Sunday, 22 July 2012

Poison Study - Maria V.Snyder

Title - Poison Study
Author - Maria V.Snyder
Text Type - Young Adult Fantasy

“I want you to have this.” He extended his hand. On his palm sat the beautiful butterfly he had carved. Silver spots on the wings glinted in the sunlight, and a silver chain hung from a small hole drilled into its body. Valek looped the necklace around my neck. 
“When I carved this statue, I was thinking about you. Delicate in appearance, but with a strength unnoticed at first glance.”

Yet another riveting, spellbinding novel has emerged and stolen my breath away. And it is no surprise that Snyder was once again the one who is capable of that. I am convinced that this beautiful tale has indeed poisoned my heart in the time it took to read a couple of pages. Poison Study was nothing short of the things readers look for straight away, so addicting that even the ominous midnight darkness couldn't stop me from putting it down. My thoughts were being pulled in every direction: transported to Snyder's creation of a strange world, understanding the interesting politics of the system, the compellingly dark secrets, dealing with the twists and turns of events and hopelessly falling in love with the strong characters she has produced. I couldn't help but notice the similarities between this book and her latest book Touch Of Power, both engaging and captivating and most importantly, unpredictable. Snyder's work on this enchantingly dark story has once again promised another formidable series.

There are many opinions as to which element renders a book to be amazing, which aspect that the author must perfect. And whilst there are many different options, the characters and especially the lead role plays a major part in whether or not the novel is successful. I took a liking to Yelena, a female protagonist who is marred with painful scars of her past. Her fate and survival has depended on so many other people, yet she holds on to her compassion and continues to use her experiences to get stronger. Other than representing growth, she carries a message that Snyder wants the audience to understand. Being terrified or afraid doesn't make Yelena weak or fragile, it is how she bounced back from her dark past in the end that defines her as a emotionally powerful character. This background is also applied to the male lead Valek, who shows his strength through physicality. Equally affected and haunted by his experiences, Valek becomes such an admired character through his sheer determination, refusing to get beaten down. While Yelena trains to fight to her physical limit which helps her renew and retain her mental strength, Valek's strong mind allows him to be unbeatable. Both so enticing, it only consolidates the potential that the book contains.

While almost any author is more than capable of introducing themes of love and describing past experiences, Snyder has mastered and further developed her writing with themes of passion and is able infuse it with haunting ideas. Although ultimately targeted to a young adult audience, I believe that this book would be appreciated by more older, sophisticated readers. There is a profound depth to the book that can only be understood with maturity. It really induces thoughts around abuse and being mistreated, hence why it is surely not for readers who are too young. But it is clever how Snyder feeds these dark scenes in with an otherwise adventurous and suspenseful storyline. Having these secrets brought to light through multiple flashbacks, often triggered by things in the present was an effective way to tame our curiosity, yet wish for more at the same time. The novel places emphasis on the importance and consequences of trust. While relationships can be founded on trust to create a sense of safety, it is also important to realise that it can be abused, leading to betrayal and resulting to isolation in a very vulnerable state. Yelena's impossible situation is a prime example of how crucial trust is, her constant danger forcing her to learn where to place her trust.

With a combination of mystery and fiery passion for love and survival, Poison Study takes fantasy to a new level of high quality writing and thrilling action. There is no choice but to read the unpredictable and shocking revelations over and over again. After discovering this was Snyder's first published novel, her unbelievable talent is distinctly obvious. This book gives me more than enough evidence to believe this series should continue to be amazing. I can't wait to see how she embraces new ideas, presenting the characters with new challenges that will test their limits. It is a wonder how this novel can be so educationally enchanting, leaving you pondering long after the last page. Her writing is so rich in detail with easily identifiable themes, a dark beauty of a story about sitting on the edge of both life and death.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Golden Lily - Richelle Mead

Title - The Golden Lily
Author - Richelle Mead
Text Type - Paranormal Romance

“He shouldn't have said that," repeated Adrian, eerily serious. He leaned his face toward mine. "I don't care if he's not the emotional type or the complimentary type or what. No one can look at you in this dress, in all that fire and gold, and start talking about anachronisms. If I were him, I would have said, 'You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen walking this earth.” 

