Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date:  February 15, 2011
Rating: 4.5 Bookcases

The Short of It:

Rival is a story about two girls who used to be friends and now are, pretty much, bitter rivals.  With realistic teen characters, great dialog, and an ending the lets both main characters shine, it is a must read for 2011.

The Long of It:

Brooke is the queen bee of Douglas High; she loves music and is in choir even though it isn’t “cool.”  Kathryn is the social outcast, also in choir (a soprano), and she used to be Brooke’s best friend.  How did these two become enemies and rivals? It all goes back to junior year and what happened at an after Homecoming party.  Now Brooke makes Kathryn’s life hell.  And Kathryn, well, any chance to outperform Brooke - she’ll take it.  That’s one way to look at it.
            Soon, the two of them will compete in the prestigious Blackmore competition.  Both Kathryn and Brooke want to win, will their rivalry get the best of the, or will they find a way to mend their friendship?

Ms. Wealer does not hold punches, she starts in the middle of the story and within a couple of pages it’s clear who Brooke and Kathryn are personality wise and the lines are drawn, so to speak.  Kathryn, the outcast, and Brooke, Miss Queen Bee, both felt like real teenagers.  From the beginning, it was easy to see how just how much alike the two girls were despite their very opposite circumstances.  Despite, not being as much as a music nut as either character, I found them both to be very relatable.  In addition, the dialog, cliques, frenemies and rumor mill could be right out of an actual high school.  Told from both of their points of view as they prepare for the Blackmore and with flashbacks to junior year, the book chronicles exactly how Brooke and Kathryn became friends and how they ended up rivals.

The dual points of view worked well because you get to see both sides of the friendship and exactly what happened to end it.  Even though you, as the reader, know more than either Brooke or Kathryn, you don’t have the whole picture either, because Ms. Wealer keeps certain details hidden until late in the book.  It’s a pretty brilliant plan because you want to know the details, the hows and whys of Brooke and Kathryn’s rivalry - at least I did, but maybe I’m just nosy.  And when “the reason” was finally revealed, I wanted to shake both girls and then sit them down and make them tell each other exactly what they were thinking when everything changed.

Ms. Wealer also did a terrific job of showing just how Brooke and Kathryn’s friendship and rivalry affected them and those around them.  Nowhere is this more evident than with Brooke and Kathryn’s best friends: Chloe and Matt.  Matt is on the geeky side and it’s hinted at that Kathryn is his only friend, but he would do just about anything for her- he’s exactly the type of guy you want on your side.  Kathryn doesn’t really know just how good of a friend he is until she almost loses his friendship.  Chloe, on the other hand, is all about being part of the popular group; she’s the master manipulator who twists situations so that she always comes out on top. Brooke shoved her aside when Kathryn came on the scene and Chloe turned her jealousy into revenge of the highest order.  I wondered, a lot, why Brooke would be friends with someone like Chloe and could only come up with that Chloe wanted to be best friends with Brooke so much that Brooke gave in. 

I really enjoyed reading Rival.  The first section flew by quickly and by that point, I was invested in the story and the characters that I had to read to the end.  And the ending!  This ending just blew me away.   All throughout the story, the girls are training and preparing for the Blackmore and I just knew that it would play a big part at the end.  I was rooting for Kathryn and Brooke equally, knowing how badly they both wanted the victory.  The end result could have gone a lot of different ways, but Ms. Wealer found a way to let both Brooke and Kathryn shine.  Each of their separate story lines were tied up beautifully and the overarching line ended with just enough answers and few questions too - which is really all you can ask for in an ending.

Rival is a must read for 2011.

***This review is based on an ARC borrowed from Book It Forward ARC Tours***

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guest Post - In Which Tori [Book Faery] Discusses Fantasy

Today I would like to welcome Tori the Book Faery to The Serpentine Library.  She very graciously agreed to answer some questions for me on her thoughts about fantasy.   Tori also put together a list of some of her favorite YA books that she would classify as having elements of fantasy.                        


