31 December 2010

My Top 10 Books of 2010

I've read a lot of really good books this year. But there were some amazingly stand-out books that were my absolute favorites.

#10 - Naamah's Curse by Jacqueline Carey

Far from the land of her birth, Moirin sets out across Tatar territory to find Bao, the proud and virile Ch'in fighter who holds the missing half of her diadh-anam, the divine soul-spark of her mother's people. After a long ordeal, she not only succeeds, but surrenders to a passion the likes of which she's never known. But the lovers' happiness is short lived, for Bao is entangled in a complication that soon leads to their betrayal.

This was a very good sequel. In fact, I liked it much more than the first book in the series. The love story was good, and the fact that the beautiful courtesan had to deal with constant rejection was even better. I look forward to the final book in the trilogy in 2011.

#9 - The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

What if fairy tale magic really existed?

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as pocket money. The Repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books—everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where the librarians lock away powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves—or the thief captures them.

A great book. It started with the premise: a library that lets you check out magical items? Awesome. Love the reference to "the Lovecraft Collection" (which had me instantly scream 'No! Don't go in there!!!'). The characters are great. I'm so-so on the plot, it was solid and engaging but a bit predictable. But I can let that go for the promise of more, funner things to come.

#8 - Matched by Ally Condie

In the Society, Officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one… until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow — between perfection and passion.

This book was good. Not great, but good. It was a little slow at points, but I think that's due to the fascinating inner dialogue of the main character. However, I put this book on this list solely for its promise. The build-up to the climax is slow, but the climax is great, and the denouement promises that the next book will be much more action-packed.

#7 - Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix

After helping Chip and Alex survive fifteenth-century London, Jonah and Katherine are summoned to help another missing child, Andrea, face her fate in history. Andrea is really Virginia Dare, from the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Jonah and Katherine are confident in their ability to help Andrea fix history, but when their journey goes dangerously awry, they realize they may be in over their heads: They seem to have landed in the wrong time period. They can’t reach JB for help. Andrea is behaving oddly. And even worse, it appears that someone has deliberately sabotaged their mission . . .

Another awesome book in the "Missing" series. I love the science behind time travel in the series as well as the exhausting historical research that the author went through. The series makes me believe it really is what time-travel to our past would be like. I loved this book especially because it had a female historical figure that was well-written and strong.

#6 - Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally has grown up in a post-apocalyptic world where, at the age of 16, everyone is given an operation that makes their faces and bodies perfect. Before the operation they are known as "uglies," and after as "pretties." After the operation they live in New Pretty Town, enjoying a life of constant partying and pleasure. Tally can't wait. Shortly before her 16th birthday she befriends Shay, who tells her about the Smoke, a secret community of those who refuse the operation. When Shay runs away to join the Smoke, Tally is given a choice by the Specials, the secret police: help them find the Smoke and betray her friend, or remain an ugly forever.

I can't believe I didn't find this series before now. It was great. The premise is wonderful: if beautiful people have a societal advantage, why not give everyone surgery to make them all beautiful and level the playing field? The dystopian society is believable, and I like how Tally grows from someone who goes along with the status quo to someone who questions everything around her. Shay is a great character, too, and a great counterpoint to Tally. And the romance in this book is mostly MacGuffin, which is nice as well :D

#5 - Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

The hunt continues…

Astrid Llewelyn is now a fully-trained unicorn hunter, but she’s learning she can’t solve all her problems with just a bow and arrow. Her boyfriend Giovanni has decided to leave Rome, the Cloisters is in dire financial straits, her best friend’s powers seem to be mysteriously disintegrating, and Astrid fears that school, home, and her hopes of becoming a scientist are nothing but impossible dreams.

So when she’s given the opportunity to leave the Cloisters and put her skills to use as part of a scientific quest to discover The Remedy, Astrid leaps at the chance. Finally, she can have exactly what she wants…or can she? At the Gordian Pharmaceuticals headquarters deep in the French countryside, Astrid begins to question everything she thought she believed: her love for Giovanni, her loyalty to the Cloisters, and – most of all – her duty as a hunter. Should Astrid be saving the world from killer unicorns, or saving the unicorns from the world?

Killer Unicorns are AWESOME! and so is this book. The sequel to Rampant is a great book, which, to me, dealt a lot with inner turmoil and the price of "selling out". I love the "Buffy" vibe with a fresh, new direction and outlook. And the Astrid character is great, fighting so hard to leave her family behind and yet it always keeps catching up with her.