It is not hard for an author to write a book that captivates the reader, that lures them in for more. But it is extremely difficult to do it every single time, each novel surpassing the other in creativity and suspense. Only the first couple of pages have to be read to identify Mead as an extremely clever writer that seems to accomplish this so effortlessly. Needless to say, she has presented another fascinating story to her collection of young adult novels, the continuation of Bloodlines and complementary to her successful Vampire Academy series. Although Mead is infamous for her dramatic and plentiful supply of action, there was a shortage in this book which is a little frustrating since she has delivered so many times before. Even though it contains a few flaws where Mead has not built up to the climatic point in the most commanding way, The Golden Lily had effective development of the characters and their relationships. This focus is no less interesting because discovering inherent qualities gives a foundation to build on as the series continues.

I believe that it is important for female protagonists to be powerful and courageous, but people often neglect the term realistic. When a character is reasonable, there is no struggle required to relate to them, to understand what they are emotionally feeling during each situation. Written in first person of young Alchemist Sydney Sage, this connection is effortless because the way she acts is nothing extraordinary, only realistic and authentic. Beyond her compassion, courage and good sense of responsibility lies attributes that the reader is familiar with: A girl who is also nervous and shy, self-conscious and who doesn't always fit in. These are the lead characters that really inspire and draws a feeling of admiration from the audience when they achieve something good. It is evident that even though Sydney may not be popular or overly social, her peers give her a level of respect that everyone hopes to receive. It represents the fact that people can be accepted no matter what they are like; Smart, slightly dorky personalities included. The Golden Lily is where the romance part of the genre becomes prominent, a development from the implications in the first book which many young adults will love. And there is nothing more compelling than a spark between two characters as individual as bad-boy Adrian Ivashkov and sensible Sydney.

While there are many adorable relationships around the central group of characters, there are also the tenser ones. A common reoccurring theme that Mead endorses is the high expectation of family, especially targeting father figures who have a huge concern over pride and reputation. Nearly every person has been presented with the challenge of overcoming the opinions of their judgmental fathers. Because Sydney has an experience of her own in this aspect, she is aware and sympathetic of her friends' situations. Mead is trying to communicate the importance of acceptance, particularly being able to see past the flaws of your loved ones. Much to the dismay of Adrian and classmate Trey Juarez, it is obvious that even though their significance to the story is different, their fathers cannot accept their sons actions. Yet through our eyes, what they did was honorable, worthy of high respect. I thoroughly enjoyed Mead's important message that doing something to be ethical or taking risks is worth much more than having an elite status.

With all due respect, Mead has still maintained a high quality of writing that I adore and admire at the same time. The ability to lure the reader in on the very first page and keep their attention throughout the entire book proves her to be a very smart and consistent writer. But while her fluency is usually near perfect and delivers a flow that makes her books really hard to put down, The Golden Lily did not do her enough justice in this element which was a little bit disappointing. However, I have come to realise that it is just as satisfying to understand more about the character's hardships and merits as it challenges me to reflect on my own. There is no doubt that this is a worthy addition to her bestselling collection depicting the events of a paranormal romance that leaves you hungry for more.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Until I Die - Amy Plum

Title - Until I Die
Author - Amy Plum
Text Type - Paranormal Romance

“Kate, I admit that we aren’t in the easiest of situations. But are you always this . . . complicated?”
I opened my mouth to say something, but Vincent shook his head, grinning. 
“Actually, don’t answer that. Of course you are. I wouldn’t be so totally into you if you weren’t.”

Having read the first book, I was definitely not the only person that highly anticipated the release of this second book to Plum's successful novel Die For Me. Admittedly after such a mysterious start to her trilogy, I was intrigued to see if Plum was able to continue her series after giving such a captivating taste of her enigmatic revenant storyline, for many books have failed to impress even though the first book had been stellar. I hoped, possibly more than any other book, that her more original ideas that avoided the cliché vampire and werewolves would continue to stand out among the others. Until I Die did fall a little short of this expectation, though it was an enjoyable read considering the first book had set the bar so high, meaning just missing the mark still meant a comfortable read. The characters remained amiable and interesting, never lacking new secrets that rouses our suspicion and curiosity. While the build up towards the climax did not demand the desired attention, the originality of her supernatural creation sets this novel apart - an achievement worthy of applause as the paranormal genre is a place so difficult to attain an identity.

Continuing the journey in the perfect setting for a romantic novel, we are lead through a tour of the beautiful Paris. Plum takes time to help us explore the beauty that Parisians get to experience every day, taking her time to describe how different the layout of the city is compared to ours. The whole vibe that we get from the surrounding convinces us of the romance that was so perfectly set up in the first book. Plum's solid work throughout this second book has just consolidated what the first had promised: She is extraordinary at delivering a masterful, compelling love story. But what supports it is the atmosphere and mood that she creates with her choice of a enchanting French setting. Although everything from the scenery to the difficulties seem cliché, she has managed to pull off a connection between the characters that are worth remembering.

