Review: Ascendant

TITLE: Ascendant (Killer Unicorns #2)
AUTHOR: Diana Peterfreund
PUBLICATION: 2010 by HarperTeen
FORMAT: Hardcover

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Her best friend’s fading abilities, the financial problems of keeping the Cloisters running, and the strain of a long distance relationship are making Astrid’s life as a unicorn hunter complicated enough. However, the chance to work toward finding out the secret of the Remedy calls to her, a girl that still longed to be a savior and not a killer.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I pre-ordered this book so you think I would have read it right away, but no it has languished on my shelves until now. Why do I keep doing this with books? Although I’m glad that I re-read the first book before diving right into this one.

A part of me wrestles with the desire to go on my GoodReads account and lower the rating I gave Rampant because Ascendant proves to be a successful sequel. I was actually pretty surprised that it turned out to be so good. (I don’t think I have entirely recovered from Sphinx’s Queen…) Things happened that I didn’t expect in this book. Let me say it again: Ascendant is better than Rampant! I’m still trying to get over the shock.

I liked Astrid more in this book and I think it’s because she wasn’t spending most of her time wishing to lose her virginity as a way to get out of her life as a unicorn hunter. She was questioning her role and wanted to find a way to be the kind of person she was meant to be, how she could be happy with her talents. And I probably shouldn’t like Brandt, but oddly enough I do. I was wanting Astrid to cheat on Giovanni with him so badly. See? I have problems.

Homosexuality among the hunters is an interesting concept. I was reminded of Gladiatrix where the fighters afraid of pregnancy that would make them ineligible in the arena often turned toward each other for comfort. At any rate I didn’t really see that coming in this type of book either. I hope that doesn’t make me dense? It probably does but I don’t care.

I noticed there was a lot of details paid to the appearance of some of the girls in this book. Every time Cory’s hair could be mentioned it seemed that the reader was reminded of the fact that she had brown curls. It makes me wonder if someone complained about needing to know the color of her hair in the first book. The sudden influx of all these details makes it seem like a first book instead of a second. But thankfully it didn’t continue throughout because honestly that would have been annoying.

Peterfreund’s website states that there is currently no contract for a third book in the Killer Unicorn series. I am conflicted on this point. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing what happens to Astrid, but another part is worried that after the fear of a plummet in quality that a third book would fulfill such a dread. It doesn’t stand quite so well as a conclusion because you are still left with questions, but a wonderful second book in a trilogy. So I need to suck it up, right? It would be nice to see what comes next in the story, but it didn’t end in such a cliffhanger way that I’m going to be dying to know what happens in the next scene.

If you read the first one and liked it, you have to read this book. I can’t stress this recommendation enough! Come on, readers! It’s killer unicorns, what’s not to love about that?

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Review: Rampant

TITLE: Rampant (Killer Unicorns #1)
AUTHOR: Diana Peterfreund
PUBLICATION: 2009 by HarperTeen
FORMAT: Hardcover

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Astrid knows the truth about unicorns, that they’re vicious man-eaters with venom in their alicorns. Luckily they have been extinct for almost two centuries… or so she thought until one of them attacks her boyfriend. Now Astrid is being shipped off to Rome where the virgin unicorn hunters are being trained for this new threat, but no one prepared her for this growing attraction to an art student.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I read this book when it originally came out. I had wanted to use the library in efforts to curb my spending on books, but since no branch had any copies at the time I went to Borders and bought it. I didn’t regret it either. I have since bought the sequel, but felt that I needed a memory refresher before I begin reading Ascendant.

First of all let me gush over the subject. Unicorns. Killer unicorns. This isn’t the first novel to depict them as dangerous creatures to be reckoned with yet it’s the best one from what I’ve had the experience of reading. I have this intense fear of re-reading books because sometimes it ends up being a question of where my good taste ran off to and I wonder why I liked a book in the first place. However, it is with relief that I still enjoy Rampant as much as when I first read it.