1. How would you define/describe fantasy?  (Your personal definition: just what you would say to someone if they asked you to describe the fantasy genre.  Would you include paranormal, urban fantasy, and/or dystopian in your overarching definition?)

I view fantasy like I view fiction--in an extremely broad way.  For instance, you have genres like Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and the like.  Fantasy, in my mind, is like an umbrella that branches out towards its sub-genres.  I usually clump paranormal books into the fantasy section because, well, vampires, werewolves, faeries, witches, and everything else you can think of are fantastical creatures, aren't they?

2. What are a few of your favorite fantasy books?

YA books... Well, since I have a broad idea of fantasy, how about I suggest books from a few of the genres I mentioned up above?

Paranormal Romance- HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzpatrick  

I wouldn't necessarily compare this book to TWILIGHT, but for those teens who absolutely adored Meyer's series, I believe they'll enjoy Becca's version of fallen angels.  

Steampunk- LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld

This one was difficult because, despite my efforts, I have not read many steampunk YAs.  There are a few upcoming debuts I am anticipating, but that doesn't help right now, does it?  All steampunk books I've read were adult romances.  I have, however, heard nothing but good things for LEVIATHAN and plan on reading it as soon as humanely possible (read: when I have some money to afford books).

Dystopian- MATCHED by Ally Condie 

MATCHED is an interesting approach when it comes to a dystopian novel.  Imagine living in the "perfect" society.  The government decides everything for you.  All you have to do is fulfill your daily tasks.  Then, when you turn 16, you attend a banquet where you discover who your perfect Match is.  What is a Match?  The government's version of your soulmate.  Now imagine you attend your banquet and discover that you have two different matches.  What will you do?  Will you question the way society works?

Young Adult (I'm not sure what to label this)- BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver

I am in LOVE with Lauren Oliver ever since reading BEFORE I FALL!  This novel does not contain any paranormal elements in it, but I think that's why the novel is so appealing.  We follow the heroine, a snobby popular girl, on the last day of her life.  Except... instead of dying, she repeatedly wakes up on the same morning that she dies.  Soon, she realizes that she can change the outcome of events.

Urban Fantasy- The Darkest Powers Series by Kelley Armstrong (THE SUMMONING, THE AWAKENING, THE RECKONING)

It took a while for me to warm up to this series for some reason, but once I did, I was hooked!  There are paranormal creatures in this book including: a werewolf, a warlock, a necromancer (the heroine), and a witch.

Dark Fantasy- BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause

This young adult novel is so beautifully written that it would be blasphemy if I did not include it on the list.  There is a bit of romance in this book, but I would label it more a dark fantasy than a paranormal romance.  Blood and Chocolate is a story about a young werewolf who wishes she could be with a human boy.  The story explores the measures she will take to be with said boy and what the consequences of her actions are.  Absolutely LOVED the ending and wish there was a sequel.

Thanks so much Tori!  

Urban Fantasy

What exactly is Urban Fantasy?  

John Clute and John Grant in their Encyclopedia of Fantasy define Urban Fantasy as “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”

According to Library JournalThe branch of urban fantasy currently skyrocketing in popularity plays on themes drawn from popular culture.  Common characteristics often include tough female protagonists (often with supernatural powers or superhuman strength), stronger distinctions between good and evil, gritty urban landscapes, first-person narration, and sexual tension, often between the female protagonist and a male character who toes the line between good and evil. 

While that's a very comprehensive definition, it would be great to have a definition you could actually use in a conversation or when trying to explain to a teen why they might like a particular book.  So, let's see if we can come up with another way of describing urban fantasy, especially YA urban fantasy. 

How about:  The main character (or protagonist) is drawn into some sort of paranormal struggle, where they find that they may have some supernatural abilities of their own.  