#4 - Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

This book was seriously disturbing in a very good way. Although I was incredibly surprised at how short it was (when I got it I felt like I was holding a con program), but it was packed with goodness and really didn't need to be longer. It was a great look at anorexia and how difficult self-image is to a teenage girl, as well as how hard it is to *want* to change, and how much harder it is to actually start that change. I am greatly looking forward to the sequel: Rage.

#3 - Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12. Powerful and haunting, this thrilling final installment of Suzanne Collins's groundbreaking The Hunger Games trilogy promises to be one of the most talked about books of the year.

Full of awesome. I know a lot of people weren't happy with how this book went, but I thought it was really good. I think most of the problems came with how dirty and costly the rebellion/war was, which is one of the things I really liked: war IS dirty and messy and costs A LOT of lives. I think this book told that, but in a way that young people could identify with. I also think it was a plausible, almost predictable, end to a book about a reality show where dozens of teens are killed for entertainment.

#2 - StarCrossed by Elizabeth Bunce

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady's maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold--as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren't as apolitical as she thought... that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

The best high fantasy I've read in a while. Love how Digger was not a 'gem waiting to find her superpowers' like a lot of these stories, but instead was really just an exceptional girl for her character and her curiosity. The plot was brilliant, and, although I don't want to spoil the fun, the lack of romance was really great because there really are times when a woman's life is too busy for love, just like a man's.

#1 - Eon by Alison Goodman

Eon has been studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic for four years, hoping he'll be able to apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But he also has a dark secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living a dangerous lie for the chance to become a Dragoneye, the human link to an energy dragon's power. It is forbidden for females to practice the Dragon Magic and, if discovered, Eon faces a terrible death. After a dazzling sword ceremony, Eon's affinity with the twelve dragons catapults him into the treacherous world of the Imperial court where he makes a powerful enemy, Lord Ido. As tension builds and Eon's desperate lie comes to light, readers won't be able to stop turning the pages...

I think this will be one of my all-time favorite series. I keep calling it Tamora Pierce writes Avatar: the Last Airbender. Eon is totally believable as a girl disguising herself as a boy. I love the gender identification turmoil that goes along with it: there are many points that Eon wonders if she could be happy living life as a girl at all,something that most other girl-in-hiding books gloss over. They think that of course the girl must be upset that she has to hide who she really is, but I can imagine more than a few girls who would be happy living the life privileged life of a man in a patriarchal society and enjoying all the benefits that brings. The magic laws and plot of the book aren't bad, either :D

30 December 2010

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday re-read is a series where I review books that were released 5 or more years ago.

Today's review is for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. This book was first published in 1962, which was actually very late because the book had been written for a while but no publisher would touch it. I'm glad the author had persistence, though, because this was my first sci-fi book as a child and it still touches me today.

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a "tesseract," which, if you didn't know, is a wrinkle in time.

Meg's father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?

I never had much of an opportunity to read L'Engle's work outside of the Wrinkle in Time series as a child. I did, however, get to read this book and its sequels, and I loved all of them. A Wrinkle in Time is a delightful book. The science in the books is advanced, but the author is careful to explain it on an elementary level so it comes off as completely understandable and uncomplicated. The characters are beautifully painted and consistent. Meg is obstinate, Charles Wallace is brilliant but confused, and Calvin is empathetic and understanding no matter where their travels take them. A romantic sub-plot runs throughout, but it isn't really the major plot in any book, and the characters seem to fold together naturally, in a relationship that is familiar to modern sensibilities but probably insane in the '60s, one of the many things that might have seemed unusual when the book was written but are less strange now (a female lead in sci-fi? a boy who feels things? a girl who's smarter than the boys around her? a mother who works? craziness, allowing the book to have a timeless feel that is hard to accomplish in such a technology-driven field as science-fiction). In re-reading for this review the high point on Camzotz still made me cry because of the lyrical and emotional style of the prose and the connection I felt with Meg. Which, after all, is really what all the books in this series are about: emotional connection with the people around you. It's a beautiful thing, really.

28 December 2010

Tuesday Review: The Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angle Plate

Magic is dangerous—but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

I have to start out this review by saying that although it's been less than a year since I read the Mortal Instruments books. I don't think the book suffered much for me forgetting, though. I found it easy to get into and understand without remembering much about the world and the people. I really liked the main character, Tessa. She was believable and strong yet flawed enough to be likeable, even with her hints of Mary-Sue specialness. It will probably depend on the result of said Mary-Sue special and how it's handled, so I'll hold out hope. I'm a little more tenuous on the relationship angles in the book. Perhaps it is my disdain of Twilight-ish books who try to proclaim "but when he insults you it means he loves you!" No, in my world that means he's a jerk and you should run. Or it could be my low tolerance of romance in the first place. The rest of the book's plot is redeeming, though. The Victorian setting is well done and believable. The characters are fleshed out and consistent. The MacGuffin is . . . well, MacGuffin in this book, although there are flashes of its future use. In all a solid read, although I'm tempted to advise people to wait and read the book with its sequels when the series is finished. There may be too much left unsaid for the casual reader.