Second point: characters. Do I love Astrid? Probably not as much as I should but I do like her. Although I kind of wish that there was more of a feel for the other hunters besides Philippa and Cory. I mean, you get some idea of the other hunters, but they don’t quite feel as substantial to me as the unicorns Bonegrinder or Bucephalus, which seems odd considering that he only makes a few appearances in the whole novel. We get more in depth coverage of Cory and Phil, although Phil’s behavior makes me wonder how fine the line between caution and stupidity is. If I were a hunter with her, I’d probably throw Lilith’s barbs at her too. (It’s unfortunate what happened to her, but do you really behave that way with someone you hardly know?) Yet I must confess that I don’t really like Giovanni. He hardly seems capable of moving the needle on my Fictional Characters Like Radar. I get more of a response from a bloodthirsty kirin. YA novels do not seem to have an abundance of love interests that I like in them, I notice.

Peterfreund leaves some questions open in the novel and I hope to find some of them addressed in Ascendant. I’m left wondering myself if it’s possible for a virgin hunter to have a boyfriend for long. I mean, in a normal relationship the question of celibacy does become an issue as well, but for hunters? Your very ability to hunt depends upon your virtue. The girls discuss their views on virginity and if I remember I think one of them said that she left a boyfriend to come to the Cloisters. Their reasons aren’t all religious, it’s just a choice. And of course I wonder if Astrid ever tracks down Seth and repeatedly stab him with an alicorn.

I’m sure that the crowd of YA addicts will eat this up if they haven’t already. However, the modern fantasy fans may also derive a sense of satisfaction from reading this novel. Or you can be like me and just really dig unicorns.

P.S. For those with a Kindle or compatible app, the short story “Errant” from the Killer Unicorns series is available free here. I do not know if this is going to be a permanent thing, or you will have to pay for it again in the future. The story is also found in the collection Kiss Me Deadly for those who would rather lay their hands on a physical copy.

Review: Bewitching

TITLE: Bewitching (Kendra Chronicles #2)
AUTHOR: Alex Flinn
PUBLICATION: 2012 by HarperTeen
FORMAT: E-book

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Kendra tries to help people with her magic, but sometimes it doesn’t always go swimmingly. However, she can’t sit back and watch as the girl in her new school suffers at the hands of her beautiful yet wicked stepsister. Don’t look for enchanted pumpkins here, but things are about to get a little bewitched.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

Kendra was a character that I liked in both the book and movie versions of Beastly so I liked the idea of hearing more about her adventures. One of the great things about this book is the fact that you can read it without having read Beastly, so if you’re just interested in this novel you don’t have to feel obliged to go and read another book before you start Bewitching. The opening chapter made me think that the book may focus on Kendra’s story exclusively since we discover how she became a witch. I imagined perhaps there would be several such chapters where the reader hears about her deeds, both successes and backfires. But she behaves in the background again with an occasion page or two devoted to her opinions. Now I’m not saying this is bad, it just wasn’t expected from when I started reading the opening story.

After the introduction to Kendra’s beginnings, we have the main story of Emma and Lisette, which is our modern twist on the tale of Cinderella. It’s divided up into three parts with breaks in between where we hear of Kendra’s other exploits in the matter of the French court during the 1700s and how she aids a love-struck mermaid in the creature’s quest to be with the one she loves. Every story is told in first person perspective, but there’s no problem understanding who’s speaking because each narrative is clearly marked with whose story it happens to be.

Still I have to admit that I liked Emma. It’s hard not to like a bookish character who would rather be reading than interacting with other people. I could relate to her desire to just hide and read a book rather than be social. Like all heroines who learn things the hard way you are longing to shout at her, “Don’t you see what’s going on? You’ve read this in countless stories!” I still can’t help but adore her so I was glad in the end that she realized the fruits of her folly (sorry, I’ve been playing the end of Shadow Hearts and Albert Simon was shouting that phrase at me on the screen so I must exorcise it).

I noticed a few typos, but that’s to be expected in most books whether they’re electronic or physical, I suppose.

To be honest I liked this a lot better than Beastly. I want to read more about Kendra and her efforts to help poor unfortunate souls so I hope that Flinn writes more of her adventures. It was a pretty fun read. I found myself staying up as long as possible to read, but since I had my Kindle I didn’t want to fall asleep and drop it so I finally had to stop myself and wait for today to finish it off. I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys reading those fairy tale retellings!