The charming and dreamy feel is incorporated into the characters very smoothly, a quality that really captivates the reader's attention. I loved the way Plum's picturesque environment reflects the passionate relationships between the protagonist Kate Mercier and her lover Vincent Delacroix, which is what the novel truly focuses on. While both of them carry around secrets of their own, it is evident that all they want is to be together. No matter how corny that may sound, it is an inevitable fact that young adults are naturally attracted to this type of story. The truth is, Plum needed to excel above expectation for the essence of the star-crossed theme to shine. It was vital for her to strengthen Kate and Vincent's relationship in order for the story to meet the constant soaring standards that new books have set for this genre. While she has maintained the expressive bond that her lead characters share, I felt that it lacked a very small amount of development that it needed to improve upon the first. Even though Kate has grown further into a determined young woman who is devoted to searching for a solution to her situation, it missed something special that would prevent it from being forgettable.

With that said, the ending salvaged the novel from being lost and even guaranteed that most readers will continue to explore this revenant journey due to a massive cliffhanger. Plum definitely didn't hold back as she blew our anticipation levels through the water for the next book, the finale of her revenant series. It provides me with a reason to believe why people are so eager to get their hands on the next book. There is no use saying otherwise: No matter how mad readers seem to be about being left with a bombshell, we all secretly enjoy them and there is no doubt that it is the most successful way for Plum to secure an audience for her next book. Which is a relief because Until I Die has an undeniably sweet romance that I grew to adore, only waiting to hopefully blossom as the final story unravels.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Waterfall - Lisa T.Bergren

Title - Waterfall
Author - Lisa T.Bergren
Text Type - Historical Fantasy

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the decision that something is more important than fear.” 

Greek mythology seems to be a favored prerequisite for a fantastic historical novel in young adult literature. For a great reason too, for it fascinates me to no end. I simply indulge in reading and discovering different interpretations of these myths because every tale leads me down a different but equally profound thought path. But never did I think that Italian history could create such a similar impact, something that Waterfall has so convincingly done. Bergren shows great skill in her light references to the old Italian politics, infusing it with the much anticipated romance ideas and love themes. Her modern day protagonist shows a fair amount of similarities to what we would think in a comparable circumstance, providing a much better way for us to accept Bergren's insight that she communicates. I found it easy to share her perspective through the first person narration of a strong, courageous female that she has created. Still, the themes of not only romantic love but passionate family love are not overlooked as the story progresses. Readers such as myself who constantly search for books with thought prompting ideas that stay in your mind well after the novel has ended would be truly satisfied with this rare treat.

I must say, I was weary to head into a new culture path. More accurately, I was worried about taking on a new load of history about a country that I have never seen as a focus in young adult novels. Greek mythology has become somewhat familiar to me through the vast amounts of stories I have read about them. There isn't much I know about Italian history, but the parts that Bergren has depicted certainly did enough to tempt me into finding out more. In a way, it is familiar in the sense that these fourteenth century elements are not uncommonly known about. Knights in shining armour, a structured class system in a grand castle - these things have big associations and are greatly enjoyed in novels targeting a young adult audience. I adored the friendship between the royal lords and ladies and the less privileged servants which despite having a hierarchy that reflects the nature of that old society, it presents a compassion that the wealthier characters have. There is that clear, strong feel of acceptance throughout the book from this master-servant relationship to the understanding of the old and new lifestyles. I was thrilled to see that connection.

What most readers look for is an attribute that defines the protagonist, one that renders them a desired role model. Fierce determination is what drives the character of Gabriella Betarrini to be so admired by the other characters or us readers. There are many instances where Gabi has her fears and where bravery is so difficult to achieve, but her love for her sister Evangelia overrides her flaws. And that ability to suppress any weaknesses in order to protect her loved ones is what really compelled me to like her, showing a strong young woman in place of a normal girl. In fact, both the Betarrini sisters who have gone back in time have ironically grown faster, adapted to their new surroundings and found the strength to fight for their survival. It was also interesting to be introduced to the men of those medieval times, so gentlemanly and fearless even though they are young. There is no shortage of alluring characters that will demand and capture full attention.