23 December 2010

Thursday Re-read: Alanna the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

Thursday re-read is a series where I review books that are not recent releases, but still really good reads.

Today's review is for Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. This book was first published in 1983. However, on December 7 Atheneum re-released the book (for the fifth or sixth time, at least) with a spiffy new cover. I love this new cover almost as much as I love this book, so it's going to be my first Thursday re-read.

Alanna Bookplate

"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight."

And so young Alanna of Trebond begins the journey to knighthood. Alanna has always craved the adventure and daring allowed only for boys; her twin brother, Thom, yearns to learn the art of magic. So one day they decide to switch places: Disguised as a girl, Thom heads for the convent; Alanna, pretending to be a boy, is on her way to the castle of King Roald to begin her training as a page. But the road to knighthood is not an easy one. As Alanna masters the skills necessary for battle, she must also learn to control her heart and to discern her enemies from her allies. Filled with swords and sorcery, adventure and intrigue, good and evil, Alanna's first adventure begins -- one that will lead to the fulfillment of her dreams and make her a legend in the land.

For me, Tamora Pierce was the start of a life-long love of Fantasy work. Alanna: The First Adventure is the first book in her Tortall world, and a wonderful introduction to her work. Alanna is a very strong character. Pierce captures the emotional turmoil and the physical stress of being a woman in a man's world, and still manages to interject humanity, humility, and humor into a courageous, strong character. The main character's appeal speaks to many women, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that this series was one that was passed around the female barracks when I was in the military. Pierce's use of magic is subtle, creating a world where humans use magic as a tool but magic itself still has a say to reward or punish people using it according to their aims. The plot is well-crafted and follows logically without being predictable or stale. The ending is a bit off, but I believe that is because it was a) the first book of a new writer, and b) written as the first quarter of a novel (the publishers broke The Song of the Lioness book into 4 parts to publish as a series). It is not too abrupt, though, and it doesn't matter as much since the whole series is readily available in libraries and bookstores. In all, this book is the beginning of a huge world of must-read books, and every fan of fantasy should read it!

22 December 2010

The Story Siren's 2011 Debut Author Challenge

Every new year needs at least a few resolutions! For 2011, I've decided that I'm going to participate in The 2011 Debut Author Challenge over at The Story Siren. I love The Story Siren because it's a good blog about YA books, and I think that reading debut novels, while sometimes frustrating, is worth it to find and support good new authors. I'm thinking these will be my 12 books:

Warped by Maurissa Guibord
Released January 11, 2011
Tessa doesn't believe in magic. Or Fate. But there's something weird about the dusty unicorn tapestry she discovers in a box of old books. She finds the creature woven within it compelling and frightening. After the tapestry comes into her possession, Tessa experiences dreams of the past and scenes from a brutal hunt that she herself participated in. When she accidentally pulls a thread from the tapestry, Tessa releases a terrible centuries old secret. She also meets William de Chaucy, an irresistible 16th-century nobleman. His fate is as inextricably tied to the tapestry as Tessa's own. Together, they must correct the wrongs of the past. But then the Fates step in, making a tangled mess of Tessa's life. Now everyone she loves will be destroyed unless Tessa does their bidding and defeats a cruel and crafty ancient enemy.

XVI by Julia Karr
Released January 6, 2011
Nina Oberon's life is pretty normal: she hangs out with her best friend, Sandy, and their crew, goes to school, plays with her little sister, Dee. But Nina is 15. And like all girls she'll receive a Governing Council-ordered tattoo on her 16th birthday. XVI. Those three letters will be branded on her wrist, announcing to all the world, even the most predatory of men, that she is ready for sex. Considered easy prey by some, portrayed by the Media as sluts who ask for attacks, becoming a "sex-teen" is Nina's worst fear. That is, until right before her birthday, when Nina's mom is brutally attacked. With her dying breaths, she reveals to Nina a shocking truth about her past: one that destroys everything Nina thought she knew. Now, alone but for her sister, Nina must try to discover who she really is, all the while staying one step ahead of her mother's killer.