Some urban fantasy authors that I recommend often include:  

Kelley Armstrong:

The Darkest Powers books

My very simple summary for The Summoning: Chloe Saunders is a fifteen year old necromancer just coming into her powers. After her first experience with calling up the dead,  she suffers a meltdown and is placed in a house supposedly for mentally ill teens. When she arrives at Lyle House, Chloe discovers that her fellow patients also have unusual powers and all is not what it seems to be. 

Holly Black

Ms Black's Modern Faerie Tales trilogy are the first books I read that be considered urban fantasy.  Set primarily in New Jersey and New York City, with some time spent in the faerie realm, The Modern Faerie Tales deal with characters that are essentially outsiders. 

Published by Simon & Schuster between 2002 and 2007, the trilogy includes:

The Curse Workers trilogy starts with White Cat.

Mobsters, dark magic, a single touch can erase memories, bring on painful transformations or even death.  This is the world Cassel Sharpe lives in.  Born into a family of curse workers, Cassel has built a façade of normalcy around himself.  But what happens when the façade starts to crumble?

Sarah Rees Brennan

The Demon's Lexicon Trilogy

I describe these books as modern England with magic around the corner, just out of reach.  Ms. Rees Brennan takes a family drama, four of the major characters are two sets of siblings, and gives it a magical twist.  Her characters are all flawed in one way or another, but that just makes them more interesting and complex.  The magic is interwoven into the story and setting in such a way that it feels as though you could travel to England and really run into one of her characters.

I feel that I've neglected the rest of the alphabet,
 so some other urban fantasy books that are worth looking at include: 

The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
Wicked Lovely series by Melissa Marr
Rampant and Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

Are there any other YA urban fantasy books that I should be aware of?  Please leave your recommendations in the comments!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vampires, Weres, Faeries and Angels Inhabit These Books

`Yesterday, we talked a little about epic fantasy.  Today, I want to look at paranormal fiction.  Where epic fantasy can be serious, paranormal can be a fun way to get into fantasy.

I like to think of the paranormal sub-genre as containing all sorts of "magical" creatures (vampires, werewolves or shifters, faeries, and/or angels) that are said to walk among us.

Paranormal, as a fantasy sub-genre, has been prolific over the past few years.  Walk into any bookstore and you'll find the shelves and table filled with books containing paranormal elements.

For this list, I pulled out some books that stood out to me and that I've noticed have been circulating well at my library.  Following each book is a list of more books that deal with the same paranormal being.  I only chose books that have been published in the last three years or so, please feel free to let me know if I have forgotten any important titles.


The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date:  February 1, 2010
Find my review here.

Meghan Chase never quite fit in anywhere; she always felt different, but didn’t know why.  But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face.

The Iron Daughter
The Iron Queen

Other books with faeries:
Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater
Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie by Maggie Stiefvater
Fairy Tale by Cyn Balog
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston
Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner


The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date:  April 20, 2009

Contrary to popular belief vampires are not sexy or powerful.  Vampires are dead: Nina has been dead since 1973, the only excitement in her life is the series of novels she writes and the weekly support group meetings she attends.  But then one of the group is mysteriously murdered.  Now with all of her friends under threat, Nina is out to prove that there is more to vampires than being weak

Other books that show a different side to vampires: (There are so many vampire books out right now that deal with how romantic and beautiful they are, that I wanted to look for titles that had a different spin on the current view of vampires)
Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine
Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantasky
Sucks to be Me by Kimberly Pauley
Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Peeps by Scott Westerfeld


Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Publication Date: June 8, 2010

Bryn was taken in by a pack of werewolves after watching her parents’ gruesome murder.  Adhering to pack rule has always been hard for Bryn and when she goes exploring against the Alpha’s wishes, she finds a new Were locked in a cage.  Soon, it’s all Bryn can do to stay away, since she believes he has the key to unlocking the pack’s secret.

Other books about weres:
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
13 to Life by Shannon Delany
Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater


Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 9, 2009

Nora Gray was cautious about life in general.  Still grieving the death of her father, she is more focused on getting into a good college than on anything else.  Then Nora meets Patch and her life seems to get much more interesting.  Soon however, Nora isn't sure if she should give into her conflicted feelings for Patch or run in the opposite direction.  What Nora doesn't know is that an ancient battle between immortal Nephilim and fallen angels is being played out in her small Maine town.  Soon, she'll have to choose which side she's on.