Though this book is breath of fresh air, it doesn't hold back the gripping situations and heartbreaking emotions. The simple concepts were manipulated so well by Bergren to produce a novel that I couldn't put down once I started. The prominent power craze of that society has influenced the present, a very important message that resonates around the story. Bergren almost proposes a warning to us that our actions now could largely impact upon the future. Because of that thought process that it provokes, it is highly unlikely to forgot about this novel. The portrayal of the characters mixed with the era simply flowed and delivered a couple of hours of pure enjoyment. Waterfall is simply a taste of a promising Italian inspired series because once it has captured your heart, it is almost impossible to resist.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Touch Of Power - Maria V.Snyder

Title - Touch Of Power
Author - Maria V.Snyder
Text Type - Young Adult Fantasy

“So who gave him his name?" I asked.
"Kerrick," Belen answered.
Not who I'd expect. "Why 'Flea'?"
A full-out grin spread across Flea's face. "Cause I'm fast and hard to catch."
"Because he's a pest and hard to squash," Belen said.
"Because he jumps about three feet in the air when you scare him," Loren added.
"Because he's annoying and makes us itch with impatience," Quain said.
"Thanks, guys. I love you too." Flea made exaggerated kissing noises and patted his ass.” 

I never cease to become fascinated by the way authors can create such different, extraordinary surroundings for us to enjoy. They are unique and individual in every way, and I can't deny that I am indeed a sucker for inspiring settings and beautifully crafted worlds. Touch of Power has indeed captivated me in this aspect alone, which I find is a defining point for a story as it is the first thing that we encounter. But the critical nail that Snyder hits right on the head is the way the story maintains this wonderful atmosphere as well as developing the characters to a relatable point. As the story unfolds, we connect to them on an increasing emotional level, an element important to a stellar book but tends to be very rare to find. At this point, I admit I highly expected Snyder to continue to amaze me with her potential to write gripping events with twists and turns. And boy, she delivered. I can confidently say that a couple of hundred pages jam packed with exciting action is what every book lover searches for, no matter what genre they prefer. Then again, there's no reason you wouldn't pick up this book because of that beautiful cover anyway.

It is definitely intriguing to unravel the works of the Fifteen Realms that we are introduced to at the beginning, which was actually quite simple to get the grasp of for me. One thing I know many people feel disheartened by are those complex maps that appear before the story even begins. Frankly, it does have the effect of intimidating the reader because who knows how long it takes to remember all that? I know that last thing I want to do while reading is to flip back and forth between the text and the map, frantically searching for a name in tiny print. So naturally when I saw that map - despite it looking relatively simple - I imagined myself having to pay full attention to the place names and destinations to thoroughly enjoy the book. It did take a couple of chapters but considering the large world that she has envisioned and written, it was well worth the enjoyment later. It perhaps makes life easier in the sense that we are given a boundary whilst visualising the setting, easing the effort we need to imagine the scene when we can use it to explore Snyder's compelling characters.

Every character has a different aura going for them that makes each of them so attractive in their own way: Friendly, flirty, nasty, seductive, arrogant.. The list goes on. Through the eyes of a female, the inspiring characters that present the most thought provoking ideas are the fearless, intelligent and intuitive ones. This book does not lack this courageous protagonist who also has a magnetic kindled spirit, a passion for healing others. When Avry of Kazan is first introduced to the novel as such a compassionate figure, it was hard to imagine someone so delicate could possess such a powerful fire fueled by the need to survive. Her witty, sarcastic personality shines through, allowing her to be complex and humorous. And of course, this engrossing nature is brought out by a male role that, let's be honest, is such an important part to get right when it can either send the audience into squeals or make them slam the book down in frustration. Kerrick of Alga is clearly defined as an extremely profound character, one that has experiences of the past affecting his behavior and demeanor. The connection between Avry and Kerrick completely feeds on the clashing nature of these two equally stubborn, strong-minded characters. But their bold, heated exchanges does the opposite of the expected. It strengthens the alluring spark between them that just makes me want to read more.

Finally, I feel a vital need to acknowledge Snyder for the quality of her writing, a style that is both descriptive and entertaining. She has achieved what I believe to be a very excellent skill where she can fit so many adventure scenes without rushing or overpowering the other elements of the novel. In the midst of all this action, I admire Snyder's subtle ability to weave in shocking revelations throughout the book to increase our understand of the events even further than the last chapter. With the new knowledge that the characters and ultimately the reader discovers, mysteries are solved while new curiosity blooms in place of the old wonders. It is impossible to call this story a boring one. It would no doubt ensnare many readers hearts like mine who take pleasure in experiencing a mixture of action with a generous helping of sweet romance.