’s experiences in both England and India all the more real. Her stay in Bangalore is rich in details about the humid weather and ashoka trees.

The plot leaves quite a few issues unresolved, but that keeps alive the hope for a sequel. The Lost Girl is a beautiful emotional roller coaster that explores death, identity, and love of all kinds. (And the references to Frankenstein are spot-on, so if you enjoyed Mary Shelley’s classic novel, then you’ll want to read this.)

Recommendation: Buy it now! And get some hot chocolate ready to comfort you.

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Book Review: Warrior by Ellen Oh

warriorTitle: Warrior
Author: Ellen Oh
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 327
Publisher: Harper Teen
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: On Shelves now

Summary: Kira, the yellow-eyed demon slayer who protected her kingdom in Prophecy, is back . . . and her dramatic quest is far from over. After finishing Ellen’s first novel, Prophecy, School Library Journal said they were “ready for a sequel.” Well, here it is Filled with ancient lore and fast-paced excitement, this page-turning series is perfect for fantasy and action fans.
Kira has valiantly protected her kingdom–and the crown prince–and is certain she will find the second treasure needed to fulfill the Dragon King’s prophecy. Warrior boasts a strong female hero, romantic intrigue, and mythical creatures such as a nine-tailed fox demon, a goblin army, and a hungry dragon with a snarky attitude. – cover and summary via Indiebound

 
Review: First Julie Kagawa ends The Eternity Cure with a cliffhanger and then Ellen Oh does the same thing with Warrior! Really, ladies?! Why must you be so cruel? Why must you break my heart so? I will say, based on the ending of Warrior, the third book will probably be amazing and I can’t wait to get it into my eagerly awaiting hands. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 
Warrior picks up just days after Prophecy leaves off,  the events of the first book still very fresh in the hearts of Kira and her family. The book also deals with the political fallout of the events and Oh spends some time dealing with the issue of what would happen to a kingdom that has lost both its King & Queen and is now ruled by another. I greatly enjoyed this aspect, exploring the after effects of war both from a psychological and political perspective. The reprieve is short lived when the new King is assassinated, and Kira’s life and that of her cousin Taejo is put in jeopardy. In Prophecy, Kira was tasked to find the first of three magical objects signifying the fulfillment of the Dragon King prophecy and this new threat to Kira and Teajo’s lives is the catalyst for them to go in search for the jeweled dagger. Off their troupe travels, this time meeting new mythical helpers as well as fighting an even creepier demon army than before. Seriously, this demon army that the Demon Lord creates is effective and deadly. There were times when I seriously wondered who would get out alive in the battles and was praying for some of my favorite characters.

 
One of the treats of this novel, for me, is that Oh explores more of the world of the Seven Kingdoms. This time we head north, via an adventure at sea and then traveling through the snow to the mountains. I love watching Korean Dramas, and after watching so many, I have a visual picture in my mind of the landscapes that Oh describes so beautifully. I imagine the world that I’m familiar with layered with the fantastical elements Oh adds. The strength of the novel lies in Oh’s descriptions of her world and having us truly feel what the characters are feeling. The cold that Kira and her group experience as they travel towards the mountains, I could feel in my bones. Many times I curled up tighter in my blankets because I could clearly imagine the chill that Kira felt.

 
While I’m angry that Oh just ended the story on a cliffhanger, I know that the next novel will be a thrilling conclusion to the series and I can’t wait.

 
Recommendation: Go buy it now!

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Mini-review: Breadcrumbs

breadcrumbs

 

Title:  Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Genres: fantasy, contemporary
Pages: 312
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 27, 2011

 

 

 

Summary: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Hazel, adopted from India as a baby, has a hard enough time feeling like she fits in. When her best friend Jack becomes cold and distant, and then disappears, Hazel becomes determined to get her friend back and thaw his frozen heart. To get back her friend, Hazel must navigate a frozen landscape populated with fairy tale characters and plots. At the same time, she learns to deal with the trials of her everyday life — growing up, her parent’s divorce, and school.

Breadcrumbs combines two of my favorite things — friendship and fairy tales — to create a modern day version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” The language and atmosphere of the book makes it the perfect book to read while curled up with a cup of hot chocolate on a frosty winter day. This middle grade book has something for people of every age group.

Recommendation: Buy it now! This book is great for anyone who loves fairy tales and a good story.

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