Crescendo (2010)
Tempest (2011)

Other books about angels:
Halo by Alexandra Adornetto
Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers
Fallen by Lauren Kate
Angel Star by Jennifer Murgia
Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Additional paranormal books:
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Firelight by Sophie Jordan
Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough
Siren by Tricia Rayburn
Shade by Jeri Smith-Ready
Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Now that we've looked at so many current titles, what are some older titles along the likes of The Silver Kiss or Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause, that I should be on the lookout for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ladies of Epic Fantasy

When I think of Epic Fantasy, journeys, quests and magical lands come to mind. Again, I'm describing fantasy in a very basic way.  Most of the definitions for epic fantasy include phrases like:

-serious in tone
-struggle against supernatural forces
-includes coming-of-age themes
-set completely in an imaginary world
-sometimes has wizards or magicians

Most of the epic fantasy I remember reading did follow some of these conventions, with the added feature that most of the main characters were male.  Think about it: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings both had make lead protagonists- Bilbo and Frodo Baggins respectively.  The Chronicles of Prydain were really Taran's adventures and so on.  Maybe, I didn't read widely enough, but in my experience there were few female main characters.

However, when I was looking for books for this project, I kept coming across fantasy books where the main protagonist was female.  This made me stop and think.  Fantasy is still a male dominated genre, but the women are definitely catching up.

As you will see, the four fantasies I chose for this particular list all have female protagonists and have coming-of-age, or more specifically,  learning about yourself as one of the themes.  

The structure of the list is that first there will be a very brief summary, something that could be placed on a brochure or bookmark or could be used in a shelf or book talk.  Next, come my thoughts on each book.

Mistwood by Leah Cypess
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books
Publication Date: April 27, 2010

Brought to court from the Mistwood, Isabel is believed to be the shifter.  Sworn to protect the current prince and future king, she must learn the secrets behind her ability, while taking part in a very dangerous poltical game.

Isabel has so much on her plate - protecting Rokan and his family, trying to work out those that are loyal versus those that are plotting against them, figuring out how to control her shifting - yet she remains true to herself  (or at least the person everyone believes she is).  The world building is Mistwood is superb.  Ms Cypess gives the reader exactly what they need to become immersed in Isabel's world.  World building is so important to epic fantasy, because if the world is not developed enough and the reader cannot be transported into the where and when, the story does not work.  The setting has to be a complete and tangible where.  Ms Cypess does exactly that; in reading Mistwood, it was very easy to get lost in the story.  This was one book I was sad to see end.

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
Publisher: Egmont USA
Publication Date: March 23, 2010

A journey tale with dangerous magic and deadly wizard duels. When rain comes to Sydell Mirabil's parched town after a teen year drought, her life is changed in ways she never thought possible. With her country on the brink of a war no one saw coming, Sydelle, and the magician Wayland North, must reach the capital before the fighting begins.

Brightly Woven started out as a birthday present; what a lucky person to get Sydelle and North's adventures written for them.  Sydelle, a talented weaver, is essentially given to Wayland North after he brings rain to her parched town.  He also brings news of an impending war and the possibility that the king was murdered.  Sydelle and North must travel to the capital to essentially stop war.  And while the whys of the journey were important, what Sydelle learned about herself was really what drew me to this book.  Okay, North had a little to do with it too.  But, Sydelle experiences the most growth from the girl who was known for her weaving to the one with the power to bring together two nations.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Harcourt
Publication Date: October 1, 2008

In the Seven Kingdoms, some people are born with extreme and often feared skills called Graces.  Katsa must find a way to use her very particular Grace to save the inhabitants of the Seven Kingdoms from a corrupt king.