Review: The Night Circus


TITLE: The Night Circus
AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern
PUBLICATION: 2011 by Doubleday
FORMAT: Hardcover

BOOK SYNOPSIS

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I cannot express coherent thoughts about my absolute love for this book. It’s instantly added to my favorites list and I have to own this book. I had a feeling from the opening chapter that this was going to be something special and I am so pleased to say that it withstood those great expectations until the final page without losing the flavor that hooked me from the beginning. I feel that I am woefully inept at expressing my feelings for this book that can even come close to doing it adequate justice. Please pardon me if I resort to fangirlish ramblings at any point in this review.

The first thing about this novel that captured my attention was the beautiful and rich prose. I’m a sucker for an elegant and descriptive prose style. May I reveal something? There were so many times where I was wanting to just sit there and reread passages or sentences without making advancement in the story because I just loved the sound of them in my mental voice, or as an oral presentation because I had to read them aloud to my significant other.

The story has an almost timeless setting because except for a few words depicting the date and perhaps some of the fashions, it could really be any time almost and I think that’s part of its charms. Most of the narrative takes place in the last 1800’s, but it’s easy to identify with the places and people that Morgenstern takes you to meet in this magical novel. It traverses through the past, the present, and the future with fluid ease as each time flows into the next and back again. Random chapters will make the reader a character in the narrative as you explore the circus.

I loved the characters and really couldn’t say which one was my favorite because they all have their charms. To be honest I never read the plot summary before reading this book so I didn’t really know what to expect and the romantic aspect kind of came as a surprise. A nice surprise though. Celia and Marco are a couple that I can cheer on. Providing reasons why may tread dangerously close to spoilers and I find that when it comes to books there’s such a thing as too much information.

This book alone could persuade me enough to make Erin Morgenstern an auto-buy author, which I don’t really have one at the moment. I could just go on and on in my gushing for this book! The hype and praise surrounding this novel are well deserved in my opinion. My only regret is that I did not read it sooner.

MY RATING

Review: The Blade of Fortriu


TITLE: The Blade of Fortriu (The Bridei Chronicles #2)
AUTHOR: Juliet Marillier
PUBLICATION: 2006 by Tor
FORMAT: Paperback

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Five Winters have passed since young king Bridei ascended the throne of Fortriu. Five years, in which the people have felt a contentment unknown for generations.

But the security of a people can vanish in a heartbeat, for wolves are often drawn to fields filled with fattened sheep. Bridei is determined to drive the Gaelic invaders from his lands once and for all. And so, with his land secure and his house in order, he prepares for war.
One of Bridei’s plans to win the war to come involves the beautiful young Ana. A princess of the Light Isles, she has dwelt as a hostage at the court of Fortriu for most of her young life. Despite being a pawn of fortune, she has bewitched all at court and is dearly loved by Bridei and his queen. But Ana understands her duty. And so she will travel north, to make a strategic marriage with a chieftain she has never seen, in the hopes of gaining an ally on whom Bridei’s victory relies.

For secrecy’s sake, Ana must travel at a soldier’s pace, with a small band led by the enigmatic spymaster Faolan. Bridei implores Ana to trust him and see the good in Faolan…but Ana cannot see beyond his cold competence and killer’s eyes.

Then, when she arrives at the chieftain Alpin’s stronghold in the mysterious Briar Woods, her discomfort and unease increase tenfold, for this is a place of full of secrets and her betrothed is an enigma himself. The more Ana tries to uncover the truth of her new life, the more she discovers a maze of polite diversions that mask deadly lies. She fears Faolan, but he may prove to be the truest thing in her world.

Or her doom.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I had money on Borders gift cards that I received for my birthday and Christmas last year that I spend some of what was left on them to get books 2 and 3 in this series. After my disappointment with the first installment I hoped that I wouldn’t be forced to give up without finishing.

Thankfully I could say I liked this book much better than The Dark Mirror within the first forty pages. This mostly has to do with the fact that Faolan is a much more prominent character in the story, and I must confess that I did like the idea of Ana for the heroine of this tale. Bridei and Tuala are present in the narrative, but not as strongly as the first book in the Chronicles. So I was excited to see what was to become of characters that I particularly liked. I confess that I skimmed the battle scenes because I honestly did not find them of particular interest, but there weren’t a whole lot of those and mostly toward the end.