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal
Released January 25, 2011
Princess and heir to the throne of Thorvaldor, Nalia's led a privileged life at court. But everything changes when it's revealed, just after her sixteenth birthday, that she is a false princess, a stand-in for the real Nalia, who has been hidden away for her protection. Cast out with little more than the clothes on her back, the girl now called Sinda must leave behind the city of Vivaskari, her best friend, Keirnan, and the only life she's ever known.
Sinda is sent to live with her only surviving relative, an aunt who is a dyer in a distant village. She is a cold, scornful woman with little patience for her newfound niece, and Sinda proves inept at even the simplest tasks. But when Sinda discovers that magic runs through her veins - long-suppressed, dangerous magic that she must learn to control - she realizes that she can never learn to be a simple village girl.
Returning to Vivaskari for answers, Sinda finds her purpose as a wizard scribe, rediscovers the boy who saw her all along, and uncovers a secret that could change the course of Thorvaldor's history, forever.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Released January 11, 2011
A Story of Love, Murder, and Madness Aboard an Enormous Spaceship Bound for the Future
Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to wake up on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, Amy's cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed.
Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed's passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.
Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.

Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton
Released February 15, 2011
First there are nightmares.
Every night Ellie is haunted by terrifying dreams of monstrous creatures that are hunting her, killing her.
Then come the memories.
When Ellie meets Will, she feels on the verge of remembering something just beyond her grasp. His attention is intense and romantic, and Ellie feels like her soul has known him for centuries. On her seventeenth birthday, on a dark street at midnight, Will awakens Ellie's power, and she knows that she can fight the creatures that stalk her in the grim darkness. Only Will holds the key to Ellie's memories, whole lifetimes of them, and when she looks at him, she can no longer pretend anything was just a dream.
Now she must hunt.
Ellie has power that no one can match, and her role is to hunt and kill the reapers that prey on human souls. But in order to survive the dangerous and ancient battle of the angels and the Fallen, she must also hunt for the secrets of her past lives and truths that may be too frightening to remember.

Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton
Released February 22, 2011
Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.
Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.
She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very...different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.
Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.

Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton
Released April 26, 2011
Everywhere Silla Kennicott turns she sees blood. She can't stop thinking about her parents alleged murder-suicide. She is consumed by a book filled with spells that arrives mysteriously in the mail. The spells share one common ingredient: blood, and Silla is more than willing to cast a few. What's a little spilled blood if she can uncover the truth? And then there's Nick—the new guy at school who makes her pulse race. He has a few secrets of his own and is all too familiar with the lure of blood magic. Drawn together by a combination of fate and chemistry, Silla and Nick must find out who else in their small Missouri town knows their secret and will do anything to take the book and magic from Silla.

Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky
Released May 23, 2011
Maddie lives in a world where everything is done on the computer. Whether it’s to go to school or on a date, people don’t venture out of their home. There’s really no need. For the most part, Maddie’s okay with the solitary, digital life—until she meets Justin. Justin likes being with people. He enjoys the physical closeness of face-to-face interactions. People aren’t meant to be alone, he tells her.
Suddenly, Maddie feels something awakening inside her—a feeling that maybe there is a different, better way to live. But with society and her parents telling her otherwise, Maddie is going to have to learn to stand up for herself if she wants to change the path her life is taking.
In this not-so-brave new world, two young people struggle to carve out their own space.

Jane Jones: Worst. Vampire. Ever. by Caissie St. Onge
Released May 10, 2011
For Jane Jones, being a vampire is nothing like you read about in books. In fact, it kind of sucks. She's not beautiful, she's not rich, and she doesn't "sparkle." She's just an average, slightly nerdy girl from an ordinary suburban family (who happens to be vampires.) Jane's from the wrong side of the tracks (not to mention stuck in the world's longest awkward phase), so she doesn't fit in with the cool vampire kids at school or with the humans kids. To top it all off, she's battling an overprotective mom, a clique of high school mean girls (the kind who really do have fangs), and the most embarrassing allergy in the history of the undead, she's blood intolerant. So no one's more surprised than Jane when for the first time in her life, things start to heat up (as much as they can for a walking corpse, anyway) with not one, but two boys. Eli's a geeky, but cute real-live boy in her history class, and Timothy is a beautiful, brooding bloodsucker, who might just hold the key to a possible "cure" for vampirism. Facing an eternity of high school pressure, fumbling first dates, or a mere lifetime together with Timothy, what's a 90-something year-old teen vampire to do?

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Released March 22, 2011
Dystopian world where males die when they are 25 and females die when they are 20. It follows a 16 year old girl who gets sold as a polygamous bride...yikes.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini
Released May 31, 2011
A shy girl almost kills the hottest boy at school--and subsequently realizes that said boy and she are in fact re-enacting an ancient Greek tragedy, and that the girl, Helen, is going to start a war by falling in love.

Yeah, that's only 11, but so many of the books don't even have summaries up yet, and I'm only up to June on my list! I'm sure I'll find plenty more to fill it out :D