In Graceling, Katsa's quest to learn about the king of Monsea becomes one of self discovery as she learns the full power of her grace. Another reason, I really liked Katsa is that she is one of those characters that is so complete in herself - she doesn't need a romantic interest to be happy, in fact she rejects quite a few would be suitors - but once she allows someone else in, she becomes even more sure of her grace and herself.  It's not because Katsa is lacking confidence, because that is not the case at all.  I think this is because, she has always been an oddity, used by her uncle for what she can do, but now she has found someone who loves and respects her her wholly, both Katsa as a person and her skill.  Plus, she is the one who runs the show really.

Fire by Kristin Cashore
Publisher: Dial
Publication Date: October 6, 2009

Fire is the last human shaped monster in the Dells.  Her unimaginable beauty and ability to control the minds of those around her, set her apart.  But when King Nash's family asks for help uncovering the plot against the king, Fire must travel far from home and far out of her comfort zone to learn exactly what she can accomplish with her particular gifts.

Fire takes place before Graceling, in a different part of the world Cashore created.  Fire is unique in so many aspects of herself that at first it was difficult to really connect with her as a character.  But, it soon became clear that she was really keeping herself at a distance from other people, especially those she cared about.  Once Fire is out of her comfort zone, she becomes more conscious of her role and exactly how her powers can be used to help the king and the country.  Although, I liked Fire better as a character, her story didn't resonate as much for me as Katsa's did.  Her road to self discovery felt very circular - like the same obstacles, in different guises, were put in her path repeatedly.  I wish there had been some variation there.  But, overall the themes of the different types of strength, acceptance and that family isn't only those that you're related to by blood fit very nicely into Fire's overall journey.

Now that you've seen my list, what other books would you add?

What is Fantasy?

This semester, I've been taking a YA lit class. It's been a fun semester as we've read a wide range of books.  Every week the class had discussions, did book talks and came away with a list of books about a topic or in a genre.

Every one is responsible for a final project about a topic or genre in young adult literature.  For my final project, I thought it would be fun to look at contemporary fantasy - books that have been published in the past 5 years or so.  I've enjoyed reading fantasy books since middle school and I have fond memories of curling up with The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander and of course, Lord of the Rings. 

I've noticed that in the past few years there has been an explosion of new fantasy.  In working on this project, I wanted to really examine the books that are being published and where they "fit" on the fantasy spectrum.

First, the challenge was to come up with a definition for fantasy. My personal definition is a story (or book) that contains magical elements or takes place in another world. It's a pretty simple definition that leaves a lot to be desired. 

So, here are some other more official definitions I've found:

"Fantasy refuses to accept the world as it is, so readers can see what could have been, and still might be, rather than merely what is was or must be." (Literature for Today's Young Adults, p216)
Fantasy - Stories that take place in an imaginary world created by the author. The author creates the rules by which said world operates and must be consistent to them. The author must also make the world believable enough that readers will be able to suspend belief when they enter it. (From Cover to Cover p. 142)
Fantasy is a literary genre that is an imaginative or fanciful work, especially one dealing with supernatural or unnatural events or characters.

I decided that it would be helpful if as I read each book, it was put into a category or type of fantasy.  I chose five that seem to be popular and prolific right now:  Urban Fantasy, Epic or "High" Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Fantasy, and Fairy Tale Retellings.

So, every day this week, I'll be taking a look at a different subgenre (or type) of fantasy. Of course many books can be in more than one subgenre and for the most part it's very subjective; what one person thinks belongs in paranormal, someone else thinks is urban fantasy.  I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts on the lists I've come up with.  Mixed in will be reviews, a look at what's being published in 2011, and some guest posts.

This is what's coming up:

Monday: Epic or "High" Fantasy

Tuesday: Paranormal

Wednesday: Urban Fantasy

Thursday: Historical Fantasy

Friday: Fairy Tale Retellings

How would you describe fantasy?  And what are some of your favorite fantasy books?

*Image borrowed from http://www.rock-hill.k12.sc.us/


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