Most of Ms. Marillier’s books I’ve read are pretty predictable as far as romances go. Daughter of the Forest was the only one that threw me as I expected Sorcha to end up with Red’s brother. The concept of brothers enters again into this novel. From the summary posted in the book’s description you would imagine that Ana bears a secret love for Faolan and him alone. Not true. Marillier has introduced a love triangle aspect that I did not anticipate. Faolan loves Ana, Ana loves Drustan who is the strange brother of her husband-to-be, and naturally Drustan loves Ana. I rather liked the tender feelings developing between Faolan and Ana until Ana loses her heart to the first exceedingly handsome man whom crosses her path. At least that’s the way it seemed to me with her instant attraction mode for Drustan and it kind of made me not like her quite as much. I think part of her insistence on believing in his innocent was the lure of a pretty face and denial that it could be capable of any vial act, or would it be wrong to presume such a thing of a fantasy heroine to be somewhat shallow?

I still like Faolan best in these books, I believe. His truthful outlook on life probably endears him to me.

The climactic episode of Alpin seemed over too quickly. He’s built up as this monster of a man to be reckoned with and he’s dispatched so quickly. It seemed like the whole incident should have taken longer. And to be honest I’m surprised that he didn’t bed Ana after the event during the evening before the wedding was set to transpire.

As before I feel like this book wasn’t clicking with me as it should after awhile. When it seemed that Faolan wasn’t going to be getting the only woman he ever loved, it kind of lost it’s appeal for me. This is a totally biased view because he’s my favorite character. I reckon this would click with some fantasy fans yet it fell short for me again.

MY RATING

Review: The Dark Mirror


TITLE: The Dark Mirror (The Bridei Chronicles #1)
AUTHOR: Juliet Marillier
PUBLICATION: 2004 by Tor
FORMAT: Paperback

BOOK SYNOPSIS

Bridei is a young nobleman fostered at the home of Broichan, one of the most powerful druids in the land. His earliest memories are not of hearth and kin but of this dark stranger who while not unkind is mysterious in his ways. The tasks that he sets Bridei appear to have one goal-to make him a vessel for some distant purpose. What that purpose is Bridei cannot fathom but he trusts the man and is content to learn all he can about the ways of the world.

But something happens that will change Bridei’s world forever…and possibly wreck all of Broichan’s plans. For Bridei finds a child on their doorstep on a bitter MidWinter Eve, a child seemingly abandoned by the fairie folk. It is uncommonly bad luck to have truck with the Fair Folk and all counsel the babe’s death. But Bridei sees an old and precious magic at work here and heedless of the danger fights to save the child. Broichan relents but is wary.

The two grow up together and as Bridei comes to manhood he sees the shy girl Tuala blossom into a beautiful woman. Broichan sees the same process and feels only danger…for Tuala could be a key part in Bridei’s future…or could spell his doom.

WHAT I THOUGHT ABOUT IT . . .

I positively love the Sevenwaters saga, so I have been wanting to read the Bridei books for a long time merely because I adored the author’s other books (even though I didn’t care much for Wolfskin or even bother to finish Foxmask). I discovered this volume on the shelves at a little used bookshop I like to frequent so it seemed a perfect opportunity.

The writing is pretty spot on and it has the feel of a good fantasy about it. I do like Marillier’s prose style and how she crafts her setting and characters. Truly it has a lot of elements that should make it a good fantasy novel. Still I can’t help but feel that despite all this I wanted to like the book more than I actually did. It was one of those times where I just failed to click with a book, which is something of a shame because I like how the author has it set up.

The characters seem diverse enough. I guess we the reader are meant to fall for Bridei, but I’m personally not taking the bait. I’m kind of with the opinion of Ferada that he’s a dull individual. Although I suppose his sheltered upbringing may have something to do with it. And Tuala seems as though a loose thread through most of the narrative where we are not sure if she has a real purpose beyond the expected love interest role. I suppose if I liked her more perhaps? I used to think that Marillier didn’t coddle her characters after what happened to Sorcha in Daughter of the Forest, but alas nothing bad happens to Tuala even though you think it would at times. The wise woman Fola is interesting enough though because I rather liked her at first meeting. And Faolan would probably be my favorite character were I to choose one in this book because he kind of fits the type that I would like in a story. Some of his comments amuse me such as his saying that he didn’t hold a grudge as long as he was being well paid for his services. I guess that it’s usual for me to like the side characters.

This book kind of felt like The Mists of Avalon in some ways… I dunno, perhaps only I would make such connections. Two children raised together as siblings, although in this case it is of the foster variety rather than a blood relation. The boy destined to be a king and the girl an unusual creature training to be a priestess of the goddess, although in this case Tuala is a child of the Shining One. And of course there’s the battle between the old ways and the encroaching influx of the Christian faith. Yes, I am probably odd for taking notice of such far-fetched similarities.

Like I said earlier in this review, I just didn’t click with this book so I cannot recommend it as much as I would like. However, I am sure that there are some readers out there whom might like it better than I did. So if you have an inkling to try it, do not purchase and make use of your local library’s services. I have books two and three in this series sitting on my shelf so I shall peruse further and see if the Bridei Chronicles ever gets better.

MY RATING

Review: The Fox Woman


Title: The Fox Woman
Author: Kij Johnson
Publication: 2000 by Tom Doherty Associates
Format: Hardcover

Book Synopsis

Yoshifuji is a man fascinated by foxes, a man discontented and troubled by the meaning of life. A misstep at court forces him to retire to his long-deserted country estate, to rethink his plans and contemplate the next move that might return him to favor and guarantee his family’s prosperity.

Kitsune is a young fox who is fascinated by the large creatures that have suddenly invaded her world. She is drawn to them and to Yoshifuji. She comes to love him and will do anything to become a human woman to be with him.

Shikujo is Yoshifuji’s wife, ashamed of her husband, yet in love with him and uncertain of her role in his world. She is confused by his fascination with the creatures of the wood, and especially the foxes that she knows in her heart are harbingers of danger. She sees him slipping away and is determined to win him back from the wild … for all that she has her own fox-related secret.

Magic binds them all. And in the making (and breaking) of oaths and honors, the patterns of their lives will be changed forever.

What I Thought About It . . .

You must realize that one of my great weaknesses is Japanese legends, especially anything relating to foxes because one must accept the fact that foxes are wonderful. I own a book that is a collection of Japanese myths and legends, but the stories about foxes are among my favorites in the book.

One of the first things which struck me while reading this novel was the lyrical quality to the prose. Beautiful pretty much sums it up in a word. And each of the three narrators has a different feel to their account of the events. Kitsune’s diary covers the past, Yoshifuji’s notebook tells of the present, and Shikujo’s pillow book seems like a kind of dissociated identity, almost like it’s not happening to her. At least that’s how it seems at first because she likes to refer to herself as “one” but then later on she adopts “I” more frequently. Still it seems that “one” is often spoken when she’s at the country estate so maybe it has to do with location? Or perhaps I am looking into unintential things too much. It’s not a consistent thing, so I’m probably just reading too much into it.

Despite the pretty prose, there’s not really a whole lot of action going on in the story. The lives of the nobles seem quite dull… and makes me glad I am not one of them. The foxes provide the only practical sense in the inane activities of humans. It seems a tragedy that love destroys Kitsune in this manner. And for some reason the idea of the fox-magic conjuring all those servants and other people made it less enjoyable for me. I’m not sure why.

I don’t really see what the appeal of Yoshifuji is for Kitsune and her brother. What is there to fall in love about this man? The irony is that the character ponders this himself with the question, “Why me?” Apart from the fact that he does not wish the foxes to be killed, I don’t really see many endearing traits to recommend him as an amorous interest. I know that I certainly wouldn’t wish to give up being a fox to be human for him. Yes, I definitely could have done with a better object of Kitsune’s desire.

I think overall I would have liked this book better had it been written more for young adults. I think that something short and sweet would have done well for the fantasy element to this legend. At times it seemed a bit too long… and perhaps too much emphasis on sex. If you have qualms about homosexuality, I would avoid it. I suppose that I wanted to care more about the characters, and I still don’t quite understand the obsession Kitsune should have with poetry since it is of no consequence to a fox, even one masquerading as a human. I guess I was hoping for more… well, more.

MY RATING